Paul Hockings: "Documentary film, commercial cinema, and the slow growth of ethnographic filming"

Departmental Seminar Series features Paul Hockings, Professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Illinois Chicago, and also Editor-in-Chief of Visual Anthropology (Routledge).

The seminar is followed by informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. All are welcome!


The formative period in ethnographic filming was roughly 1895-1925. It was a time of great technical advance in the cinema, but of little anthropological development of filming as a field method. The few films from this period that we know of were not made by social scientists but by commercial and military experimenters. Although anthropologists rarely did shoot film too, they had no idea of how to use it in teaching or research, and much film was therefore lost.

The following period, which we might date 1925-1945, marked the triumph of Hollywood, but also saw some advance in ethnographic filming. Cinema and ethnography were now like twins engaged in a common enterprise of discovery, identification, appropriation and assimilation of the world, especially its non-Western parts; and a few anthropologists, most notably Mead and Bateson, managed to film effectively in field situations. Now films that used a detectable ethnographic approach were being seen by the general public, most notably Flaherty's "Man of Aran" and Wright's "Song of Ceylon".

World War II marked a major tradition. So far as filming in the field was concerned, there was a hiatus of some years after the Mead–Bateson experience; but light-weight cameras were being developed for use in military reconnoitering, and 16 mm. film, a German innovation, was slowly replacing 35 mm in scholarly research situations.

Research profile

Professor Paul Hockings is a pioneer in the fields of ethnographic film and Visual anthropology. 

The 70-minute film called The Village, which he and Mark McCarty made in 1968, was arguably the first ethnographic film to be completed in the style that quickly became known as Observational Cinema. It is marked by a complete lack of commentary, and is bilingual, in English and Gaelic. The film, which presents a general ethnography of one coastal village in the maritime peasant society of western Ireland, forms a marked contrast with Man of Aran, which Robert Flaherty made in 1934 in the same subculture.

Professor Hockings has studied anthropology and archaeology at the Universities of Sydney, Toronto, Chicago, Stanford and California (Berkeley). He has been working with the Badaga people of the Nilgiri Hills in south India for over half a century. Hockings book "So Long a Saga: Four Centuries of Badaga Social History" (2013), is one of many books written by Hockings on Indian topics, He has also published over 200 articles, as well as editing Principles of Visual Anthropology (1975; 1995 2nd rev. edition, 2009 3rd edition with new preface) and four anthropological encyclopaedias, and producing several documentary films.

Published Dec. 7, 2018 3:16 PM - Last modified Aug. 8, 2019 3:37 PM