MA in Photography & Urban Cultures

Course overview

Explore the creative interplay between urban theory and the visual representation of urban cultures and places. 

This programme has been developed by the Centre for Urban and Community Research to encourage creative interplay between practice and theory. You'll have the chance to consider cutting-edge debates in cultural and social theory in a research setting that actively encourages the development of photographic practice.

The programme offers working photographers, visual artists and media practitioners space to reflect critically on their practice.

It also offers those with a background in sociology, urban and cultural geography, cultural studies or anthropology the opportunity to combine visual forms of representation with standard forms of research techniques in investigating urban life and the physical environments of the city.

Paul Halliday, Department of Sociology

Contact the department

If you have specific questions about the degree, contact Paul Halliday (Programme Convenor) or the Postgraduate Programmes Officer

Modules & structure

Core modules

Module title Credits
  Navigating Urban Life 30 credits
  Through The Lens Part A 15 credits
  Key Debates for Inventive and Visual Sociology Practice 15 credits
  Talking Practice A and Talking Practice B 15 credits each
  Urban Photographers 15 credits
  Through The Lens Part B 15 credits

As well as these modules, you will complete a Dissertation and Major Visual Project (60 credits).

The Dissertation can comprise two parts: a portfolio and a 5-6,000-word Dissertation, or you may submit a 10-12,000-word written Dissertation. The Dissertation will consist of: an account of the rationale of the photographic project; a critical evaluation of photographic practice and issues of reflectivity and knowledge production. In combination with the written part you will be expected to provide evidence of a sustained and coherent body of photographic work focusing on an aspect of urban culture for assessment. Previously, work from Final Visual Projects has been shown on a virtual gallery space linked to the CUCR website.


Essays; dissertation; final visual project.

Download the programme specification for this degree to find out more about what you'll learn and how you'll be taught and assessed.

Please note that due to staff research commitments not all of these modules may be available every year.


Sociology at Goldsmiths is ranked:
8th in the UK and 35th in the world for this subject area**
9th in the UK for the quality of our research***


The Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths is active, contemporary and inventive. We are interested in everything from the ‘global’ issues of poverty and injustice to the ‘micro’ issues of cultural identity and the presentation of self in a digital world.

Our staff are some of the top academics in the world for this discipline – they’re the pioneers who are pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. They’ve played a key role in developing social research methods, setting agendas in social and cultural policy, and linking theory to practice.

Through their world-leading research you’ll be at the forefront of current debates and will be encouraged to see the world differently.

Find out more about the Department of Sociology.

**QS World University Rankings by subject 2016
***Research Excellence Framework 2014, Times Higher Education research intensity subject rankings


Staff who contribute to the programme include Paul Halliday

Workshop tutors include: 

Laura Cuch

Laura Cuch is a documentary and fine art photographer. She completed an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London in 2006 and currently teaches on the Goldsmiths based International Urban Photography Summer School (iUPSS) and on the MA PUC combined with being a visiting researcher in the Anthropology department at Goldsmiths. She has exhibited internationally at Descubrimientos - PhotoEspaña 09, Centro Cultural Blanquerna, Arts Santa Mònica, H2O Gallery, Sala d’Art Jove, Talent Latent/Scan09, Espai Cavallers 31-33 and Emergent09, and has also taken part in group shows in London at the Rich Mix Centre, Photofusion, The Viewfinder Gallery and City University. Her work has been published in Le Monde, Barcelona Metròpolis, El Súmmum, Street Signs and London Independent Photography.

Simon Rowe

Simon Rowe is a visual artist, researcher and photography tutor working mainly with photography and video. He is also a partner in CACAO, an evolving collective of creative artists, social researchers, and educators. Simon holds an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures from Goldsmiths (2007) and is Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research. Simon currently holds a part-time position at Goldsmiths as a Visiting Tutor in the Department of Sociology on the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. Simon’s work has been exhibited in venues in London including Limelight Gallery, International Planned Parenthood Foundation, Stark Gallery, Photofusion, and also at Gallery Hunchentoot, Berlin. From Dec – March 2011 he exhibited a selection of images from his photographic project entitled Wandering Still at the CUCR offices in Laurie Grove, New Cross London.

Britt Hatzius

Britt Hatzius is a visual artist whose practice encompasses photography, film, video and sound. She originally trained as an artist at Chelsea College of Art and Goldsmiths where she completed her MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. Britt teaches on the MA PUC course and PhD in Visual Sociology. She has extensive experience of working with urban ethnographers and researchers, is part of Studio INCITE, and has coordinated various visual research aspects of numerous international projects based at Goldsmiths. She is the former editor of London Independent Photography (LIP) magazine and currently edits the CUCR’s journal Street Signs. 

Peter Coles

After finishing a doctorate in psychology at Wolfson College, Oxford, Peter Coles moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist and photographer for 20 years, completing a major body of work called Paris Traces on abandoned objects, which has been exhibited in Paris, New York and Rome and has featured in several magazines. He now lives in London as a writer, editor and fine art photographer. He is working on a book on ancient urban trees and socio-geographical change. Since 2007 Peter has been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he also teaches on the M.A. in Photography and Urban Cultures, with a special focus on the relationship between built and natural environments.

Suggested reading

Suggested preliminary reading:

Susan Sontag (1977) On Photography. Penguin.

Sontag’s book is considered both controversial and insightful. She brings to the process of analysis a literary sensibility that doesn’t always sit easily with the practice of image-making. The essay In Plato’s Cave (chapter 1), is particularly relevant to a debate about the nature of photographic realism and visual epistemology.

Roland Barthes (1983) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, London, Vintage.

Barthes is best known for his extensive theoretical work around the nature of sign systems (semiotics), ideology and myth. In this beautifully written book, the author re-evaluates his relationship with photography through the autobiographical examination of a family photograph.

A.D. Coleman (1978) Depth of Field: Essays on Photography, Mass Media, and Lens Culture. University of New Mexico Press.

Coleman’s essays touch on ethical debates around street photography (chapter 10), and what he terms ‘the destruction business’ of art criticism (chapter 1).

Graham Clarke (1997) The Photograph. Oxford University Press.

Clarke’s book provides a useful overview of photography from a history of art/visual culture perspective. He covers a wide range of subjects including, what is a photograph? (chapter 1), how do we read photographs? (chapter 2), the city and portraiture (chapters 5 and 6), and the body (chapter 7). There is also a good discussion on the history and theory of documentary photography (chapter 8). This book is very introductory reader.

Sarah Pink (2001) Doing Visual Ethnography. Sage.

Pink’s book is a very good introduction to some of the key debates within visual sociology and anthropology. Her interdisciplinary book covers a wide range of theoretical and methodological issues, and it is recommended that you read the introduction and chapters 1 and 3 which focus on the relationship between ethnography and photography.

Les Back (2007) The Art of Listening. Berg

Back’s approach to visual image-making is based on listening to both photographers and those being photographed. Rather than taking a traditional art historical position of the informed, impartial and expert observer; Back is interested to learn about how photographers interact with their social environments, and how subjects negotiate and establish photographic agency. Chapter 4, (Listening with the Eye) provides a good discussion about an extended photographic encounter in London’s East End.

Caroline Knowles and Paul Sweetman (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination. Routledge.

This is a very accessible and relevant text that introduces key concepts around photography, visual methods and the sociological imagination. The introductory chapter by Knowles and afterword by Howard Becker focus on the methodological position of photography and its claim to evidentiality. 20 

Gillian Rose (2012) Visual Methods: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. Sage.

Rose’s book focuses on a critical examination of how photography contributes towards researching societies and cultures. It is a useful introduction to research methods with discussions around photo-elicitation, aesthetics and ethics (chapters 4, 11 and 12). It is helpful to refer to this book in conjunction with Back, Knowles and Pink for a grounding in wider debates within ethnography and qualitative social science.  

Student work


Gasket is a photographic collective formed of four Goldsmiths alumni. They have used their experiences on the programme to form a group which has led to various exhibitions, events and workshops around the UK.

Read more

Skills & careers


This MA develops skills in urban photography, visual ethnography and urban research, communications for urban planning, community arts and visual arts practice.


Graduates of the programme have progressed to the following areas and careers:

  • Doctoral studies
  • curating
  • public relations
  • urban planning
  • advertising
  • community artseducation
  • social research
  • journalism

Find out more about employability at Goldsmiths.

Student profiles


"Goldsmiths gave me the theoretical understanding and confidence to try something new and step off the beaten track."

"Before coming to Goldsmiths I had spent roughly 20 years working as a freelance photographer in the commercial and advertising space. I really loved the job and the great experiences it offered through travel but over the years I became increasingly aware of something missing. I had developed a deep understanding of the technical skills a photographer requires but I felt I was missing the theoretical background to bring the whole thing together. A framework and knowledge to engage on an interdisciplinary level where photographic practice and academic practice merge into critical understanding. I looked into a number of courses and singled out the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. It was the ideal extension to my practical experience, and the fact that I could do the course part-time meant that I could continue working whilst studying.

Aside from the high academic standard of the lectures and the level of preparation behind each session, I think the thing that I valued most was the myriad of nationalities and experiences that wove themselves together in this course. It lead to some challenging and inspiring discussions around working practice and sociological research mainly influenced and fired up by the various social, political, educational, work backgrounds and experiences.

After years of market orientated work assignments I found the act of critical and freethinking inspirational and to my understanding this is the highest aim and long lasting legacy Goldsmiths could pass on. In 2012, after graduating successfully, I set up a photography gallery (Gasket-Gallery) with three likeminded friends. The aim and philosophy is to promote talented photographers who not only have a strong photographic eye and sensibility but also socially engaging works. Goldsmiths gave me the theoretical understanding and confidence to try something new and step off the beaten track."


"It was here that my dormant interest in photography awakened."

"After several years of teaching, I decided to attend Goldsmiths.  It was here that my dormant interest in photography awakened.  I learned about mixing photography with social scientific disciplines, such as anthropology and sociology. I used different methodologies in my practice such as the art of walking and slowing down, getting to know a community, and understanding the rhythms of the street. As a Photography and Urban Cultures Masters student, I have worked with students and conveners from all over the world and create three full bodies of work with sociological underpinnings and analysis.    

As a culminating experience as a Masters student, I was able to reconstruct my family history and engage in a project called Portals and PassagewaysWith the support of lecturers, the project was researched during my dissertation, and exhibited during our collective exhibition Habitus, which was initiated by Photography and Urban Cultures students and part of London’s Urban Photofest. The programme gave me guidance, flexibility, and freedom to initiate projects, work collaboratively, and take risks in a creative interdisciplinary program that integrates both practice and theory."



"The content of the course has provided me with the theoretical framework to critically engage with the urban environment and offered a unique opportunity to develop an interdisciplinary approach to my work."

"After a long career in teaching within further education and schools, I took early retirement and chose to use this opportunity to study for the MA in Photography and Urban Cultures

The content of the course has provided me with the theoretical framework to critically engage with the urban environment and offered a unique opportunity to develop an interdisciplinary approach to my work.  The lectures have been stimulating and I’ve enjoyed them immensely, whilst the quality of teaching has been excellent.   I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to address academic debates, particularly because I’m frequently engaging in narratives that allow me to re-engage with issues I felt strongly about in my younger days.  There’s something very special about having the opportunity for the younger, idealistic self to meet the older, wiser, but still idealistic self!

The opportunity to further my practice, improve my visual language and gain feedback on my work has been invaluable, whilst working with an internationally diverse group has encouraged a wider engagement with concepts and ideas.  The supportive environment has inspired a lot of confidence enabling me to contemplate ideas that I wouldn’t have considered before.  

I am excited that as an older student my future ideas are taken seriously.  When I complete the course I intend to run workshops, create a network of urban photographers in my own area and of course continue to make work."

See more profiles for this programme

Entry requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least upper second class standard in a relevant/related subject. You will also need to demonstrate proficiency in photographic practice, including familiarity with a 35mm camera and photographic printing. 

You might also be considered for some programmes if you aren’t a graduate or your degree is in an unrelated field, but have relevant experience and can show that you have the ability to work at postgraduate level.

Equivalent qualifications
We accept a wide range of international qualifications. Find out more about the qualifications we accept from around the world.

English language requirements
If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to meet our English language requirements to study with us.

For this programme we require:

IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 6.5 in the written test and no individual test lower than 6.0)

If you need assistance with your English language, we offer a range of courses that can help prepare you for postgraduate-level study.

How to apply

You apply directly to Goldsmiths using our online application system. 

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have:

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments
  • An electronic copy of your reference on letter headed paper, or alternatively the email address of your referee who we can request a reference from. It is preferred that you use an academic reference, however in cases where applicants are unable to provide one, a professional reference is acceptable.
  • personal statement – this can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online

          Please see our guidance on writing a postgraduate statement

  • An edited portfolio of visual images (as a PowerPoint or PDF file of prints)
  • If available, an electronic copy of your educational transcript (this is particularly important if you have studied outside of the UK, but isn’t mandatory)

You'll be able to save your progress at any point and return to your application by logging in using your username/email and password.

When to apply

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. 

We encourage you to complete your application as early as possible, even if you haven't finished your current programme of study. It's very common to be offered a place that is conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

Late applications will only be considered if there are spaces available.

If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an earlier application deadline.

Selection process

As part of the selction process, you may be offered an informal interview with the Programme Convenor.

Find out more about applying.

Fees, funding & scholarships

Find out more about tuition fees.

Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants. If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline.


Kirsty MacColl Scholarship

The Department regularly offers the Kirsty MacColl Scholarship Award in memory of singer and musician Kirsty MacColl.

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