School of Arts



After graduating with a degree in history, politics and sociology I worked in publishing, and became editorial assistant for the journal Screen from 1972 to 1976 at a time when it was transforming debates about cinema and culture through its often controversial introduction of new French approaches to film, including semiotic and psychoanalytic theories. My involvement in these debates led to my change in career, and I began a post-graduate degree at the Slade School of Art, while I edited the 1978 catalogue of films funded by the British Film Institute Production Board, involving avant-garde and independent short and feature length films, and as well as teaching film at a number of institutions and universities in London.

At the same time I was also involved in feminism, through discussion groups,  working  on issues of women and film, and then founded the feminist theory journal, m/f, with Parveen Adams and Rosalind Coward,with Beverley Brown joining us later.  The journal, which published 10 single and two double issues between 1978-1986, was committed to developing theoretical work on the social and psychical organisation of sexual difference,  drawing on the work of Michel Foucault and of Jacques Lacan in his ‘return to Freud’.  A collection from the journal was published as The Woman in Question, edited by Parveen Adams and Elizabeth Cowie, by MIT Press in 1990 and a digital version is forthcoming.

I came to the University of  Kent in 1981 to teach on its new programme in Film Studies and the department has since grown to become one of the UK’s foremost university centres for undergraduate and postgraduate study of  film, television, and film practice. back to top


Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Cowie, E. (2012). Citizenship, agency and subjectivity: art, documentary, and politics. Manchester Univeristy Press.
Cowie, E. (2011). Recording Reality, desiring the real. Minnesota, USA: University of Minnesota press.
Cowie, E. (1997). Representing the Woman: Psychoanalysis and Cinema. University of Minnesota Press.
Book section
Cowie, E. (2012). Road Race. in: Corkish, A., Chell, E. and Taylor, A. eds. In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway. Liverpool: Erbacce press, pp. 41-46.
Cowie, E. (2010). 'Mourning, Loss and Trauma, and the Ambiguities of Proper and Improper Desire in Exotica (1994)' . in: Brown, T. and Walters, J. eds. Film Moments. London: Palgrave/British Film Institute, pp. 140-143.
Cowie, E. (2009). Introduction to Post-Partum Document. in: Frascina, F. ed. Modern Art Culture: a reader. London: Routledge, pp. 303-311.
Cowie, E. (2007). 'What do you see? Would you like to move on to another image? Yes'. in: Barnard, C. H. ed. Road Race and Dark Glass Catalogue. Herbert Read Gallery.
Cowie, E. (2007). Ways of Seeing and Knowing: Documentary Film and the Surreal of Reality. in: Ten Brink, J. ed. Building Bridges: The Cinema of Jean Rouch. Wallflower Press, pp. 201-218.
Cowie, E. (2006). 'The Art of Paranoia'. in: Pajdic, P., Pasolini, A. and Ryan, P. eds. Paranoia. London: Southend/Leeds/London, pp. 138-148.
Cowie, E. (2005). On Rear Window. in: Rutsky, R. L. and Geiger, J. eds. Film Analysis: A Reader. W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 475-493.
Cowie, E. (2005). Seeing and hearing for ourselves: the spectacle of reality in the Holocaust Documentary. in: Haggith, T. and Newman, J. eds. The Holocaust and the Moving Image: Film and Television Representations Since 1933. Wallflower Press, pp. 182-188.
Cowie, E. (2005). 'Dokumentarische Kunst: das Reale begehren, der Wirklichkeit eine Stimme geben' ('Desiring the Real, Voicing Reality in Documentry Art'). in: Gludovatz, K. ed. Auf den Spuren des Realen Kunst und Dokumentarismus. Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Wien, pp. 15-41.
Cowie, E. (2003). Cinematic dream-work of Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. in: Sabbadini, A. ed. The Couch and the Silver Screen. Psychoanalytic Analytic Reflections on European Cinema. Brenner-Routledge, pp. 181-201.
Cowie, E. (2003). The lived nightmare: trauma, anxiety, and the ethical aesthetics of horror. in: Schneider, S. J. and Shaw, D. eds. Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, pp. 25-46.
Cowie, E. (2001). Woman as Sign. in: Andjelkovic, B. ed. Feminist Visual Theories. Belgrade: Cenre For Contemporary Arts.
Cowie, E. (2001). Identifizierung mit dem Realen - Spektakel der Realität. in: Angerer, M. -L. and Krips, H. eds. Der Andere Schauplatz Psychoanalyse - Kultur - Medien. Vienna: Turia + Kant, pp. 151-180.
Cowie, E. (2000). Traumatic Memories of Remembering and Forgetting. in: Rossington, M. and Whitehead, A. eds. Between the Psyche and the Polis: Refiguring history in literature and theory. Ashgate Publishing, pp. 191-204.
Cowie, E. (2000). Working Images: the representations of documentary film. in: Pollock, G. and Mainz, V. eds. Work and the Image II. Ashgate Press, pp. 173-192.
Cowie, E. (1999). Fantasia. in: Evans, J. and Hall, S. eds. Visual Culture, The Reader. Sage, pp. 356-378.
Cowie, E. (1999). The Spectacle of Actuality. in: Gaines, J. and Renov, M. eds. Collecting Visible Evidence. University of Minnesota Press, pp. 19-45.
Cowie, E. (1998). Storytelling: classical Hollywood cinema and classical narrative. in: Neale, S. and Smith, M. eds. Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. Routledge, pp. 178-190.
Cowie, E. (1996). Images of Women and Filmic Identification. in: Dakovic, N., Derman, D. and Ross, K. eds. Gender & Media. Med-Campus Project no A126 Publications, pp. 35-60.
Cowie, E. (2015). The difference in figuring women now. Moving Image Review & Art Journal [Online] 4:46-61. Available at:
Cowie, E. (2014). The time of gesture in cinema and its ethics. Journal for Cultural Research [Online] 19:82-95. Available at:
Cowie, E. (2011). Documentary Space, Place, and Landscape. Media Fields Journal [Online]:1-21. Available at:
Cowie, E. (2010). Thinking Differently: on theory now and documentary art. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies [Online] 21:178-193. Available at:
Cowie, E. (2010). Das Verhältnis von Unterhaltung und Erkenntnis. Schnitt 58:18-21.
Cowie, E. (2009). On Documentary Sounds and Images in the Gallery. Screen [Online] 50:124-134. Available at:
Cowie, E. (2007). Specters of the Real: Documentary Time and Art. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 18:87-127.
Cowie, E. (2000). Figuracija/Razumevanje fetiöa. Filmsek Sveske 2-3.
Cowie, E. (2000). Perceiving Memory and Tales of the Other: the work of Milica Tomic. Camera Austria:14-16.
Cowie, E. (1997). Documenting Fictions. Continuum, Australian Journal of Media & Culture 11:54-66.
Cowie, E. (1997). The Spectacle of Reality and Documentary Film. Documentary Box:1-8.
Cowie, E. (1995). Film - Zenska Tovarna Sanji. Vsebina:46-80.
Cowie, E. (2001). The Enigma of the Message. New Formations:148-150.
Cowie, E. (1995). A Tunisian Search for Independence - a review of The Silences of the Palace. Women: A Cultural Review 6:124-128.
Conference or workshop item
Cowie, E. (2007). Documentary film as flashback and the 'real' of reality in the temporality of representation. in: Real Things: Matter, Materiality, Representation, 1880 to the Present Conference.
Cowie, E. (2007). Possession, paranoia and the experience of art. in: Freud Museum Symposium: Observing Paranoia in Clinical Practice, Art and Anthropology.
Cowie, E. (2007). Real time viewing of images of time past and present: documentary in the gallery 'becoming art'. in: Visible Evidence 14.
Visual media
Cowie, E. (2004). A commentary on Juan delGado's video work, 'Who are You Entertaining To?'. [DVD]. Aspect DVD Journal. Available at:
Showing 40 of 60 total publications in KAR. [See all in KAR]
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Research Interests

The central focus for my research and writing was to understand how representation works to produce meanings and identities in relation to political and cultural questions of gender and sexual difference.  I published several key essays in m/f, in particular,   ‘Woman as Sign’, ‘The Popular Film as Progressive Text - a discussion of Coma, and ‘Fantasia’. These have appeared in a number of anthologies, most recently in 2000 and 2009, as well as appearing in revised form in my book, Representing the Woman: Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1997), in which I undertook a critical reassessment of the ways in which cinema has been described as an apparatus for fetishistic and voyeuristic masculine pleasure.  I develop  an account of identification understood through psychoanalysis and film theory which recognises feminine pleasure and identification as a complex psychical and cultural affair in the cinema.  For both men and women,  fantasy and fetishism in cinema are audio-visual settings or mises en scène, in which sexual difference is constructed, confronted, and disavowed. The audio-viewing spectator is an active partner in the passivity and activity of these pleasures. 

These conceptual concerns have continued in my recent work in publications on the horror of the horror film, where I consider the spectator as an ethical subject within the audio-viewing experience, and the horror or horror through examining Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1959), and the psychoanalysis of anxiety, and more recently in  In my discussion of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) my focus is dreams and film, and I explore ways in which cinema’s ready-made dreams engage us in a further ‘dream-work’ of our own.  ‘Documentary, memory and trauma are the focus of my work in relation to fiction film and Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour ( ‘Traumatic Memories of Remembering and Forgetting’, 2000), And on trauma, mourning and the ethical in relation to gesture in Egoyan’s Exotica (1994), in   ‘The time of gesture in cinema and its ethics’, Journal for Cultural Research, 19:1, 82-95, (2015).  Essays on documentary video-art and photography, in  the work of Serbian artist Milica Tomić, on paranoia and video art (2006) and in relation to my colleagues and film-makers Clio Barnard’s Dark Glass (differences 2010), and Sarah Turner’s Perestroika, and forthcoming ‘The difference in figuring women now’, in Moving Image Review & Art Journal, 2016.


The focus of my recent research is the documentary film and its spectator, and documentary video art. This work has two strands, one which is concerned to develop an historical understanding of the genre of documentary in film and video both as a project of recording the real and as a cinematic form and to relate this to contemporary broadcast and video documentary.  A second strand of this research is the interrelationship of pleasure and knowledge which characterises documentary.  Here I consider the ways we are moved to feel for the social actors we see and hear, and the ways in which, as a result, we are brought to understand them and their worlds.   This interrelation of specular pleasure (or, voyeurism) and identification is central to my recent publications on reality tv, video art and traditional documentary  in my monograph Recording Reality, Desiring the Real (2011), and my essays  ‘Specters of the Real: Documentary Time and Art, in differences (2007), ‘The ventriloquism of documentary first-person speech and the self-portait film’, in Embodied Encounters (2015). Across both these strands, the politics and art of documentary are central, and I address the work of theorists including Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Rancière, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.

These concerns have been developed in recent essays.

A very different project was my audio commentary for Juan del Gardo’s video work, ‘Who are You Entertaining To?’, in  Aspect, dvd journal, vol 3, 2004, ‘The Artist as Content’

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Last Updated: 13/10/2016