Visual Anthropology: Empirical Art


photo credits Olaf Lawrence

Seminar for BA students, University of Amsterdam (Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Autumn 2023, Spring 2024, 12 ECTS points)

This course introduces students to experience-led research that explores social worlds through the lens of audio-visual media. The aim is for students to learn how to develop ethnographic approaches to human (and beyond human) experience at the threshold between science and art, focusing on filmmaking.

While creative expressions have often been understood to merely represent anthropological findings, plenty of examples suggest that artistic research interventions can, in fact, generate theoretical knowledge. ‘Empirical art’ is a term coined by anthropologist and filmmaker David MacDougall who argued that by doing research with a camera and microphone, we side-step the logicdriven process in research and commit to creatively explore situated practices and intersubjective relations through the affordances of framing and assembling (MacDougall 2020).

We look at research practices investigating lived experience, their manifold narrations, and how they may contribute to anthropological theory-making. By engaging theoretically and practically with image- and sound recording, we will test if and how empirical art offers embodied perspectives on people’s lives, relationships and everyday practices.

We begin by asking how experience-led research has been understood in anthropology, elaborating on the following questions: How can different modes of exploration and expression evoke experience and critical thought? What are the social and ethical dimensions to consider, and how can these be meaningfully incorporated into the research? To answer these, students will be asked to produce audio-visual pieces for assessment.