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MPhil & PhD in Visual Culture

  • Length
    3-4 years full-time or 4-7 years part-time
  • Department
    Visual Cultures

Course overview

We welcome applicants wishing to explore visual culture understood as a meeting ground between creative practices, the philosophical and the political.

We usually accept research students into the Department of Visual Cultures on the basis of a match between your proposed research and the current research interests of the department as well as an assessment of your qualifications and suitability to undertake a research degree.

In order to ascertain whether your project matches our research interests and meets the criteria for MPhil and PhD level study, please consult our application pack which also contains a proposal form.

Research in the department is organised around the following thematic clusters:

  • Culture, Memory, Futurity
  • Environmental Humanities and Ecologies
  • Globalisation and Transcultural practices
  • Performance and Live Art
  • Philosophy, Critical and Visual Theory
  • Political Aesthetics
  • Sexes, Genders, Genres
  • Spatial Practice and Architecture
  • Technologies of Image and Sound
  • The Curatorial

Find out more about research degrees at Goldsmiths.

Contact the department

If you have specific questions about the degree, contact the Programme Leader, Professor Nicole Wolf

Structure

PhD seminar

In addition to regular tutorials with your supervisor, you will attend the MPhil/PhD Visual Culture seminar in your first and second years of study. This is a weekly seminar dedicated to research questions and theoretical problems of study at MPhil/PhD level. It has the additional aim of fostering a supportive and participatory postgraduate research culture in the Department.

Other courses, seminars, workshops and events

As well as participating in the PhD Seminar you are invited to audit an MA Special Subject of your choice should this be helpful. At key moments throughout the year, MPhil/PhD students on the Visual Culture programme join students on our MPhil/PhD Curatorial/Knowledge programme and there are also opportunities to benefit from seminars and workshops associated with our Centre for Research Architecture.

The Visual Cultures Public Programme

You are to attend the department’s Visual Cultures Public Programme. These events take place on Thursday evenings and are followed by an opportunity to socialize with staff, fellow students and other attendees.

Research training

The Department requires all students to attend the research student training programmes organised by ReSKIN (the Research Skills Intercollegiate Network). This is an organisation made up of various departments across the University of London, and the training is aimed specifically at students studying for a PhD in Art History, Visual Culture, Fine Art Practice and cognate disciplines. A college-wide programme of research training is also provided, which involves an induction course (which all students should attend), introduction to information technologies and the use of library and bibliographic resources, and sessions on research planning, presentation skills and ethics.

Department

In the Department of Visual Cultures we explore and produce
new forms of art history and theory

Visual Cultures

Study in a department that combines an innovative approach with passionate academics, and makes full use of London's many opportunities to study art history.

Our approach

Our degree programmes deliberately move away from chronological histories: the innovative art of our time arises out of the conflict of ideas. So you’ll explore the subject in the context of pertinent social, cultural and political issues and phenomena.

That means not only investigating artefacts you might see in museums and galleries, but also those making up our everyday visual and technological environment: including urban landscapes, film and video, and popular culture.

Our academics

Our academics are passionate about the subject and are at the sharp end of theoretical developments in everything from architecture to spatial theory. Some are practising artists and curators, which makes our degrees relevant and exciting.

Our location

Our teaching takes advantage of the many galleries, art spaces, museums, cultural facilities and specialist libraries in London.

Find out more about the Department of Visual Cultures.

Research

We understand Visual Culture to be the meeting ground between creative practices, the philosophical and the political. The research being carried out by both staff and students involves not just the range of thematics and concerns outlined below, but also a set of dynamic methodologies that span the theoretical and the practice based and foreground exploratory and innovative modes of submission and delivery.

The Department welcomes proposals from applicants wishing to explore visual culture within the context of one of the following ten research clusters:

Culture, Memory, Futurity

In this cluster we explore the ways in which the present is structured by a relation to the past and the future. We attend to memory as a collective as well as an individual faculty: something that, in a globalized environment, is produced across geographical, cultural and political borders. We also focus on the various ways in which memory might be blocked (by trauma, or by unconscious and/or political repression), an interest in how disavowed and blocked memories can function as ‘residual culture’ and ‘hauntological’ spectres and, indeed, how the past might itself be ‘re-fictioned’ within the present.

Some research approaches the future as another kind of spectre and fiction impinging upon the present. Where afro- and other new futurisms are concerned, a key preoccupation is the role that various projections and imaginations of the future can play to break us out of present delimitations. 

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Alice Andrews; Kodwo Eshun; Mark Fisher; Henriette Gunkel; Ayesha Hameed; Simon O’Sullivan; Astrid Schmetterling; Jon Shaw; Lynn Turner; Nicole Wolf.

Environmental Humanities and Ecologies

In this research cluster we explore visual practices and interventions that address unavoidable questions concerning environmental crises and ecological sustainability, human and non-human geographies, ‘the animal question’ and sociologies of everyday lifeThese themes are approached from an interdisciplinary view of the arts and sciences.

Our wide and rapidly growing field within the humanities and post-humanities has allowed us to explore and rethink accepted cartographies, technological investments in environmental ethics and awareness, the legality and politics of the lived environment, the nature/culture dialectic within art history and, fundamentally, the categories of globalisation and climate change following the Anthropocene.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Ayesha Hameed; Wood Roberdeau; Susan Schuppli; Lynn Turner; Eyal Weizman; Nicole Wolf.

Globalization and Transcultural practices

In this cluster we chart connections and collisions between territorial claims, postcolonial translations and global circulations. Thinking beyond local and global distinctions, our research is situated within the transgressive spaces between established practices and knowledges. As such, we navigate between inherited bodies of postcolonial knowledge, human geography, transcultural memory, urbanisation, questions of regionality and more recent discourses on crises of financialization, migrancy, debt, planetary resources and precarity.

Alongside the material and administrative organization of our world, our work considers the role of critical counter possibilities as they make themselves manifest in new realities.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Elvira Dyangyani Ose; Henriette Gunkel; Ayesha Hameed; Jean-Paul Martinon; Louis Moreno; Stefan Nowotny; Irit Rogoff; Astrid Schmetterling; Nicole Wolf.

Performance and Live Art

Our work in this cluster encompasses performance in both theory and practice, and embraces a ‘broad spectrum’ approach to issues of performance and performativity. Our objects of study include performance art and live art, but also extend to the performativity of identities and affects across a range of cultural practices and registers.

For example, we explore performance art as a fictional, world-making activity; queer theatricality and challenges to critical seriousness; the performativity of species across the animal/human divide; performance and cultural value; post-punk performance and the popular imaginary; and the performativity of resistance to contemporary surveillance technologies. Most of the research undertaken in this area works across a spectrum of activities including scholarship, art making, and curatorial projects.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Zach Blas; Bridget Crone; Simon O’Sullivan; Lynn Turner.

Philosophy, Critical and Visual Theory

Our work in this cluster centres on modern and contemporary thought that bears on the practice, display and perception of art, and, more broadly, on the workings of representation and visual culture, broadly construed. Often engaging with new developments in aesthetics, we read a wide range of western and non-western authors belonging to a number of philosophical practices or traditions including deconstruction, materialism, phenomenology, political theory, and speculative realism.

We have a specific interest in the work of Agamben, Benjamin, Deleuze, Derrida, Guattari, Haraway, Heidegger, Malabou, Meillassoux, Merleau-Ponty, Mbembe, Nancy, and Spivak. We are affiliated to both the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought (CPCT) and the Research Group in Continental Philosophy (INC).

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Jorella Andrews; Jenny Doussan; Andy Fisher; Mark Fisher; Sam MacAuliffe; Jean-Paul Martinon; Stefan Nowotny; Simon O’Sullivan; Brendan Prendeville; Wood Roberdeau; Irit Rogoff; Lynn Turner.

Political Aesthetics

In this cluster, our work is particularly focused on relationships between radical politics and aesthetic practices. Objects of study include subculture and the politics of the minor, strategies of fugitivity, anonymity and/or opacity, dissident subjectivities, political cinema and collective filmmaking, post-punk and popular modernism, intersections of Marxism and aesthetics, the politics of anti-art, the militant aesthetics of masking, the visualization of border zones, trajectories of black radicalism, political violence, and the politics of visibility.

Working across a range of methodologies, researchers approach the conceptualization of political change from a global perspective. Beyond our objects of study, we are invested in interrogating the very notion of the political, and the power it wields across disparate geographical and discursive fields. 

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Jorella Andrews; Zach Blas; Andy Fisher; Mark Fisher; Nadja Milner-Larsen; Manuel Ramos; Wood Roberdeau; Susan Schuppli; Simon O’Sullivan; Eyal Weizman; Nicole Wolf.

Sexes, Genders, Genres

Speaking to and developing from the histories, politics and philosophies of feminist and queer theory, our work in this cluster engages diverse methodologies to investigate the making of sexed subjects. Our attention to this making – or poetics – might be given focus by art or moving image works, by the ethics through which we encounter one another, or through the sexual practices, styles or genres developed by particular subcultural groups or locations. 

Thus our research includes specific engagements with contemporary South Asian feminist film-making practices; the challenges posed by the scientific turn in new material feminism; the onto-epistemologies of sexual difference; the reassessment of the politics of queer visibility in a post-digital age.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Alice Andrews; Zach Blas; Henriette Gunkel; Nadja Milner Larsen; Jean Paul Martinon; Lynn Turner; Nicole Wolf. 

Spatial Practice and Architecture

Our work within this cluster explores the intersections between legal frames, territorial divisions, environmental conditions, technoscience and aesthetic regimes as they express themselves within spatial and political contexts. We conduct our research using various investigative methods but in particular through on-the-ground field-work combined with the use of digital tools for data visualisation, media mapping, terrain modeling and remote sensing.

In conjunction with our longstanding activist concerns around human rights and state violence, current research also focuses upon ‘radical ecologies’ and ‘datascapes’. Most work in this cluster is carried out under the auspices of the Centre for Research Architecture which brings together practitioners of architecture and other related spatial practices who are developing multi-year practice-based research that investigates a contemporary political condition. 

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Ayesha Hameed; Louis Moreno; Susan Schuppli; Eyal Weizman.

Technologies of Image and Sound

Our work in this cluster engages with the creation and manipulation of sound and image via various technologies, including cinema, television, the digital, photography and sound devices, and with the political, aesthetic and philosophical discourses associated with these practices. We regard our explorations of these technologies and discourses as opportunities to engage with issues key to our contemporary world and, indeed, to imagine alternative media configurations.

Of particular interest to us are practices that explore social and political structures, as well as documentary and fictional modes, alongside ideas from the fields of the postcolonial, queer theory, cybernetics, film and television studies, the digital, sound theory, new media, contemporary art and philosophy. We work with these practices and texts in an ongoing reformulation of our questions, ideas and methodologies.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Jorella Andrews; Zach Blas; Bridget Crone; Kodwo Eshun; Andy Fisher; Mark Fisher; Ayesha Hameed; Manuel Ramos; Lynn Turner; Susan Schuppli; Nicole Wolf;

The Curatorial

Our work in this cluster addresses questions about the assembling and display of artistic practices, institutional and social analyses, and critical epistemology. As such, we regard the curatorial as a place from which to investigate museum histories, past and present exhibition practices, and the dispersal of curatorial activity away from the institutions that grounded it historically and onto the open platforms of social engagements and public assembly.

Acknowledging the contemporary global proliferation of curatorial activity, our research goes beyond tracking contemporary curating activity in the form of exhibition making. Instead we think the curatorial in terms of its potential to rewrite power relations and cultural values within public culture. Graduate research within this cluster occurs mainly within our dedicated MPhil/PhD programme in Curatorial/Knowledge.

Staff specializing in some of the above are: Bridget Crone; Jenny Doussan; Jean-Paul Martinon; Stefan Nowotny; Elvira Dyangani Ose; Manu Ramos; Irit Rogoff; Nicole Wolf.

Research staff

Find out more about research staff in the department.

Entry requirements

You should normally have (or expect to be awarded) a taught Masters in a relevant subject area. 

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 6.5 in writing and no element 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: 

  • Your completed research proposal. Full details are outlined in our application pack
  • Details of your education history, including the dates of all exams/assessments
  • The email address of your referee who we can request a reference from, or alternatively an electronic copy of your academic reference
  • Contact details of a second referee
  • 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

  • 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.

If you wish to study on a part-time basis, you should also indicate how many hours a week you intend to devote to research, whether this will be at evenings or weekends, and for how many hours each day.

When to apply 

We accept applications from October for students wanting to start the following September. Applications are processed and assessed in three application rounds. Please consult our application pack for details of ALL key application deadlines.

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 conditional on you achieving a particular qualification. 

If you're applying for external funding from one of the Research Councils, make sure you submit your application by the deadline they've specified. 

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.

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.

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