Visual Cultures: the Social Meanings of Photography and Art

The details
Sociology and Criminology
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
10 June 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA LL36 Social Anthropology,
BA LL3P Social Anthropology (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL6P Social Anthropology (Including Placement Year),
BA LL37 Social Anthropology with Human Rights,
BA LL38 Social Anthropology with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL39 Social Anthropology with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA QP10 English Language with Media Communication,
BA QP11 English Language with Media Communication (Including Year Abroad),
BA QP12 English Language with Media Communication (Including Placement Year),
BA QP13 English Language with Media Communication (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

This module examines how photography and other forms of visual art provide meanings and interpretations of societies.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • to explore the ways in which visual media act as a documentary of large-scale social and political trends such as industrialization, economic and social class systems, gender relations, migration, indigenous peoples, crime and war.

  • to examine how photographs provide 'image worlds' that translate into immediate and compelling narratives of cultural identity and social change. The emphasis will be on showing how the camera allows for realities about society to be constructed and disseminated, but also how the image allows for ambiguity in how we understand society.

Module learning outcomes

After introducing students to insights drawn from writers on photography such as Susan Sontag, John Berger, Roland Barthes, and Geoff Dyer, and the module will focus on selected topics and draw on the works of numerous photographers which may include among others, William Henry Fox-Talbot, Matthew Brady, Edward Curtis, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus, Martin Parr, Cindy Sherman, Robert Capa and Don McCullin.

Module information

Over the course of the term, we hope that you will be inspired to take advantage of the proximity of London to see good exhibitions of photography. At any one time, there are numerous small and large exhibitions at venues such as the Photographers Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, Serpentine Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, Victoria and Albert Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, Imperial War Museum and numerous smaller commercial galleries.

There may also be more local exhibitions in Colchester or on campus, and in your travels, you may well be in places where interesting photography exhibitions are taking place.

Your assignment is to select out an exhibition and review it. Your review should be a personal interpretation of the works on show, but also indicate the social and aesthetic meanings of the works you looked at including what they may say about topics such as landscapes, industrialization, colonization, economic and social class systems, gender relations, migration, ethnicity, crime and war.

Your assignment should also comment on the social and curatorial context of the exhibition itself, the publicity surrounding it, including other reviews, and the significance of the works in question for understanding society as a whole.

Learning and teaching methods

Most modules in Sociology are divided into lectures of around 50 minutes and a class of around 50 minutes. Some are taught as a 2hr seminar, and others via a 50-minute lecture and 2-hr lab. Lectures, classes, labs and seminars will be taught face-to-face.

Please note that you should be spending up to eight hours per week undertaking your own private study (reading, preparing for classes or assignments, etc.) on each of your modules (e.g. 32 hours in total for four 30-credit modules).

The lectures provide an overview of the substantive debates around the topic of the week, while the classes will give you the opportunity to reflect on your learning and actively engage with your peers to develop your understanding further.

You are strongly encouraged to attend the classes as they provide an opportunity to talk with your class teacher and other students. The classes will be captured and available via Listen Again. However, if you want to gain the most you can from these classes it is very important that you attend and engage. Please note that the recording of classes is at the discretion of the teacher.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Research Essay 1    30% 
Coursework   Research Essay 2     30% 
Coursework   Exhibition Review     40% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Eamonn Carrabine, email:
Prof Colin Samson, email:
Professor Colin Samson, Professor Eamonn Carrabine
Jane Harper, Undergraduate Administrator, Tel: 01206 873052


Travel costs for UK - based unpaid, approved work placements and live projects which are an integral part of a module may be covered by your department. (NB this will usually exclude field trips and site visits). Please check with your module supervisor to ensure that the activity is eligible.

External examiner

Dr Umut Erel
Open University
Senior Lecturer
Dr Paul Gilbert
University of Sussex
Senior Lecturer in International Development
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Sociology and Criminology

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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