Visual Cultures: the Social Meanings of Photography and Art

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 17 January 2022
Friday 25 March 2022
08 October 2021


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)

Module description

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

Module aims

It will 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.

The module will also 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.

Please click on the link below to view the Introduction video to SC362 Visual Cultures: the Social Meanings of Photography and Art

Learning and teaching methods

As there are still restrictions related to COVID-19 in place, some of the teaching on most modules will take place online. 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. For the majority of modules the lecture-type content will be delivered online – either timetabled as a live online session or available on Moodle in the form of pre-recorded videos. You will be expected to watch this material and engage with any suggested activities before your class each week. Most classes labs and seminars will be taught face-to-face (assuming social distancing allows this). 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). This module SC362-6-SP will include a range of activities to help you and your teachers to check your understanding and progress. 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. The weekly classes will take place face-to-face (unless there is a change in the current COVID safety measures). 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.


  • Clarke, Graham. (1997) 'The City in Photography', in The photograph, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Carney, Phil. (2010) 'Crime, Punishment and the Force of Photographic Spectacle', in Framing crime: cultural criminology and the image, London: Routledge.
  • Barthes, Roland. (1997) 'Shock-Photos', in The Eiffel Tower, and other mythologies, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • John Berger-USES OF PHOTOGRAPHY.pdf,
  • Becker, Howard Saul. (1974) 'Photography and Sociology', in Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication. vol. 1 (1) , pp.3-26
  • Mohr, Jean. (1995) 'Appearances', in Another way of telling, New York: Vintage Books., pp.85-128
  • Jump, Anne. (2007) 'Regarding the Torture of Others', in At the same time: essays and speeches, London: Hamish Hamilton., pp.128-144
  • Rickard, Jolene. (c1998) 'The Occupation of Indigenous Space as Photograph', in Native nations: journeys in American photography, London: Barbican Art Gallery.
  • Warburon, Nigel. (1992) 'Diane Arbus and Erving Goffman: The Presentation of Self.', in History of Photography;. vol. 16 (4) , pp.401-404

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Research Essay 1  10/02/2022  40% 
Coursework   Reading week assignment   03/03/2022  20% 
Coursework   Research Essay 2   24/03/2022  40% 

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



External examiner

Dr Aneira Edmunds
School of Law, Politics & Sociology
Senior Lecturer
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

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