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Contemporary Visual Culture


Admission requirements

Only the following categories of students can register for this course:

  • Students enrolled for the BA programme “Culturele antropologie en ontwikkelingssociologie” at Leiden University who have passed the Propedeuse

  • Exchange and Study Abroad students

  • Students who have been admitted to this course as part of their pre-master programme for the MA in CA-DS

Please see the registration procedure below.


In the course Contemporary Visual Culture we will explore the myriad ways in which forms of visual culture and visuality influence and shape social and political processes and the construction of knowledge in different societies. While our main concern is contemporary social formations, we will also analyze the visual regimes of colonialism and anthropology’s shifting historical engagements with visual technologies. Among other things, we will focus on diverse ways of seeing and looking, on issues of embodiment and sensory perception, on current critical appropriations of the colonial archive, and on modes of self-fashioning through (primarily) visual media. A privileged object of attention will be the role of iconic images in the construction of social difference and political possibility. The book Seeing Through Race offers an entry—via a focus on photography linked to the American civil rights movement—into this complicated representational terrain. The final section of the course looks at aesthetics and politics including the social and epistemological possibilities of the seemingly “borderless” domain of circulating images, their multiple audiences, and their effects in the world today. The last class is scheduled on Friday, November 28th and coincides with the annual Adrian Gerbrands lecture to be delivered this year by Professor Christopher Pinney from University College London.

Course objectives

  • prepares students to examine and discuss the social and cultural construction of the visual and its implications for understanding social formations and processes, ranging from the more local to the more global

  • familiarizes students through case studies with some central themes of visuality and visual culture studies e.g. the visual regimes of colonialism, iconic images, issues of representation and self-fashioning

  • introduces students to the key theoretical debates in visual anthropology and visual culture theory


  • Lectures:
    Tuesdays from 9th of September until 25th of November, 14.00 – 17.00 h in room 5A23.

Mode of instruction

Total of 10 ECTS = 280 study hours (sbu):

  • Lectures 10 × 2 h = 30 SBU

  • Tutorials 10 × 1 h = 20 SBU

  • Study of literature = 735 pages = 122 SBU

  • Two excursions = 10 h = 10 SBU

  • Written assignments = 10 pages = 80 SBU

  • Three presentations of which 2 in group: 16 SBU

Assesment method

Active student participation is expected. Assignments consist of a total of three presentations—2 short group presentations on “Showing seeing” and “Seeing Through Race,” and an individual “Scrapbook” presentation, and an all-day excursion in the Dutch landscape with several short assignments made en route. Students are aexpected to visit the Geisha exhibition at Leiden’s Museum for Volkenkunde and write a response paper on this (2-3 pages). They must also attend the Annual Gerbrands Lecture on November 28th at the Museum for Volkenkunde and write a response paper on that (2-3 pages). The assignments will be posted on blackboard.
Each of the three presentations and the Dutch Light & Landscape excursion counts for 10% of the grade, making a total of 40 %.
The two response papers count each towards 30% of your final grade.
Re-do is only possible if the final grade is below 6, if student has actively participated in the course and submitted most of the assignments / papers / presentations.


  • Registration in Usis is obligatory for the lectures (H) for all participants.
    Registration for the exam is NOT necessary because this course does not have one final (classical) exam.

  • Registration on Blackboard is obligarory for all participants.

  • NB: Exchange students: You can only register for this course if you had officially been admitted during the Admission Procedure.


Blackboard module will be active and wil be used for posting assignments and other course related information.
Students who have been granted admission must register for this course on Blackboard.

Reading list

Students are advised to purchase the following books. Copies are available through the Anthropology student organization Itiwana. Select readings are available through the Leiden University e-journals network and online.

Elizabeth Edwards and Kaushik Bhaumir, eds. (2008)Visual Sense. A cultural reader, Oxford: Berg.
Martin A. Berger. (2011) Seeing Through Race: A Reinterpretation of Civil Rights Photography, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


  • Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply for the exchange programme.
    Only those exchange students whose admission to this particular course has already been approved, need to register for this course in Usis and on Blackboard.

  • BA studenten CA-OS van Universiteit Leiden:
    Inschrijving geschiedt via Usis, alleen voor “hoorcollege HC” en “tentamen TEN”. Bij problemen met Usis-inschrijving, raadpleeg de Usis-helpdesk van de FSW.
    Bij aanhoudende problemen, stuur een mailtje naar met het verzoek om je op de deelnemerslijst van de themamodule te zetten.

  • Pre-master students need to have completed their Admission procedure for the master CA-DS. and to be formally admitted to the pre-master programme.

Contact information

  • Prof. Dr. Patricia Spyer: ; room nr. 3A23 (Pieter de la Court Building)
    Office hours: by appointment