Visual and Media Anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin

The Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (Department of Political and Social Sciences) at the Freie Universität Berlin, a university of excellence, is offering an innovative continuing education online Master's (M.A.) program in Visual and Media Anthropology with additional in-house-classes. The vision of the program is to bring visual and media anthropological knowledge to people who have already settled, and are future leaders, in the film industry or governmental and non- governmental organizations, as well as to the current and future leading voices of the museums, film festivals, new media, galleries and other art und culture production industries.

  • The two-year Master's program comprises 120 ECTS
  • The language of instruction is English.
  • It is a web-based advanced graduate degree program educating media professionals in visual and media anthropology
  • Additionally to the E-learning classes, we do offer in-house-classes in blocks (2 weeks twice a year).
  • The program is highly international. Students are coming from all continents and 50 different countries
  • Since its inception (winter semester 2008/2009), the program has a successfully high rate of applicants
  • The program immatriculates between 20 and 30 students every year

Learning Methods

The MA in Visual and Media Anthropology is the winner of the E-learning prize 2010 of the Centre for Digital Systems (CeDiS). We use a combination of different e-learning tools (Adobe Connect Webinar, LMS Blackboard, multi-media Online modules designed by our lecturer and 3D-virtual environments with avatars and voice-chat).

Image 1: Students and lecturer in the Adobe Connect Webinar

Image 2: 3D Virtual Classrooms on Edunation Island, SL Software

The program is a combination of E-learning and in-house learning with five main units:

  1. The distance E-learning modules (you can stay in your country or travel or take care about your children while studying the online-modules)
  2. Four in-house workshops at Freie Universität Berlin at the beginning of each semester (October and April) lasting two weeks long
  3. An internship in a TV production company, online media company, film festival, ethnological museum, film archive or other related fields
  4. A short film or media project
  5. The master's thesis and/ or the film or media project


The master's Program focuses on the relationships between culture and media in a number of areas, such as:

  • problems in representation of culture through media
  • ethical aspects of filming / doing photography in "other" cultures
  • the significance of ethnographic films and photography for Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • the development of media in "Indigenous" or "native", Diaspora, and non-Western communities
  • the influence of online environments, film/media on cultures, gender identity, political identity (activism online).
  • the role of media in environmental anthropology (visualization and mapping of (trans-)local indigenous knowledge)
  • Virtual culture research; Online communities and social networks
  • The program emphasises ethnographic film and other visual and auditive means as tools for successful communication between anthropologists, researchers, journalists and transnational or local communities and networks

Teaching philosophy

Our teaching philosophy is to encourage students to develop their own creativity and knowledge on their way to finding a place in the world as a human being that not only "fights" against, but also answers to injustice and the destruction of our environment and human rights with the wisdom of the combination of written and audio-visual projects. This includes documenting injustice or enfolding cultural landscapes and local knowledge of alternative and transnational cultural performativity with the aim of rethinking our and the other’s roles, values, norms, rituals, mythologies, media practices in the age of digital modernities and with the aim to discuss digital humanities from an anthropological perspective. We see Visual and Media Anthropology as firmly bound to our "mother discipline" of Social and Cultural Anthropology, but we encourage our students to cross the border of science with the creative methods of Visual Anthropology that will enable you to become not only a documenter and interpreter of culture, but a producer of culture, of new cultural aspects.

This also means trying - what seems impossible - to melt ratio and emotio - to talk about using the mind for the "non thinkable" (in the Foucauldian tradition). A visual anthropologist is a bit a sculptor of culture. You take a raw (hidden or "unconscious" - as Claude Lévi-Strauss would have said) piece of a culture and you ax it, you maybe fondle it, you are astonished, you are moved, sometimes appalled. You will go through the process in which you understand that culture is a historical formation, thousands of years old and that you know nothing about it, but your own identity is determined and formed so deeply by it. What is the secret of change in societies, in individuals? When do societies change and why? What are the similarities, what are the differences between cultures? Do we have a free will, or are we predetermined forever by formations that are thousands of years old? This is one of the most difficult and still unanswered questions of the Social Sciences.

Visual Anthropology as a Method

In contradiction to philosophy, social and cultural anthropology has always been an empirical science, which means that we talk to the people, we live at least several months or even years in a foreign society and study the culture of a specific group of people. We try to give the people their own voice during this research, instead of speaking for or about them, and this is not only because we are deeply ashamed about our own European and North American history of colonial cruelties. We do our research with the core methods of participant observation and interviews in the way we learned it from Malinowski and his studies in the Trobriand Islands. In that sense, we follow the ideas of David McDougall (1990) as well in going "beyond observational Cinema". The challenge is to be aware of ethnocentrism and to overcome it. In the tradition of the debate about the "crisis of representation" (e.g. James Clifford) and in the tradition of classical ethnographic fieldwork, self-reflectivity is one of our most important methodological principles, be it through doing research with a camera or in new media cultures online. That means reflecting upon your own bias and cultural origin, which influences your always "subjective" research focus.

© Mike Terry 2015, Berlin

Our focus is on the visual aspects of cultures, but our understanding of the "iconic turn" goes further so that we treat "inner images" as visual aspects of cultures as well. This means that poetic text or oral productions can be treated as a visual representation as well and they can find their place and meaning as audio-data in a visual project. We see ourselves in the tradition of a filmic approach that Jean Rouch (who learned from Marcel Mauss and Marcel Griaule) demonstrated with his film Chronique d'un Eté, in which he tried to dissolve the barrier between the "objective" anthropologist / filmmaker and his interview partners, formerly "subjects".

Audiovisual projects deeply rooted in anthropology enable us to stand up against the suppression of minorities, be it marginalized groups or the queer or LGBT communities worldwide or the ongoing suppression of woman and "people of color" all over the world. Visual Anthropology does not judge, but instead tries to understand and is therefore an audio-visual communicator or mediator in conflictive or traumatized cultural situations. Visual and Media Anthropology uncovers and makes deeply historical rooted cultural knowledge visible, revealing how to cope with conflicts, crisis and catastrophes that all human beings and societies have to deal with at some point in their lives. Furthermore, we try to understand the "pre-modern" or “indigenous” religious roots of cultures and the suppression of these religious belief systems through the world religions and also, the formations of syncretism.

Job Opportunities

The Masters' Program in Visual and Media Anthropology provides students with theoretical and practical knowledge of Visual and Media Anthropology. This advanced degree program teaches the requisites necessary for an employment in a wide range of media fields such as: production of ethnographic films, specialized programming and distribution of ethnographic films and video, ethnographic and documentary film festivals, community-based documentary production (indigenous filmmaking), management of ethnographic film/ video libraries and archives, etc., jobs in the field of Digital humanities. Please have a look on our students & Alumni page and read some CVs of our Alumnis.

Structure of the Program

Overview: Program Structure (download grafik-pdf)

First Semester

The Master program starts in the first winter semester with a 2-week in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany with Modules 1a, 1c, 1d and 2a of the two basic modules. The students need to organise travel and accommodation on their own. We will provide information for low priced accommodation. The students are expected to start preparing for the in-house classes as of mid-September with the help of mini-online packages which will be made available to them.

The rest of the first semester takes place as distance learning via e-learning (LMS Blackboard, Adobe Connect Webinar and 3D virtual classrooms) where you can find well-prepared multimedia online courses, a virtual classroom, a chatroom, a discussion board and other features for E-communication and E-learning where you can meet your lecturers and other students, exchange documents and work in groups.

Second Semester

The Master program starts in the summer semester with a two week in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany. The students are expected to start preparing for the in-house classes as of mid-March with the help of mini-online packages available online for the in-house course preparations. Students should choose two of the three profile modules (six classes).

The rest of the second semester takes place as distance learning via e-learning (LMS Blackboard and in the Adobe Connect Webinar with simultaneous meetings via voice-chat and webcam and some additional classes in a virtual environment with avatars.

Third Semester


During the third semester the students should complete their internship (9 weeks) in a film production company, TV-station, NGO, a museum or other related field of the master program. Students can decide to start the internship before the winter semester or later. This internship shall give students an insight into potential areas of employment and confront them with the professional demands in one of the related fields. The Internship is accompanyed by an online-seminar "Professional Perspectives in Visual and Media Anthropology" (see modules). In special cases (such as if one student gained already enough professional experiences), students can ask for exemption from the internship and write a replacement paper.

Supervising Courses

The second part of the third semester is comprised of several supervision courses. Students can choose one or two supervisors and start to work on their idea and the first production steps of their final master project. Students should use at least one or two months of the third semester for their self-organised fieldwork.

We offer individual in-house class supervising as well as individual online supervising (via e-mail, skype and virtual classroom). Additional courses such as a Super 8 workshop on "Transcultural Montage" will be offered during the third semester for students (not mandatory but recommended).

Fourth Semester

The last semester of the Master program starts in the summer semester with an in-house workshop in Berlin, Germany. Students should attend all three supervision modules.

The rest of the fourth semester is dedicated to the final M.A. project-thesis. Students should complete the following within three months:

For the Master’s project-thesis, the student must create a visual and/or media piece (i.e. a film, multimedia or photography project), as well as a supplemental theoretical scientific paper (approx. 8,000 words). The completed project is to be submitted as a DVD. The accompanying theoretical scientific paper is to be submitted in two bound copies and a digital version.

Students may choose the topic they wish to elaborate on. The topic has to be closely connected to the subject matters studied. Great importance is attached to the correct use of methodology, the application of theoretical models as well as an acceptable format.

The thesis will be evaluated by two professors.

The Master's degree will be awarded if all modules have been completed successfully, a report on the internship or study project has been handed in and the Master's thesis has been completed.

See Modules for detailed information about the courses