Farah Hallaba

Social Anthropology with Visual Ethnography

This course makes you look at the world very differently after every lecture.

Why did you decide to study anthropology at Kent?

I’d studied political science for my undergraduate degree but when I was looking at postgrad options I came across anthropology and it sparked my curiosity: I’d always liked travelling to places off the beaten track. A friend had taken part in a study exchange to Kent and told me good things about it, so I looked to see if I could do anthropology and then I found the Master’s in Social Anthropology and Visual Ethnography and it seemed like a programme customised to my interests. I applied right on the deadline, got accepted and also got a scholarship

How easy was it to pick up a subject from new at Master’s level?

When I arrived, I still wasn’t exactly sure what social anthropology and visual ethnography were! And to make things more difficult I arrived two weeks late because of a problem with my visa. In the first week I found it overwhelming and started thinking perhaps anthropology wasn’t for me. But when I started speaking to the lecturers individually, they were all so supportive, so understanding of the challenges I was experiencing coming from a different background, academically and culturally. With their help and by doing lots of reading, a bit of extra work at the beginning, I started to love anthropology. And I learned that it’s one of those subjects where if you get ten anthropologists together each of them will have a slightly different idea of what anthropology is.

You’ve made videos introducing people to anthropology, in Arabic. What prompted you to do that?

Anthropology is very understudied in Arab countries but I’m sure if more people knew about it they would love it. So that was why I started making the videos. It helps me too, because I need to really understand the ideas I’m talking about and work out how to simplify them for a wider audience. It’s changed the way I approach lectures and my reading because I’m thinking ‘How could I make this topic into a good script?’ I’ve had so much support from the School with the project – they have really encouraged me and lent me camera equipment so I could produce a more professional-looking result.

Is making the videos part of your work in visual ethnography?

Not really. Visual ethnography is essentially using film as a research method, so you explore the culture or society of the people that you’re studying via your camera. Making my own videos has helped me develop my technical skills, though.

Do you need to be expert with a camera to join the course?

Not at all! The course is very well designed for people with no previous experience. You start off learning the theories and different approaches, and now we’re onto the practical section. The equipment we use is very good and our lecturer is absolutely passionate about visual anthropology.

Which modules have you enjoyed most?

I think I love them all equally! The theory modules are truly inspiring and the lecturers are so passionate, they breathe anthropology. Research methods is about learning how to be anthropologists in the field, doing the life histories, the participant observation. The optional module I’m doing on ethnicity and nationalism is fascinating and really challenges your thinking – I’m especially enjoying the seminars because the discussions are so interesting.

What are you going to do for your dissertation?

I’m going back to Egypt, to my home town, Cairo. I’m really interested in native anthropology , which is when you study your own society and culture, rather than someone from outside carrying out anthropological studies. Egypt is a very class-based society and I want to look at how the younger generation of middle-class Egyptians are trying to move up through the class system and the challenges that can bring for them. There’s a sense of being trapped between two worlds: perhaps your parents have sent you to an international school but you don’t have the financial means to completely move into the upper middle classes; or you might have the money that goes with being upper class but you can’t speak English fluently, so you can’t fully move into that different social sphere.

What about the social life here at Kent? Has it been easy to settle in?

It was hard at first because of my visa problems and various other issues but I got so much support from the International Office and the University’s Wellbeing team, as well as the School. I was surprised how quickly they responded to sort thing out for me. I don’t have a lot of time for socialising because the course is only one year but I’ve really enjoyed the regular meet-ups that one of the postgrads here organised. It was strange when I first came here because I’m used to Cairo where the streets are always really crowded – here, I thought ‘Where is everybody?’, but when I went to the meet-up I realised everyone is inside trying to keep warm!

Looking beyond your Master’s, what are your plans for the future?

Initially I was planning to go straight into a PhD but it would have meant applying when I’d only been studying anthropology for a few months. So I’ve decided to take my time and maybe get a job as a teaching assistant or research assistant in Egypt, something that facilitates the study of anthropology. That will help me work out where I want to go with my research and then I plan to apply for a PhD in a couple of years’ time. I’d love to come back to Kent to do it. Eventually, I’d like to teach anthropology myself.

And finally, what advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for this course?

Definitely go for it! It’s a life-changing course. Anyone who does this course looks at the world very differently, not just at the end of the course but after every lecture.


Visit YouTube to watch Farah’s series Anthropology in Arabic (English subtitles).

Note: The Social Anthropology with Visual Ethnography MA is no longer available but you may be interested in Social Anthropology - Humanitarian and Environmental Crises MA