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Transdisciplinary Networks of Media Knowledge

Principal Investigator: PD Dr. Henning Engelke 
Research Associate: Sophia Gräfe, M.A.
Student Assistant: Nora Neuhaus, B.A.

Long neglected in film studies, research and educational films have received increased scholarly attention in recent years. This interest in part results from the reorientation of film- and media studies in the light of digital culture and changing media environments. It has brought into view, along with research and educational films, the vast field of films produced, distributed and watched outside the film industry: home movies, industrial film, useful cinema, educational film, orphan film, minority cinemas, indigenous film, experimental film and video activism. Because these nontheatrical modes highlight overlooked histories of film that have always unfolded outside the cinema they seem particularly suited to put into perspective the recent “re-location” of film and to develop counter-narratives to established film history. Growing interest in research and educational films is, moreover, related to conceptions of scientific knowledge, originating in the history and sociology of science, where the production of knowledge is studied as an activity distributed across human and non-human actors, technologies, analytic procedures and notational systems.

Considering research and educational films as part of the broader field of nontheatrical film, moreover, brings into focus how cinematic knowledge is entangled in cultural practices, ways of living, minority politics, and questions of cultural identity and representation that resist and have often been excluded from commercial media. This field of film production intersects with concerns of visual anthropology and media anthropology. At the same time, it exists outside the academic context, highlighting the role of film as a political and social practice that shapes perceptions of self and others often with the intent of changing existing circumstances.

This project considers the little studied interrelations between research and educational films with documentary and experimental film cultures in the US from the 1950s to the 1970s. It looks into the intersections of academic research on alterity and media knowledge in the disciplines of visual anthropology, communication science and film and media studies with uses of film in social work, political activism, experimental film aesthetics and the filmic representation of minorities. The focus is on three interrelated aspects:

- participatory filmmaking in film pedagogy and visual anthropology
- media apparatuses of filmic microanalysis of body motion interaction
- the media ecological implications of “acoustic space”

The three areas open up complementary media historical and science historical perspectives. The focus on media participation reveals how film theory and visual anthropology were entangled in contexts of film pedagogy, communications research, the social politics of the „War on Poverty“, media activism, and policies of the civil rights movement. The focus on microanalysis demonstrates how practice theoretical methods and procedures of film analysis shaped epistemological and aesthetic conceptions of film. The third focus traces how the media ecological concept of acoustic space traveled from ethnographic research into media studies and then into experimental film, expanded arts and film pedagogy.

Considered together, the three areas open up a perspective on networks of media knowledge in the US during the 1950s to 1970s that reveals how empirical and theoretical research on media, communication, and cognition was entangled in social practices and political processes as well as technological and aesthetic developments. The project thus contributes to recent discourse on cinematic epistemologies, media archeologies, and aesthetic knowledge. At the same time it reveals the importance of nontheatrical modes of filmmaking for the formation of the disciplines of film and media studies, and visual anthropology.

International Conference
The Movement Movement: Histories of Microanalysis at the Intersection of Film, Science and Art, Philipps-University Marburg, Germany, June 24–26, 2021
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