Professor Murray Smith

Professor of Film,
Divisional Deputy Director of Research & Innovation (Interdisciplinarity),
Director of the Aesthetics Research Centre
+44 (0)1227 823529
Professor Murray Smith


Professor Murray Smith has been Professor of Film Studies since 2000. He has served as Director of Research in the Faculty of Humanities (2008), and Director of the Aesthetics Research Centre (2007) and held the roles of Head of Film Studies 1999-2003, 2007-8; Director of Research for Drama, Film and Visual Arts, 2001-4, and Leverhulme Research Fellow, 2005-6.

Murray's first degree was in English Language and Literature at the University of Liverpool; subsequently he gained an MA and PhD in Film Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, under the supervision of David Bordwell. He joined Film Studies at the University of Kent in 1992.

Murray is am a member of the advisory editorial board of Screen; a corresponding editor for Northern Lights, the yearbook for the Film and Media Studies department of the University of Copenhagen; and a member of the editorial board of Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image. From 2002-6 he was an editor of Film Studies: an International Review, and from 2003-7 a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council College of Peers.

He is a Fellow and advisory board member of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image, and has been active as board member since the organization was founded in 1995. I am also a member of the editorial board of the journal Projections: the Journal for Movies and Mind, with which SCSMI is affiliated. SCSMI was founded to promote work on film and video drawing on cognitive theory and psychology, the philosophy of mind, and kindred areas of research.

Within the University of Kent, Murray is a member of a number of research groups based in other departments, reflecting the range and foci of his research interests: the Centre for Reasoning (based in Philosophy); the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience and Cognitive Systems (based in Psychology and Computer Science); and the Evolutionary Social Sciences Group (based in Psychology).

Research interests

  • film theory broadly, but especially the 'philosophy of film', film theory informed by analytic philosophy, and classical film theory;
    cognitive and evolutionary approaches to cinema, and to art in general;
  • philosophy, especially the philosophy of art, of mind, and ethical theory; music and the philosophy of music, especially popular music (blues, rock, jazz, soul, etc), and film music;
  • avant-garde and experimental cinema;
  • American cinema in general, 'independent' cinema in particular.

Current research projects include:

Who's Afraid of Charles Darwin? Art and Culture in the Age of Evolution: a study of the relationship between the human and the natural sciences, and especially of the ways in which ideas and knowledge derived from evolutionary theory and neuroscience might have relevance for the study of art and culture. The theme of this work connects with a number of important research trends, including literary Darwinism and X-phi (experimental philosophy). The study will develop the arguments of the articles he has already published on this subject

Film and the Aesthetic Dimension: a more wide-ranging work, emphasizing the centrality of aesthetic questions to a wide range of types of filmmaking, and addressing both classical philosophical writings on art (eg. Kant, Hegel, Schiller, Nietzsche) and contemporary debate (eg. Danto, Walton, Carroll). Although the focus here is different, the central line of argument resonates with the argument of Who's Afraid of Charles Darwin? ? to wit: notwithstanding the skepticism of contemporary critical theory, the making and appreciation of art is an evolved, cross-cultural constant. An adequate account of film art thus needs to be grounded not only in social, cultural and technological history, but also in an understanding of our evolved dispositions.

The Contemporary Soundscape: a study of the impact of modern technologies on the nature of music and the aural world in general. The project will focus upon the nature and development of sound in cinema, ranging across diverse forms of cinema, from Hollywood to the outer reaches of the avant-garde, and will situate film sound in relation to other uses of sound - in live performance, installations, clubs, music video, and so forth. I have published a few items in this area.


Film and philosophy: throughout his career, but particularly since the publication of Film Theory and Philosophy, Murray has worked to develop a distinctive brand of film theory informed by analytic philosophy, in contrast to the mostly 'Continental' film theory dominant since the 1960s. In his teaching and research on this area, his focus is on the aesthetics of cinema, but he draws upon many sub-domains of philosophy including philosophy of mind, language, and ethics in addition to philosophical aesthetics. 

Film and psychology: here his research and teaching is motivated by a career-long interest in the interdisciplinary field known as cognitive theory or cognitive psychology, a research community and programme defined by the attempt to develop a properly scientific account of the human mind, constituted by psychologists, philosophers, linguists, computer scientists, anthropologists and even the odd interloper from the 'hard humanities'. 

Given the very significant involvement of philosophers (such as Daniel Dennett and Jerry Fodor) in the enterprise of cognitive theory, there is considerable overlap between his interests in philosophy and psychology. 

Film form and aesthetics: if philosophy, psychology and cognitive theory constitute the methodological framework and intellectual community in which Murray pursues research, then artistic and aesthetic phenomena - the making and experience of works of film art in particular - constitute the primary focus of his teaching and research. 

He is interested in, for example, what makes artistic and aesthetic experience distinctive, and how such experience relates to our experience in other domains, including that of 'ordinary' life. This interest is manifest in his teaching, including the more theoretical courses mentioned above, as well as in courses such as FI506 Avant-garde and Experimental Cinema, and FI531 Beyond Hollywood.

Sound and cinema: historically, the study and appreciation of the role of sound (dialogue, music, sound effects) in cinema has been much neglected, although the past fifteen years has seen that situation changing. Over the past decade Murray has honed what he hopes is a distinctive perspective on the role of sound in cinema in my course FI559 Sound and Cinema. 


Murray is interested in supervising research projects related to any of his research and teaching interests - particularly those which engage with the intersection of philosophy, psychology and the arts in general, and cinema in particular. 

Current and past supervisees include:

  • Dr Lee Grieveson - The genealogy of early American cinema
  • Dr Andreas Polihronis - Theories of film spectatorship
  • Dr Aaron Taylor - Cinematic villainy
  • Dr Dan Barratt - Film, emotion, and the paradox of fiction
  • Dr Gary Bettinson - The cinema of Wong Kar-Wai
  • Dr Margrethe Bruun Vaage - The role of empathy in film spectatorship
  • Dr Ted Nannicelli - The ontology and aesthetics of the screenplay
  • Paul Taberham - Cognitive theory and avant-garde cinema
  • Matt Thorpe - Imagination and ethical experience in the cinema
  • Dominic Topp - Politics and aesthetics in the work of Godard
  • Neil McCartney - Conceptions of selfhood in the films of David Lynch
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