top of page


Visual and Sonic Anthropology

Fall 2021: Tues / Thurs 9:30am-10:45am

2004 JKB




Dr. Jacob R. Hickman


860 KMBL


Manman Yang

Believing is Seeing Studio

   Guangzhou, China

WeChat ID: sanmaovivi


The traditional medium of anthropological scholarship is the written word.* Written words can do many things—elicit emotional responses, project imaginary scenes, draw one’s mind to focus acutely on particular details, and so on. And yet the written word is not itself the medium of exchange of the vast majority of human interaction—very far from it. Other media more closely approach—although never replicate precisely—the sensory modalities of human experience. Still images freeze a scene for close inspection. Audio recordings provide emotional immersion that words cannot. Film draws on multiple modalities to immerse and portray. Each of these media afford distinct possibilities for both ‘capturing’ ethnographic data and portraying the insights that the ethnographer is seeking to develop. This course will dive deeply into these distinct modalities of both capturing and conveying ethnographic insights into varieties of human experience. We will compare, contrast, and play with these different modalities, and push the boundaries of anthropological knowledge and experience beyond the written word.


More practically, this course entails an overview of visual/sonic (multimodal) anthropology methods and scholarship, including ethnographic film, photography, sound, art, and other methods used in anthropology. We will simultaneously study, deploy, and critique these methods of ethnographic data collection and conceptual communication, as we collectively consider of how distinct media allow new ways of understanding what it means to be human. We will become familiar with current theoretical and critical approaches to anthropology that focus on visual and sonic media. Students will learn to critically analyze the strengths and limitations of distinct media (photo, video, audio, text, art) in producing and conveying anthropological insights.


In this course, we will study a range of contemporary and historical cultural groups through visual and sonic anthropology scholarship. This will include gaining the capacity for cultural critique based on distinct media portrayals of various communities and societies. We will collectively learn to make the medium of exchange a more central consideration to developing, articulating, and debating theoretical perspectives. We will further apply various theoretical ideas to and test them with a variety of visual anthropological materials, all while seeking to develop theoretical lines of coherence from these different accounts rooted in distinct media.


Students will gain experience in a wide variety of modes of communication by completing not just writing assignments, but also audiovisual forms of data presentation including photographic essays, soundscapes, and a short ethnographic film. Students will be trained in the basic skills of photo, video, and audio editing, and will undertake a major project as the culminating assignment for the course. Students will learn these technical skills—blended with critical theoretical analysis—in order to produce unique anthropological insights using distinct media.


* Yes, much anthropological scholarship is transmitted through the spoken word, which arguably more closely approximates the media of social exchange in the communities that anthropologists study. And yet, even in verbal academic exchange, so often the “verbal” is a mere performance of a pre-composed written form.

Books to Purchase 

(other readings will be provided as PDFs)


MacDougall, David. 2019. The looking machine: essays on cinema, anthropology and documentary filmmaking. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Lawrence, Andy. 2020. Filmmaking for fieldwork: a practical handbook. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Books available digitally (through the library)

Vannini, Phillip. 2020. The Routledge international handbook of ethnographic film and video. New York: Routledge.

Heng, Terence. 2017. Visual methods in the field: photography for the social sciences. New York: Routledge.


Reading Schedule

The following reading schedule is subject to change.

University and Course Policies


Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct


In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment-including sexual violence-committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.


University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).


BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university's Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university's Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at or by contacting the university's Title IX Coordinator.


Student Disability


Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere that reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Whether an impairment is substantially limiting depends on its nature and severity, its duration or expected duration, and its permanent or expected permanent or long-term impact. Examples include vision or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, emotional disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), learning disorders, and attention disorders (e.g., ADHD). If you have a disability which impairs your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the University Accessibility Center (UAC), 2170 WSC or 801-422-2767 to request a reasonable accommodation. The UAC can also assess students for learning, attention, and emotional concerns. If you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, please contact the Equal Employment Office at 801-422-5895, D-285 ASB for help.”


Honor Code


In keeping with the principles of the BYU Honor Code, students are expected to be honest in all of their academic work. Academic honesty means, most fundamentally, that any work you present as your own must in fact be your own work and not that of another. Violations of this principle may result in a failing grade in the course and additional disciplinary action by the university. Students are also expected to adhere to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Adherence demonstrates respect for yourself and others and ensures an effective learning and working environment. It is the university's expectation, and every instructor's expectation in class, that each student will abide by all Honor Code standards. Please call the Honor Code Office at 422-2847 if you have questions about those standards.


COVID 19 Statement


While COVID 19 conditions persist and until further notice, students and faculty are required to wear face coverings at all times during class; faculty are not at liberty to waive this expectation. Students who feel sick, including exhibiting symptoms commonly associated with COVID 19 (fever; cough; shortness of breath/difficulty breathing; chills; muscle pain; sore throat; new loss of taste or smell; etc.) should not attend class and should work with their instructor to develop a study plan for the duration of the illness.


Respectful Environment


"Sadly, from time to time, we do hear reports of those who are at best insensitive and at worst insulting in their comments to and about others... We hear derogatory and sometimes even defamatory comments about those with different political, athletic, or ethnic views or experiences. Such behavior is completely out of place at BYU, and I enlist the aid of all to monitor carefully and, if necessary, correct any such that might occur here, however inadvertent or unintentional. "I worry particularly about demeaning comments made about the career or major choices of women or men either directly or about members of the BYU community generally. We must remember that personal agency is a fundamental principle and that none of us has the right or option to criticize the lawful choices of another." President Cecil O. Samuelson, Annual University Conference, August 24, 2010 "Occasionally, we ... hear reports that our female faculty feel disrespected, especially by students, for choosing to work at BYU, even though each one has been approved by the BYU Board of Trustees. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be. Not here. Not at a university that shares a constitution with the School of the Prophets." Vice President John S. Tanner, Annual University Conference, August 24, 2010


Mental Health


Mental health concerns and stressful life events can affect students’ academic performance and quality of life. BYU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, 1500 WSC, 801-422-3035, provides individual, couples, and group counseling, as well as stress management services. These services are confidential and are provided by the university at no cost for full-time students. For general information please visit; for more immediate concerns please visit


Academic Honesty


The first injunction of the Honor Code is the call to "be honest." Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life's work, but also to build character. "President David O. McKay taught that character is the highest aim of education" (The Aims of a BYU Education, p.6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.


Inappropriate Use of Course Materials


All course materials (e.g., outlines, handouts, syllabi, exams, quizzes, PowerPoint presentations, lectures, audio and video recordings, etc.) are proprietary. Students are prohibited from posting or selling any such course materials without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course. To do so is a violation of the Brigham Young University Honor Code.





Intentional plagiarism is a form of intellectual theft that violates widely recognized principles of academic integrity as well as the Honor Code. Such plagiarism may subject the student to appropriate disciplinary action administered through the university Honor Code Office, in addition to academic sanctions that may be applied by an instructor. Inadvertent plagiarism, which may not be a violation of the Honor Code, is nevertheless a form of intellectual carelessness that is unacceptable in the academic community. Plagiarism of any kind is completely contrary to the established practices of higher education where all members of the university are expected to acknowledge the original intellectual work of others that is included in their own work. In some cases, plagiarism may also involve violations of copyright law. Intentional Plagiarism-Intentional plagiarism is the deliberate act of representing the words, ideas, or data of another as one's own without providing proper attribution to the author through quotation, reference, or footnote. Inadvertent Plagiarism-Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but non-deliberate, use of another's words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply not being sufficiently careful in research and writing. Although not a violation of the Honor Code, inadvertent plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct for which an instructor can impose appropriate academic sanctions. Students who are in doubt as to whether they are providing proper attribution have the responsibility to consult with their instructor and obtain guidance. Examples of plagiarism include: Direct Plagiarism-The verbatim copying of an original source without acknowledging the source. Paraphrased Plagiarism-The paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of ideas from another that the reader might mistake for the author's own. Plagiarism Mosaic-The borrowing of words, ideas, or data from an original source and blending this original material with one's own without acknowledging the source. Insufficient Acknowledgement-The partial or incomplete attribution of words, ideas, or data from an original source. Plagiarism may occur with respect to unpublished as well as published material. Copying another student's work and submitting it as one's own individual work without proper attribution is a serious form of plagiarism.

bottom of page