SOCI 385-9E: Sociology of Documentary Filmmaking

W 6-8:50 pm

Instructor: Beverly Yuen Thompson

Building/Room: Siena Hall 105


Office: Hines Hall 112
Office Hours: T/Th 11am—1pm, W 5-6pm, & by appointment 


Course Description and Learning Outcomes: Visual Sociology is a growing subfield within sociology, and it centralizes the importance of visual imagery, both still and video, as data rich for sociological analysis. Photographs and documentary videos can provide us so much information about the lives of people, which would be difficult to express through the written word alone. In this course, we will learn about the benefits and difficulties of combining visual imagery, along with theoretical writing, in our sociological research. Some questions to consider: How do photographs and images lie? What stories do they tell? What is the relationship with imagery and emotions? Can images ever be factual?

In this course, we will engage with both significant sociological texts as well as documentary film. We will explore important sociological issues such as: representation, gender inequality in the workplace, research ethics, sexuality, immigration, economic stratification, gender identity, and environmentalism.

Students will produce both a website and a significant research proposal paper of twenty pages, in which they pick a particular sociological issue to investigate. Students will gain critical skills of media analysis, learn how to write a documentary film proposal, and use online tools for public dissemination of their work.


Required Texts:

–      Articles will be on Blackboard. Please print them out and bring to class for discussion.




Participation/Weekly written response (100 points): Each week, students are required to read the assigned articles, write a written response, print it, post it to the blog, and come to class with notes in hand for full points (10 points each class). These written notes will form the basis for your class participation. Notes should be two to three pages in length each week. If students neglect to post notes, print them, or do not attend class, they may lose up to the full amount of points for the week. The notes should answer the prompt written on the blog, critically analyze the assigned readings, link to two documentaries on the topic at hand, and discuss the differences between written and visual representations of that week’s sociological issue. Students should also include at least two or three discussion questions for the guest speakers. If students are absent, they will lose 10 points each time; no excused absences are allowed.


Final Paper, Website & Presentation (140 points):

Each student will be responsible for a major documentary research proposal paper and website. The website will include the same text as the paper, but include hyperlinks, photographs, and video clips. This major project will be a pitch for a sociological documentary that students would like to create. See below for due dates for paper sections and website pages.

1. About Me: (250 words): Write that your website is part of this course, and include the course name, number, professor, and short description. Who are you? Short bio statement. What is your interest in documentary film? What are you going to be writing about? Due: 12 September   

2. Abstract/About Webpage: (250 words) This is a brief summary of the topic you propose to write about, why it is sociologically interesting, visually interesting, and what research questions you have. Due: 19 September

3. Review of Social Theory (10 sources of books or articles; 750-1000 words): Review the sociological literature on your topic at hand. How does your project fit into this literature? Which do you agree and disagree with? Due: 3 October

4. Documentaries (3 minimum; 500 words): Select a minimum of three other documentaries that address your topic. How do they do it? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How is yours different and complimentary? Due: 10 October

5. Photography Series (2 minimum; 250 words): Find photography series on your topic at hand. Who are these photographers? How did they visualize the topic? How is this similar or different from what you would do? How does photography contribute in a unique way, compared against writing or video? Due: 17 October

6. Your Main Argument (500-750 words): What is your primary thesis statement for your proposed research? Why is this important to you? Why is this sociologically significant? How are you looking at the topic in a unique way? Due: 24 October

7. Participants: (500-750 words) How would you recruit participants for your project? Who would they be? How many would you use? Would you interview them? If so, what questions would you ask? Would you follow them doing activities? If so, what? How would you use your participants effectively to express your message? What would they contribute to your film? Due: 7 November

Grade Scale for 240:

100-94 %= A  (240-225)

90-93 % = A-  (224-216)

88-89 % = B+ (215-211)

84-87 % = B   (210-201)

80-83 % = B-  (200-192)

78-79 % = C+  (191-187)

74-77 % = C    (186-177)

70-73 % = C-   (176-168)

66-69 % = D+  (167-158)

63-65 % = D    (157-151)

60-62 % = D-   (150-144)

59-0 %   = F     (143-0) (not passing)


Make Up Policy: Late workwill not be accepted.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is copying or paraphrasing someone else’s work and/or words without due credit and correct citation: it is not allowed. Consult Siena’s policy at . If you commit plagiarism, you will fail the assignment and be reported to the department chairperson.

Syllabus Updates: The syllabus is subject to change. Please check the latest online version of the syllabus for the most accurate information. Updates will be announced in class and online.

Pandemic/Emergency Preparedness: (a) You are instructed to bring all texts and a copy of the syllabus/course schedule home with you in the event of a college closure. The academic calendar will be adjusted upon reopening; so be prepared for the possibility of a short mini-semester; rescheduled class/exam period; and/or rescheduling of the semester, depending on the length of the closure.
(b) If your situation permits, you should continue with readings and assignments to the best of your ability, per the course schedule.
(c) You will be given instructions regarding how to deal with paper assignments requiring library or other required research by me, as needed.
(d) Online office hours will be used by me in order to maintain contact with my students. You will be able to check-in with questions that you have. If you do not have internet access available, I will also provide my home phone number and home address, as needed. Remember, internet, mail delivery, and telephone services may also be impacted by a pandemic or other emergency events.
(e) Finally, stay connected with information regarding the status of the college’s status and reopening schedule by monitoring the Siena website, 
Course Schedule: 


Week 1: Wednesday 5 September: Documentary as Form  

–      Discussion: What is your favorite documentary?

–      Discussion: What sociological topic would you make a film about?

–      Exercise: Practice pitching & interviewing

–      Exercise:

–      Movie: Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary ½


Week 2: Wednesday 12 September

–      Movie: Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary ½

–      Reading: Aufderheide, Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction

–      Due: About Me webpage


Week 3: Wednesday 19 September: Camerawomen 

–      Movie: Women Behind the Camera

–      Reading: Women Behind the Camera: “Emerging Camerawomen”

–      Reading: Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (

–      Reading: Karen Mahar TBA

–      Guest Speaker: Karen Mahar, Siena College

–      Due: Abstract/About Webpage


Week 4: Wednesday 26 September: Trouble with Participants

–      Venkatesh, Gang Leader for a Day, “How Does it Feel to Be Black and Poor?”

–      Bourgois, Righteous Dopefiend, “Introduction” & “Conclusion”

–      Bourgois, In Search of Respect, “Introduction”

–      Movie: Operation Filmmaker


Week 5: Wednesday 3 October

Movies: LA Ink, Hori Smoku, Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World, Tattooed Under Fire

Guest speakers: Pat Sinatra, Emma Griffiths, Jen Carmine, & Phil Padwe

Reading: Thompson,LA Ink: Heavily Tattooed Women In Reality & Television”

Due: Review of Social Theory


Week 6: Wednesday 10 October

–      Movie: Scarlet Road

–      Guest Speakers: La Domaine Esemar: Master R, Mistress More, & Bella Vendetta

–      Readings: TBA (sex worker readings)

–      Due: Documentaries


Week 7: Wednesday 17 October

–       Guest speaker: Silvia Mejia, St. Rose College

–       Movie: Just a Click Away from Home

–       Reading: Mejia, Digital Nostalgia

–       Photography Series


Week 8: Wednesday 24 October

–      Room: SU 243

–      Student loan debt panel

–      Due: Your Main Argument


Week 9: Wednesday 31 October

–      Class cancelled for conference


Week 10: Wednesday 7 November

In RB 202

–       Guest speaker: Jules Rosskam, Hampshire College

–       Reading: “Mutilating Gender”

–       Due: Participants page

Week 11: Wednesday 14 November

–      Guest speaker: Rik Scarce, Skidmore College

–      Readings on Blackboard

Week 12: Wednesday 21 November

–      Thanksgiving Break

Week 13: Wednesday 28 November

–      Final Presentations due



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