The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T +44 (0)1227 764000
MA Visual Anthropology
Caroline has completed her MA in Visual Anthropology and is now studying a PhD in Anthropology. Below you can read an interview conducted with Caroline whilst she was working on her MA.
Why did you choose Kent?
I had been working as a forensic anthropologist prior to coming to Kent and was interested in researching some of the issues that had arisen during this work. However, I had always found straight social anthropology somewhat limited in its accessibility, so I wanted something that would not only be interesting to me and the academy, but also could be accessible to those with whom I worked. I have also always been keen on photography, and wanted to expand my knowledge in film and social media methods, so visual anthropology seemed ideal. I was attracted to Kent in particular because of the breadth of the practical teaching within the programme at Kent. Instead of pigeon-holing you into one technique Kent is open to experimentation in new methods and the use of social media.
What kind of experience in research and visual media did you have before you came?
I had worked in social research and anthropology for some time before coming to Kent, but had little experience of visual media beyond my own amateur photography. It was a steep learning curve, but the good thing about Kent's programme is that through the placement scheme with a local organisation, you immediately start using the different media you are learning so it doesn't seem quite so daunting.
What did you think of the MA in Visual Anthropology ?
I really enjoyed the course. I liked the way it is practical whilst being so well integrated with social anthropology - I think this allows your visual work to remain academically strong and relevant. Doing a placement with a local organisation was one aspect of the course I really enjoyed: it felt like I was doing something useful with the skills I was learning, and engaging with advocacy in the course I think particularly appealing and important in making anthropology open to the wider public. My placement was with Pinkstinks, a campaign organisation which fights against the sexualisation of young girls. The placement scheme goes a small way to showing the range of activities anthropology can be engaged in, and I think this is an important message: I believe that anthropology should be useful, not just interesting.
What do you value most about Visual Anthropology?
I think visual anthropology offers an opportunity not only to engage in wider more public anthropology than perhaps is traditional, but I also like the fact that using visual media you can produce academically sound work that is accessible for the people with whom you work and research. Visual anthropology also lets you conduct collaborative research with excluded communities who may have difficulty with traditional research methods, for example non-verbal / non-literate people, and it allows the research community to take practical part in the research much more than traditional textual methods. Plus visual anthropology is a lot of fun!
What was your dissertation on?
I worked with a local organisation called L'Arche Kent: a community of people with and without learning disabilities, who live and work together. Through a mixture of film and text my dissertation explores concepts of home and community within L'Arche Kent and how these reflect wider concepts of personhood and competence for people with learning disabilities. Particularly important for this research was collaborative filming - the final film for the dissertation was made by me and one of the disabled members of the community. The visual methods learned through this programme allowed me to conduct fully inclusive research and to offer a platform for people with learning disabilities to voice their own opinions. The final dissertation was a mixture of text and film, which also meant that I could show it back to the whole community, and they can use the film in the future. It must have worked: the community liked the film so much that it is now on the front page of their website! You can also view the film below...
What do you plan to do next?
I am continuing my studies in Visual Anthropology at Kent, undertaking a PhD which will combine my experience in both forensic and now visual anthropology. Using a mixture of film, photography and text I will examine the lived experience of communities who live amongst mass graves, exploring the concept that mass grave excavation and individual identification is a universal ambition by conducting research in Cambodia, where despite having over 20,000 mass graves, they largely remain un-excavated. The visual techniques learned during the MA are integral to this research, and because I liked the department so much, I am staying at Kent to complete my PhD.