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MA in Visual Sociology

Designed for students interested in new ways of exploring and understanding the social world through the use of visual, sensory and other experimental approaches. This programme allows you to study sociological issues alongside innovative methods.

About the department

1 year full-time, 2 years part time
If you're applying for funding, you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for home/EU applicants, or funding for international applicants.

See our tuition fees.
Contact the department
Contact Dr Rebecca Coleman
Visit us
Find out about how you can visit Goldsmiths at one of our open days or come on a campus tour.

The MA will enable you to intervene in and represent the social world by developing the ability to undertake empirical research and present it publicly in a variety of media and materials.

You will engage with sociology as an inventive research practice, orientated towards the creative deployment of research methods.

Programme overview

The MA in Visual Sociology provides an introduction to the range of debates in visual and sensory sociology, encouraging you to build on these by using visual and sensory methodological practices to carry out critical social research in your areas of interest, whether this is science and technology, contemporary capitalism, gender and sexual cultures, human rights, globalisation or other aspects of social life.

The programme combines lectures and seminars with practical sessions and workshop-based projects in which you develop a hands-on approach to sociological research, providing a skill base in methods which could be used in public sector contexts, art/media research, design or commercial application.

As well as presenting your ideas through writing, during the course you will have the opportunity to produce a range of different outputs including exhibitions, visual models and film/video. Critical feedback sessions function as a testing ground for individual projects.

Themed projects allow groups of students to further develop a portfolio of research outputs geared to a variety of audiences. The dissertation allows you to undertake a substantive research project geared to your individual interests.

You will have access to the Visual Media Lab, which offers post-production and editing stations, as well as equipment for photography and video. Students can also borrow equipment from College-wide Media Equipment Centre.

The MA is based in the Department of Sociology, the joint top Sociology department in the UK, home of The Methods Lab and at the forefront of research using live methods. It is taught by staff with a wide range of experience in both Sociology and interdisciplinary research, including visual and experimental approaches.

Further Information: The course is suitable for applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds, including art, design, anthropology, media and communications, cultural studies, geography, and sociology. 

What you study

Video: Click to play

In the first part of the course you will take 'Sensory Sociology', a module that investigates the transformation of sociology in the age of visual, digital and other empirical methods. The module 'Key Debates for Inventive and Visual Sociology' enables you to address debates within visual sociology, and also encompasses more recent issues surrounding the notions of media, translation and studio practice which are associated with inventive approaches. Assessment of these modules is by essay.

Alongside these modules you will take a core practical component that offers the opportunity to gain skills in photography, sound and video and to develop materials that engage a sociological imagination. A central focus is on how to translate a research question into a variety of materials or media and to be able to critically discuss the selection and use of these.

In the second term you continue with a practical module in inventive sociology in which students working individually or in groups respond to a theme to create a visual, sensory or experimental object or media. Assessment of the practical work includes a diary of research process alongside documentation of work.

These core modules are taught in Sociology. In the second term you will also take an option that may be chosen from Sociology or may be taken from departments across College including the Departments of Anthropology, English and Comparative Literature, Politics and Media and Communications. 

Optional modules in Sociology address themes such as

  • contemporary capitalism and inequality
  • human rights
  • globalisation and urban life
  • gender and sexuality
  • science, technology and medicine
  • digitization of social life

In the summer term you will complete a dissertation involving a major practical project consisting of any media and addressing a specific sociological problem. You will meet for individual supervision with a member of the Sociology staff.
 The dissertation is a substantive piece of research in which you develop a visual, inventive or experimental approach to a topic of your choice.

What is visual sociology? 

Video: Click to play

Students and staff try to define what visual sociology means for them.

[image credit: Katrina Jungnickel, Sociology PhD 2009, Enquiry Machine]

Applying and entrance requirements

You can apply directly to Goldsmiths via the website by clicking the ‘apply now’ button on the main programme page.

Before submitting your application you’ll need to have: 

  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments.
  • The email address details of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference.
  • A personal statement. This can either be uploaded as a Word Document or PDF, or completed online.
  • 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. 

If you're applying for funding you may be subject to an application deadline. Find out more about funding opportunities for UK/EU students and international students. 

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

Selection process

Admission to many programmes is by interview, unless you live outside the UK. Occasionally, we'll make candidates an offer of a place on the basis of their application and qualifications alone.

Entrance requirements

You should have (or expect to be awarded) an undergraduate degree of at least upper second class standard in Sociology or a relevant/related subject. 

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.

We also accept a wide range of international equivalent qualifications, which can be found on our country-specific pages. If you'd like more information, please contact the Admissions Office.

English language

If your first language is not English, you normally need a minimum score of 6.5 in IELTS (including 6.5 in the written element) or equivalent. 

Please check our English language requirements for more information.

Find out more about applying 

Contact us 

Get in touch via our online form


+44 (0)20 7919 7766

International (non-EU)

+44 (0)20 7919 7702


 Les Back - MA Visual Sociology Les Back is Professor of Sociology and has been the director of the ESRC-funded Live Sociology Programme, which trains social researchers in the use of new media in ethnographic social research. His most recent book is The Art of Listening (Oxford: Berg, 2007)
  Rebecca Coleman is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths and Convener of the MA in Visual Sociology. Her research and teaching focuses on visual and sensory sociology, the body and inventive research methodologies. Recent publications include Transforming Images: Screens, Affect, Futures (2012) and, co-edited with Jessica Ringrose, Deleuze and Research Methodologies (2013).
Michael Guggenheim - Visual Sociology  Michael Guggenheim is Senior Research Fellow in Sociology and directs an ERC-starting grant project “Organising Disaster”. He is also working on a multi-media project, which deals with forecasting disasters. He has been a co-curator of “die wahr/falsch inc.” a sociological exhibition on the relationship of science and society in Vienna. 
 Paul Halliday - Visual Sociology Paul Halliday is a photographer, film-maker and urbanist trained in photojournalism and fine art film. He contributes to the MA in Visual Sociology as a workshop leader.
  Anja Kanngieser is Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, with a background in geography and communication studies. She is currently engaged in the experimentation and invention of sound based methods in the social sciences and contributes to the MA in Visual Sociology as a workshop leader.  
 Noortje Marres - Visual Sociology Noortje Marres is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process at Goldsmiths. She was a founding member of the Amsterdam-based foundation and developer of the IssueCrawler research platform.
 Nirmal Puwar - Visual Sociology Nirmal Puwar is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths. She works on postcolonialism; institutions, race and gender & critical methodologies and is interested in sound cultures. Most recently she has been directing Noise of the past, a collaborative public intervention in war and memory, launched in Coventry Cathedral during Remembrance Day.
  Nina Wakeford is Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths. She founded and runs the research group INCITE bringing together social research and design, with particular relevance to high technology development.




Core modules

Code Module title Credits
SO71113B Introduction to Sensory Sociology 15 CATS

This 5-week MA module offers an introduction to medium-specific social research and investigates the transformation of sociology in the age of visual, digital and other empirical technologies. Adopting a focus on ‘sociology in-the-making’, on the process of sociological research rather than its products, this module follows the ‘empirical cycle’: it provides an overview of key formative moments of sociological research, from ‘producing data’ to ‘formulating research questions’ and ‘the public presentation of results.’

It takes as its starting point the ‘doubling of social research’: partly as a consequence of the proliferation of social research tools and practices across social life, key empirical tasks of social research now refer both to social practices ‘out there’ as well as to our own work as social researchers. The module will pay special attention to devices of social research: the techniques, objects and settings in and with which social research is performed, both in and outside the academy.

Assessment: An essay of 2,500-3,500 words.

SO71117A Key debates for Inventive and Visual Sociology 15 CATS

Visual sociology has taught sociology that text is not the only medium. This module introduces you to the problems of visuality and representation in sociology, beginning with classical debates in visual sociology, but including more recent debates surrounding the notions of media, translation and the studio to discuss how sociology can represent the social. The module will introduce you to the complexity of decisions to be taken in inventive sociology once the primacy of text is relinquished.

The module has two aims: first to introduce you to key fields of inventive sociology, and second to key problems of doing inventive sociology. We discuss the cooperation of sociologists with other specialists, such as photographer or videographers, the relationship between self-representations of research subjects and those of the sociologist, the problem of representing objects which are not visual or textual in nature, combining different media, and finally how to address specific audiences.

Assessment: An essay of 2,500-3,500 words.

SO71118A Introduction to Visual and Inventive Practice 30 CATS

This module is the core practical component of the MA Inventive and Visual Sociology. A contextual introduction to inventive sociological methods, with one session on ‘materials’ and one on ‘drawing’, leads students into intensive practical workshops. You are introduced to still and video camera equipment, sound recorders and basic post-production software as well as sound and video editing software. 

Assessment: 3,500 word report on research process including diary samples and documentation of practical work.

SO71119A Inventive Sociological Practice 30 CATS

This module aims to allow you to respond to a theme to create a visual, sensory or experimental object or media. It's based on a theme on which the whole class works. Themes will be chosen according to the specialisations and related to ongoing research projects of the teaching team. Indicative themes for the briefs are: Austerity, Disasters, Numbers. You will work alone or in pairs to create an inventive sociological object, which will be exhibited in a small exhibition at the end of term. The theme of the brief will change each year.

SO71121A Dissertation 60 CATS

In the summer term you complete a major practical project consisting of any media and addressing a specific sociological problem. You will meet for individual supervision with a member of the Sociology staff. 
The dissertation is a substantive piece of research in which you develop a visual, inventive or experimental approach to a topic of your choice.

Option modules

You will chose an Option module from Sociology or from departments across the College including the Departments of AnthropologyEnglish and Comparative LiteraturePolitics and Media and Communications. 

Modules in Sociology address themes such as:

  • contemporary capitalism and inequality
  • human rights
  • globalisation and urban life
  • gender and sexuality
  • science, technology and medicine
  • digitisation of social life


Programme specification

To find out more about this degree, including details about the ways you'll be assessed and information about our marking criteria, you can download the programme specification.

Student profiles

Clare Killeen

"The Visual Sociology MA was exactly what I was looking for - and more!"

The Visual Sociology MA was exactly what I was looking for - and more! I joined the course hoping to get practical experience using qualitative methods and improve my film and photography skills while continuing to study social theory. In practice, I've learned so much more. Students considering the MA should be prepared for a very broad understanding of 'the visual' as the programme covers Sensory and Inventive Sociology as well. From day one this MA has opened my mind to methodologies and areas of study I had never before considered. One of its strengths has been the people. I have learned from each student in this diverse class - no two students with the same background. Staff, too, are very invested in the new MA and really encourage experimentation.

Ali Eisa

"The fact this programme only runs at Goldsmiths is testament to the experimental and cross disciplinary atmosphere"

I graduated from the BA Fine Art in 2010 and spent 3 years working independently as an artist in London. During that period of time I became more and more interested in how art might become part of, include, and shape research into the social world. Finding out about the Visual Sociology MA programme was perfect because it allowed me to continue to think about visual and material questions of making as well as introducing me to such a wealth of ideas, theory, research practices and most importantly, a group of other students and tutors, that have expanded my understanding of what visual research is about. The fact this programme only runs at Goldsmiths is testament to the experimental and cross disciplinary atmosphere here and I have enjoyed my time immensely, trying to soak up as much learning as I can! I'm looking forward to putting what I have learned into action by developing the work I was doing previously.


The MA in Visual Sociology cuts across a range of research in the department and university, including on visual and sensory methods, digital sociology, science and technology studies, feminist theory and cultural theory.  It has particular links to the Methods Lab.  Other ongoing or recent projects conducted by staff involved in the MA in Visual Sociology include:


This programme attracts students from a wide range of backgrounds, including art and design, business, and the third sector, as well as those with social science degrees.  This means the careers that they are interested in pursuing are wide and varied. 

The programme helps students develop their critical and analytical abilities as well as a number or other practical skills and competencies, which are valued in different sectors.  For example, as well as reflecting moves within sociology to study the visual and sensory, the MA also responds to how sociological methods – such as interviews, focus groups and ethnography – are increasingly used in commercial settings, including, as examples, in social and market research, and in research and development for international companies.

The programme can lead to many types of career including in the arts and creative industries, the charity and public sectors, social research.  A number of graduates from the programme are also interested in pursuing further academic research.

Suggested reading

Staff publications

Back, Les (2007) The Art of Listening. Oxford: Berg

Back, Les & Puwar, Nirmal (Eds.) (2012) Live Methods. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell

Guggenheim, Michael (2011) ‘The Proof Is In the Pudding. On “Truth to Materials” in STS, Followed by an Attempt to Improve It.’ Science Technology and Industry Studies 7 (1): 65–86.

Jungnickel, Katrina. (2006) 73 Urban Journeys, Research website, Studio INCITE, Goldsmiths, London, Available at

Knowles, Caroline, and Paul Sweetman, eds. 2004. Picturing the Social Landscape: Visual Methods in the Sociological Imagination. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lury, Celia. & Wakeford, Nina (Eds.) (2012) Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge.

Marres, Noortje (2012) Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Puwar, Nirmal (2007) Social Cinema Scenes, Space and Culture 10 (2) 253-270

Puwar, Nirmal (2011) Noise of the Past: Spatial Interruptions of War, Nation, and Memory, Senses and Society 6 (3) 325-345

Savage, M. & R. Burrows (2007). The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology, Sociology (41): 885‐899.

Wakeford, Nina (2003) Working with New Media’s Cultural Intermediaries. Information, Communication & Society 6 (2): 229–245

Further reading

Ball, Susan, and Chris Giligan, eds. 2010. “Special Issue: Visualising Migration and Social Division: Insights From Social Sciences and the Visual Arts.”Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (online journal) 11 (2).

Bauer, Martin W. 2000. “Analysis of Noise and Music as Social Data.” In Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound: A Practical Handbook, ed. Martin W. Bauer and George Gaskell, 263-261. London: SAGE.

Becker, Howard. 1995. “Visual sociology, documentary photography, and photojournalism: It’s (almost) all a matter of context.” Visual Studies 10: 5-14.

Becker H. (2007) Telling about Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bowker, G. and Star, S. L. (1999) Sorting Things Out. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lather, Patti (1993) Fertile Obsession: Validity After Poststructuralism, The Sociological Quarterly 34 (4): 673–693.

Latour, B (2005) Reassembling the Social: an introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Latour, B (2005) Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. B. Latour and P. Weibel (Eds). Cambridge: MIT Press

Law, John. After Methods: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge

Mizen, Phillip and Carol Wolkowitz (Eds.) (2012), ‘Visualising Landscapes of Work and Labour’, Special Issue of Sociological Research Online, May.

Moody, Cyrus. 2005. “The sounds of science: Listening to laboratory practice.” Science, Technology & Human Values 30 (2): 175.

Myers, Natasha. (2008) “Molecular Embodiments and the Body-work of Modeling in Protein Crystallography.” Social Studies of Science 38 (2) (April 1): 163 -199.

Pauwels, Luc. (2010). “Visual Sociology Reframed: An Analytical Synthesis and Discussion of Visual Methods in Social and Cultural Research.”SMR/Sociological Methods & Research 38 (4): 545-581

Pink, Sarah. (2009). Doing Sensory Ethnography. Los Angeles; London: SAGE.

Pink, Sarah, Phil Hubbard, Maggie O’Neill, and Alan Radley. (2010). “Walking across disciplines: from ethnography to arts practice.” Visual Studies 25 (March 23): 1-7.

Roberts, Brian. (2008). “Performative Social Science: A Consideration of Skills, Purpose and Context.” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research (online journal) 9 (2) (May 31).

Students Work

As part of the Inventive Sociological Practice course, students produce work on a specific theme, which is shown in an end of term exhibition. 

In 2013-14 the theme was Austerity and the Body.

The exhibition flyer is available here Austerity flyer


                                           Marina Sandwich Board

‌                                           Sandwich Board - Detail from work by Marina da Silva


Hana-Future                   Rose Austerity Sound

 Future -Detail from work by Hana Makovcova                                 Austerity Sound - Detail from work by Rose Delcour-Min


                                                                       Headphones Cake

                                              ‌‌                         Headphones Cake - Detail from work by Ali Eisa and Clare Killeen


Melissa Les Mirror                   Les Beckie Ali

Melissa Thatcher discussing her work with Les Back                                                           Les Back, Beckie Coleman and Ali Eisa engaging 

                                                                                                                                               with Roz Mortimer’s work

                                    VisSoc Exhibition Feedback

                                    Feedback session with Les Back, Nina Wakeford and MA Visual Sociology students                                                                                                    




Content last modified: 13 Apr 2015

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