Visual Cultures: the Social Meanings of Photography and Art
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
10 February 2023
Requisites for this module
BA LL36 Social Anthropology,
BA LL3P Social Anthropology (Including Year Abroad),
BA LL6P Social Anthropology (Including Placement Year)
This module examines how photography and other forms of visual art provide meanings and interpretations of societies.
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.
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.
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
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.
Berger, J. and Mohr, J. (1995) ‘Appearances’, in Another way of telling. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 85–128.
Becker, H.S. (1974) ‘Photography and Sociology’, Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication
, 1(1), pp. 3–26. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/129586819.pdf
Nicole Strathman (2020) Through a Native Lens
. University of Oklahoma Press. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/universityofessex-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6038287
Faris, J.C. (2003) Navajo and photography: a critical history of the representation of an American people. Salt Lake City [Utah]: University of Utah Press.
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
||Research Essay 1
||Research Essay 2
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.
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Eamonn Carrabine, email: email@example.com.
Prof Colin Samson, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Colin Samson, Professor Eamonn Carrabine
Jane Harper, Undergraduate Administrator, Tel: 01206 873052
Dr Umut Erel
Dr Aneira Edmunds
School of Law, Politics & Sociology
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).
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