Filming pasts: ethnographic approaches to memory research


For MA students of the CREOLE Program, University of Maynooth and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (HS 2020, 2,5 ECTS points)

Researching pasts, their legacy and impact on individuals, communities and societies at large has long been the subject of study within social sciences. Many key contributions in this field maintain that our present is inextricably connected to our past offering a valuable source for exploring social relationships and political histories through their various (temporal) dimensions. As researchers interested in the study of memory in societies after war and conflict, more specifically how people remember violent pasts, the challenge has always been where and how to approach renderings of the past in the present. This course makes emphasis on the methodological possibilities of evoking memory through filmmaking for anthropological research. An examination of the politics of visibility and visuality looks at audio-visual approaches as one possible modality through which to engage with practices of remembering and narrating pasts.

The course is divided into two parts. Part one (1) consists of one extended talk via zoom regarding the politics of visibility and visuality offering concrete examples from my own research on memory practices in Peru. Part (2) seeks to engage students with three specific filmmaking approaches: observational, participatory or essay film approach. Student’s will write reflection papers on each of these approaches after viewing a filmic example and reading a related text. Contributions will be discussed in our second plenary session where we will also examine the possibilities and limitations of these audio-visual methods for memory research, and how to productively incorporate them into our own works.

Selected Readings:

Alyssa Grossman (2013)
“Filming in the light of Memory.” In: Transcultural Montage by Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev (eds.) Berghahn, pp. 198–212.

Gruber, Martin (2016)
“Participatory ethnographic filmmaking: transcultural collaboration in research and filmmaking.” Visual Ethnography 5(1), pp. 15–44.

Russell, Catherine (1999)
“Auto-Ethnography: Journeys of the Self.” In: Experimental Ethnography. The work of Film in the Age of Video. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 275–314.

Sjöberg, Johannes & Alessandra D’Onofrio (2020)
“Moving global horizons: Imagining selfhood, mobility and futurities through creative practice in ethnographic research.” Culture & Psychology 0(0), pp. 1–17.


Recommended reading for an engaged practice

Lawrence, Andy (2020)
Filmmaking For Fieldwork – A practical Handbook. Manchester University Press (also available as e-book)