SM4134 - Visual Ethnography and Creative Intervention

Offering Academic Unit
School of Creative Media
Credit Units
Course Duration
One Semester
Course Offering Term*:
Semester B 2021/22

* The offering term is subject to change without prior notice
Course Aims

This course unfolds the many issues involved in studying everyday urban culture via ethnographic research methods. As a participant or observer, what kinds of information do we collect from the field? How does the medium employed to collect data and make field notes impact on what we learn and what know? Are the different creative media only tools? What can we learn from history and current practices the variety, diversity and complexity of ways. When we present our findings via visual narratives, such as a documentary, what are the implications? How have documentary makers so far tackled these issues?

Ethnography can be summarized as ‘being there, observing, collecting and recording’, whereas Cultural Studies open up this research method (from anthropology) into ‘ethno-methodologies’, allowing flexible, reasoned combination of other research methods such as interview, textual and discourse analysis, and participatory research. Ethno-methodologies are important because they pay attention to specific live moments of specific subjects, the opposite of turning people into types and numbers.

Visual ethnography has become an important aspect of the study of culture, and has found ways into the research-creation process of many contemporary artists. Visual ethnography has the following FOUR aspects:

  1. Deploying photography, sketching, mapping, video-making and other visual methods to record data and conduct fieldwork
  2. Collecting and studying visual/audio artifacts to gain insight into cultural practices and everyday life as these objects are highly organized visual representations with embedded meanings, e.g. family photos, video games, stamps, posters, advertisements, movies, front pages of personal blogs, maps etc.
  3. Representing (analyzed/interpreted) fieldwork – i.e. representing ethnographic knowledge – via visual media, e.g. a photo album, a hyper-textual archive, documentary/anthropological videos, an artist’s book etc.
  4. Moving beyond pure recording and visual representation to a series of participatory, performative and interventionist activities, often also practiced by contemporary artists who want their art-making to be find ways into everyday life.

The course will conclude with the examination of two latest trends:

  1. There is no pure visual/audio objects: new ethnography has paid more attention to It is also about investigating the varied ‘lives’ of objects based on actual usage, and human activities that involve self-made visual logic and aesthetics, such as decorating one’s living room, arrangement of the kitchen space, the actual use of a physical desk in one’s room, the display of family photos and so on.
  2. There is a recent trend in the growing use of ethnographic research in the commercial sector as new ways to probe consumers’ views and to give evidence to consumers’ needs in the context of marketing research. This requires some attention with assessment.

Assessment (Indicative only, please check the detailed course information)

Continuous Assessment: 100%
Detailed Course Information


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School of Creative Media