The Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) at Harvard supports innovative combinations of aesthetics and ethnography that deploy original media practices to explore the bodily praxis and affective fabric of human and animal existence, and the aesthetics and ontology of the natural world. Harnessing perspectives drawn from the arts, the human sciences, and the humanities, works produced in the SEL encourage attention to the many dimensions of life and the world that may only with difficulty be rendered with words alone.
Directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor, the SEL provides an academic and institutional context for the development of creative work and research that is itself constitutively visual or acoustic — conducted through audiovisual media rather than purely verbal sign systems — and which may thus complement the human sciences’ and humanities’ traditionally exclusive reliance on the written word. It opposes the conventions of visual anthropology that mimic the discursive inclinations of its mother discipline, those of documentary that mimic those of broadcast journalism, and those of art that are not deeply infused with the real.
A unique collaboration between the Departments of Anthropology and of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, and the École des arts politiques at Sciences Po in Paris, the instruction offered through the SEL in film, video, phonography, and photography, is distinct from other graduate visual anthropology programs in the United States in that it is practice-based and promotes experimentation with culturally-inflected, largely nonfiction image-making. The SEL supports a PhD program in Media Anthropology, and a PhD Secondary Field in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in Critical Media Practice, for which Castaing-Taylor and Peter Galison serve as Directors of Graduate Studies. Its courses also serve as practice-based electives in the PhD Secondary Field in Film and Visual Studies.
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