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Anthropology of Visual Communication


Temple University's Department of Anthropology has long been known, both nationally and internationally, for its specialization in the anthropology of visual communication. Specialized courses and training were first established by Professor Jay Ruby (now retired) in the late 1960s and developed over a period of more than three decades. We continue to offer this specialization to undergraduate majors and minors in anthropology (through our undergraduate Anthropology of Visual Communication track) as well as to doctoral students.

The anthropology of visual communication is broadly concerned with the production, distribution, reception, circulation, and transformation of visual forms, both within and across communities.  Areas of ethnographic and theoretical focus include events such as rituals, spectacles, and performances; works of art, architecture, clothing, and the body; museums, displays, and expositions; and media-based productions such as films, videos, photography, and websites. 

Our approach to the anthropology of visual communication has two main objectives: (1) understanding the social, cultural, historical, political, economic, and ideological dimensions of visual communication, in all of its diverse forms; and (2) building technical competency in communicating anthropological knowledge through visual formats such as film, video, photography, curated displays, and digital media.  We are particularly interested in indigenous media, and, as part of our commitment to exploring the ways in which individuals and communities orient themselves within a "globalizing" social universe, we have begun to devote increasing attention to the study of "new media."

The Anthropology of Visual Communication Laboratory, or "Visual Lab," supports teaching and training as well as research projects, particularly student projects.  The Visual Lab has equipment for recording, analyzing, and editing digitally recorded audio-video materials.  The lab’s resources are also used for exploring new ways of making ethnographic documentation and other forms of anthropological knowledge accessible through websites and other interactive productions. 

Professors who offer courses and mentoring directly relevant to the anthropology of visual communication include Inmaculada García Sánchez, Paul Garrett, Jayasinhji Jhala, and Damien Stankiewicz.  Strongly relevant courses in sociocultural anthropology are offered by Mindie Lazarus-Black and others; and we encourage students to explore ways of drawing on the department's course offerings in archaeology and biological anthropology as well. 

Outside of the Department of Anthropology, several other Temple faculty members have relevant research and teaching interests and are supportive of cross-disciplinary work.  They include Warren Bass, Roderick Coover, and Paul Swann (Department of Film and Media Arts), Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon (Theater), Kariamu Welsh (Dance), Miles Orvell (English), and Gerald Silk (Art History).  Potentially relevant courses can be found in various colleges, departments, and programs at Temple, such as Film and Media Arts, Photography, Theater, Dance, Art History, Journalism, and Geography and Urban Studies. 

Beyond their course work, our students have carried out independent field research projects in the USA, South America, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and New Zealand.  Each year, several students, both undergraduate and graduate, participate in Professor Jhala's Temple University Summer Program in India, which provides extraordinary opportunities for fieldwork and independent projects.

Training in the anthropology of visual communication is potentially applicable to a variety of careers, including university-based teaching and research as well as jobs in museums and other educational institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, the arts, tourism, advertising, journalism, and mass media.

Department of Anthropology | Gladfelter Hall, second floor | 1115 West Berks Street | Philadelphia, PA 19122
Voice mail: 215-204-7577 Fax: 215-204-1410