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Visual and Media Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin
some words by the Program director Prof. Undine Frömming
The Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (Department of Political and Social Sciences) at the Freie Universität Berlin, a university of excellence, is offering an innovative continuing education Master's (M.A.) program in Visual and Media Anthropology. The two-year, full-time Master's program comprises 120 ECTS. It is an advanced graduate degree program educating both researchers and media professionals. The language of instruction is English. It is a web-based E-learning M.A. program with in-house workshops in blocks (2-3 weeks twice a year). The program is highly international. Since its inception (winter semester 2008/2009), the program has a successfully high rate of applicants from countries all over the world. The program immatriculates between 20 and 30 students every year. In October 2012 the fifth generation has started.
©Thomas John 2012, Mexico
We understand Visual and Media Anthropology as a possibility to cross the borders between science and art. Our teaching philosophy is to encourage students to develop their own creativity and knowledge on their way to finding a place in the world as a human being that not only "fights" against but also answers to injustice and the destruction of our environment and human rights with the wisdom of audio-visual projects. This includes documenting injustice or enfolding cultural landscapes and local knowledge of alternative and transnational cultural performativity with the aim of rethinking our and the other’s roles, values, norms, rituals, mythologies, media practices in the age of digital modernities. Therefore the vision for this program is radical in the sense that the curriculum aims to go one step further than science usually goes. We see Visual and Media Anthropology as firmly bound to our "mother discipline" of Social and Cultural Anthropology, but we encourage our students to cross the border of science with the creative methods of Visual Anthropology that will enable you to become not only a documenter and interpreter of culture, but a producer of culture, of new cultural aspects.
This also means trying - what seems impossible - to melt ratio and emotio - to talk about using the mind for the "non thinkable" (in the Foucauldian tradition). A visual anthropologist is a bit a sculptor of culture. You take a raw (hidden or "unconscious" - as Claude Lévi-Strauss would have said) piece of a culture and you ax it, you maybe fondle it, you are astonished, you are moved, sometimes appalled. You will go through the process in which you understand that culture is a historical formation, thousands of years old and that you know nothing about it, but your own identity is determined and formed so deeply by it. What is the secret of change in societies, in individuals? When do societies change and why? What are the similarities, what are the differences between cultures? Do we have a free will, or are we predetermined forever by formations that are thousands of years old? This is one of the most difficult and still unanswered questions of the Social Sciences.
Visual Anthropology as a method
In contradiction to philosophy, social and cultural anthropology has always been an empirical science, which means that we talk to the people, we live at least several months or even years in a foreign society and study the culture of a specific group of people. We try to give the people their own voice during this research, instead of speaking for or about them, and this is not only because we are deeply ashamed about our own European and North American history of colonial cruelties. We do our research with the core methods of participant observation and interviews in the way we learned it from Malinowski and his studies in the Trobriand Islands. In that sense, we follow the ideas of David McDougall (1990) as well in going "beyond observational Cinema". The challenge is to be aware of ethnocentrism and to overcome it. In the tradition of the debate about the "crisis of representation" (e.g. James Clifford) and in the tradition of classical ethnographic fieldwork, self-reflectivity is one of our most important methodological principles, be it through doing research with a camera or in new media cultures online. That means reflecting upon your own bias and cultural origin, which influences your always "subjective" research focus.
Our focus is on the visual aspects of cultures, but our understanding of the "iconic turn" goes further so that we treat "inner images" as visual aspects of cultures as well. This means that poetic text or oral productions can be treated as a visual representation as well and they can find their place and meaning as audio-data in a visual project. We see ourselves in the tradition of a filmic approach that Jean Rouch (who learned from Marcel Mauss and Marcel Griaule) demonstrated with his film Chronique d'un Eté, in which he tried to dissolve the barrier between the "objective" anthropologist / filmmaker and his interview partners, formerly "subjects".
Audiovisual projects deeply rooted in anthropology enable us to stand up against the suppression of minorities, be it marginalized groups or the queer or LGBT communities worldwide or the ongoing suppression of woman all over the world. Visual Anthropology does not judge, but instead tries to understand and is therefore a audio-visual communicator or mediator in conflictive or traumatized cultural situations. Visual and Media Anthropology uncovers and makes deeply historical rooted cultural knowledge visible, revealing how to cope with conflicts, crisis and catastrophes that all human beings and societies have to deal with at some point in their lives. Furthermore, we try to understand the "pre-modern" or “indigenous” religious roots of cultures and the suppression of this religious belief systems through the world religions but as well the formations of syncretism.
The vision of the Program is to build up a program that should bring visual and media anthropological knowledge to people who have already settled, and are future leaders, in the film industry or governmental and non governmental organizations, as well as to the current and future leading voices of the museums, film festivals, new media, galleries and other art und culture production industries.
The program is a combination of E-learning and in-house learning with five main units:
1. The distance E-learning modules
2. Four in-house workshops (lasting from two to three weeks long)
3. An internship in a TV production company, film festival, ethnological museum, film archive or other related fields
4. A short film or media project
5. The master's thesis and/ or the film project
The master's Program focuses on the relationships between culture and media in a number of areas, such as:
- problems in representation of culture through media
- ethical aspects of filming / doing photography in "other" cultures
- the significance of ethnographic films and photography for Social and Cultural Anthropology
- the development of media in "Indigenous" or "native", Diaspora, and non-Western communities
- the influence of film/media on cultures, gender identity, political activism online.
- the role of media in environmental anthropology (visualization and mapping of local "native" knowledge)
- Virtual culture research; Online communities and social networks
This is a blended learning program (a combination of e-learning and in-house-classes). The emphasis will be placed on e-learning via the Internet, which will be used to convey the course contents, along with other media. The other part will be presented during the in-house workshops (four workshops during the two years) at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. You can stay in your country while studying the online-modules. The students need to come to Berlin only for the two-to-three weeks long lasting in-house classes at the beginning of each semester.
Students of the Master's Program learn several visual anthropological research methods. The program emphasises ethnographic film and other visual and auditive means as tools for successful communication between anthropologists, researchers, journalists and transnational or local communities and networks. The Master's Program in Visual and Media Anthropology is an international program. Our students come from countries all over the world.
The Masters' Program in Visual and Media Anthropology provides students with theoretical and practical knowledge of Visual and Media Anthropology. This advanced degree program teaches the requisites necessary for an employment in a wide range of media fields such as: production of ethnographic films, specialized programming and distribution of ethnographic films and video, ethnographic and documentary film festivals, community-based documentary production (indigenous filmmaking), management of ethnographic film/ video libraries and archives,etc.
Structure of the Program
The Master program starts in the first winter semester with a 2-week in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany with Modules 1a, 1c, 1d and 2a of the two basic modules. The students need to organise travel and accommodation on their own. We will provide information for low priced accommodation. The students are expected to start preparing for the in-house classes as of Sept.15th, with the help of mini-online packages which will be made available to them.
The rest of the first semester takes place as distance learning via e-learning (LMS Blackboard) where you can find well-prepared multimedia online courses, a virtual classroom, a chatroom, a discussion board and other modern features for communication and learning where you can meet your lecturers and other students, exchange documents and work in groups. You will learn everything you need to finish Module 1b and 2b in the virtual learning platform.
The Master program starts in the summer semester with a two week in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany. The students are expected to start preparing for the in-house classes as of mid-March with the help of mini-online packages available online for the in-house course preparations. Students should choose two of the three profile modules (six classes).
The rest of the second semester takes place as distance learning via e-learning (LMS Blackboard and with avatars in several virtual worlds). Note, that you should create your own avatar in Second Life (and learn to control it) for Profile Modul B2 in advance (membership is free): http://secondlife.com
Please check your system requirements for your PC or Mac in advance: http://secondlife.com/support/sysreqs.php
For those who chose profile Modules A and B, the three full-online courses will start after the in-house class is over.
During the third semester the students should complete their internship (9 weeks) in a film production company, TV-station, NGO, a museum or other related field of the master program. Students can decide to start the internship before the winter semester or later. This internship shall give students an insight into potential areas of employment and confront them with the professional demands in one of the related fields. The Internship is accompanyed by an online-seminar "Professional Perspectives in Visual and Media Anthropology" (see modules). In special cases (such as if one student gained already enough professional experiences), students can ask for exemption from the internship.
The second part of the third semester is comprised of several supervision courses. Students can choose one or two supervisors and start to work on their idea and the first production steps of their final master project. Students should use at least one or two months of the third semester for their self organised fieldwork.
We offer individual in-house class supervising as well as individual online supervising (via e-mail, skype and virtual classroom). Additional courses such as a Super 8 workshop on "Transcultural Montage" will be offered during the third semester for students (not mandatory but recommended).
The last semester of the Master program starts in the summer semester with an in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany. Students should attend all three supervision modules.
The rest of the fourth semester is dedicated to the final M.A. project/thesis. Students should complete within three months one of the following options:
- A Master's thesis of about 18,000 words (60 pages);
- A film (30-40 min) accompanied by a Master's thesis of about 7.500 words (25 pages);
- A photography project (25 pictures, each with a caption) or other media project (Second Life, Web 2.0 projects etc.), also accompanied by a Master's thesis of about 10.000 words (30 pages).
Students may choose the topic they wish to elaborate on. The topic has to be closely connected to the subject matters studied. Great importance is attached to the correct use of methodology, the application of theoretical models as well as an acceptable format.
The thesis will be evaluated by two professors.
The Master's degree will be awarded if all in-house classes have been attended, all modules have been completed successfully, a report on the internship or study project has been handed in and a Master's thesis has been completed.
See official regulations for detailed study and examination regulations
- Regulations for the allocation of study places [download pdf]
- Study regulations [download pdf]
- Examination Regulations [download pdf]
- Tuition Statute [downlaod pdf]
- Link to the official regulations (German version)