Course overview


Online teaching

We are now offering many of our courses online (over Zoom or similar platforms). No prior experience with these platforms is required. Continue learning with us by taking courses remotely via live distance learning.


Urban anthropology has fascinated journalists, photographers, and policy makers since the 1920s. ‘Exploring Urban Anthropology Through City Films’ investigates anthropology through a number of documentaries and fiction films. You will touch on everything from sprawling 1920s urban documentaries (or city symphonies), to the video diaries of Lithuanian-American filmmaker Jonas Mekas, to James Benning’s Slow Cinema.

Why take the Urban Anthropology Through City Films short course at Goldsmiths?

  • Learn about the basic concepts of urban and visual anthropology, including their history, and key writers and theorists.
  • Expand your anthropological understanding and practice in the diverse and vibrant area of New Cross, in South-East London.
  • Develop your ability to independently conduct small-scale ethnographic fieldwork, and other anthropological projects.
  • Discover the nuances between different types of documentary film, including: 
    • Kino Pravda
    • Observational Cinema
    • Cinéma Vérité
    • Direct Cinema
    • Slow Cinema
  • Frame your newfound knowledge of documentary film in terms of key anthropological approaches, both urban and visual.
  • Get to know great photographers of different eras who worked in urban settings, and understand their relationship with visual culture, and the anthropology of the city.

Ethnographic Project

As part of the course, you will have the opportunity to conduct your own ethnographic study on an urban neighbourhood of your choice, using photography, film, and drawing, and present it to the class. You will incorporate and draw on visual anthropology practices, the ethnographic literature surrounding urban anthropology, and elements of visual practices drawn from the documentary films shown as part of the course.



Booking information

Disability Support

We are committed to providing reasonable teaching adjustments for students with disabilities that may impact on their learning experience. If you require adjustments, please complete the relevant section on the booking form and also contact us at so we can respond to your requests as soon as possible. 

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Tutor information


Dr Barbara Knorpp

Barbara Knorpp is an anthropologist with a special interest in film history. Her work is situated in the interdisciplinary arena between anthropology, cinema, media studies, and fine art. Before her PhD she worked in an international photo press agency, collaborated with artists, and worked in documentary and fiction film in Germany, Japan, and Australia. She was a Teaching Fellow in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies at University College, London in 2015-16 and had been a Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University between 2007 and 2014. Barbara is also a Tutor at Open City Docs UCL and a member of the RAI Film Festival film committee. She recently published a book on African Cinema: "African Film Cultures: Context of Creation and Circulation" edited by Winston Mano, Barbara Knorpp and Anuli Agina (2017). She has a background in Anthropology, Theatre, Film, and Television Studies, and Art History.


Course structure

Session 1: The City Symphonies of the 1920s

Looking at early examples of documentary and city films revolving around urban life style and modern architecture, e.g. Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929).

Session 2: Jean Rouch and Cinéma Vérité

Best known for Chronicle of a Summer (1961), Jean Rouch is one of the most controversial figures in ethnographic filmmaking. His film Petit à Petit (1970) tells the story of an African businessman who is conducting ethnographic research in Paris – a reversed anthropology.

Session 3: The Heart of the Angel and Observational Cinema

Working from Molly Dineen’s The Heart of the Angel (1989), a film following 48 hours in the everyday lives of the people who work on the  London Underground, this session will discuss the history of British documentary and the stylistic conventions of observational cinema.

Session 4: La Haine and Docu-Fiction

Mathieu Kassovitz’s powerful drama La Haine (1995) takes an unblinking look at a racially diverse group of young people trapped in the Parisian economic and social underclass. Using the film as a starting point, this session will explore the history of the city’s colonialism.

Session 5: US Filmmakers and Slow Cinema

Filmmakers such as Safi Faye, Jacques Rivette, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz, Chantal Akerman or James Benning have experimented with slow representations of time and silence. In contrast we will watch personal accounts of everyday life by Jonas Mekas.

Session 6: [Guest Speaker] Dave Swindells on Club Culture in London 1980s-1990s (former Timeout Nightlife Editor and Photographer)

Dave Swindells will talk about the photographs that he took as a nightlife editor at Timeout on club culture and subculture in London during the 1980s-1990s.

Session 7: ‘The Exiles’ and Native Americans on Film

Kent MacKenzie spent his student days in the bars of Los Angeles where he befriended a gang of Native Americans. Following their dreams of urban life, The Exiles (1961), offers a refreshing perspective on people living in exile away from their native lands and traditions.

Session 8: Alice in the Cities

The first of the road films that would come to define the career of Wim Wenders, the magnificent Alice in the Cities is an emotionally generous and luminously shot odyssey. A German journalist (Rüdiger Vogler) is driving across the United States to research an article; it’s a disappointing trip, in which he is unable to truly connect with what he sees. Things change, however, when he has no choice but to take a young girl named Alice (Yella Rottländer) with him on his return trip to Germany, after her mother (Lisa Kreuzer)—whom he has just met—leaves the child in his care. Though they initially find themselves at odds, the pair begin to form an unlikely friendship.

Session 9:  Presentations of ethnography projects

Session 10: Shinjuku Boys in Tokyo

Kim Longinotto’s film introduces three ‘onnabes’ – women who live as men and have girlfriends but don’t usually identify as lesbians -, working as club hosts in Tokyo. Shinjuku Boys (1995) is a remarkable documentary about the complexity of female sexuality in Japan.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course, you will:

  • be able to recount the broad history of visual and urban anthropology, and be familiar with the subject’s key writers
  • be familiar with the history of urban documentary film
  • be able to analyse an urban documentary film, and relate this analysis to anthropological theory
  • understand the various schools of documentary filmmaking, and their ways of representing reality
  • be acquainted with the major city photographers
  • be able to conduct small-scale ethnographic fieldwork and conduct interviews, as well as demonstrate an understanding of good ethical fieldwork practice, and of participant observation
  • use photography, film, and drawing as part of your research

About the department

Our Department of Anthropology recently placed in the top 40 in the QS World University Rankings. We are committed to cultivating a unique and creative approach to the discipline, and to encouraging originality in academia, and in the field. Part of our learning process involves “denormalising”, or challenging the familiarity our own experiences, which each of us considers the basis for normality.

The subject covers a wide range of study areas, from politics to economics, and as such, embodies the Goldsmiths-wide ethos of an interdisciplinary approach. We are especially interested in supporting all students by creating a responsive and collaborative learning environment, encouraging personal and social development both within, and beyond, the classroom. At the core of this focus is a commitment to employing our theoretical framework in relevant practical areas, and to understanding and engaging with important contemporary global issues.

In addition to this short course, the Department hosts a number of other exciting courses, including:

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