Visual Anthropology Programs in Taiwan

Taiwan, Anthropology, Visual Anthropology


While Taiwan may not have any MA programs dedicated to the study of visual anthropology, there are nonetheless many opportunities to study and engage with visual anthropology at the MA level. Much of this is due to the presence of Dr. Hu Tai-Li, currently serving as the director of the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s premiere research institute. In addition to directing eight documentary films, Hu also helped establish the Taiwan Association of Visual Anthropology (TAVE) in 2000, and the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival (TIEFF) in 2001. Run every other year, TIEFF is Asia’s longest running international ethnographic film festival. Moreover, in addition to the main festival, TIEFF has a smaller traveling festival which goes on tour of the country (primarily at college campuses, museums, and cultural centers) during the intervening years between festivals. Through her films, which include one of the first commercially successful documentary films to be shown in Taiwan’s theaters, the festival, and the association, Hu has helped give visual ethnography a high profile in Taiwan.

I was able to collect information on courses taught by a total of six anthropologists (including myself), each teaching at different universities. Of these courses, there are six classes offered at the graduate level, of which four have a production component. The courses with a production component include Visual Anthropology,” taught by Hu Tai-li at the Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University. This course, which explores how to use visual media to produce and deliver anthropological knowledge,” is taught on an occasional basis, is open to MA and Ph.D. level students. All students in the class produce a short ethnographic film (20-40 minutes in length) shot and edited by themselves. Dr. Lin Wenlin of the Graduate Program of Ethnicity and Culture, National Chiao Tung University, offers an MA course in Visual Anthropology” which looks at both theories of image creation” and image analysis.” Recently she has also started teaching an MA course in Digital Anthropology” which also has a production component focused on working with sound, images, pictures, maps, text, etc.” My own graduate production course, taught every other year to MA and Ph.D. students in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University is called Visual Ethnography Production.” This course teaches students ethnographic research methods with a focus on developing basic skills in research ethics, collaborative research methods, interviewing technique, transcription, and the art of participant observation.” All four courses also provide an overview of the history and theory of visual anthropology and ethnographic filmmaking.

In addition to these two production courses, Dr. Futuru Tsai at the Department of Public and Cultural Affairs, National Taitung University, and Dr. Lan Mei-hua at the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, also offer MA-level courses in visual anthropology. Both courses are called Visual Anthropology” and offer a comprehensive overview of key topics in the the discipline. Lan’s course is a two semester course, whereas Tsai’s course is just one semester. The theory-intensive course I teach in my department (open to both MA and Ph.D. students), Visual Ethnography,” was originally intended as the first semester of a two-semester course, but because many of our graduate students work part time they were not able to take the two semesters in order, so I now teach them as separate courses and am working on restructuring them accordingly.

Finally, a number of courses are offered for undergraduate students as well. Dr. Lin offers a course in Documentary Film Production” to students at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Chiao Tung University. Dr. Tsai, an accomplished ethnographic filmmaker, offers two courses for undergraduate students which have a production component: Ethnographic Film,” and National Memory and Documentary Film Production.” Dr. Mei Hui-yu of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at National Chi Nan University also offers three courses at the undergraduate level: Ethnographic Film Appreciation,” Anthropological Visions,” and Visual Ethnography on Southeast Asia.” In 2008 she edited a photo-ethnography of a Taoist ritual in Taiwan’s Puli township based on work done by her students (both graduate and undergraduate) which was released as both a book and a DVD. And I teach a course in my department called Indigenous Images” which includes a strong visual anthropology component.

Although Taiwan lacks a dedicated program in Visual Anthropology, several programs mentioned here, such as the MA program at the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, National Dong Hwa University, the Graduate Program of Ethnicity and Culture, National Chiao Tung University, the Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University, and the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University each now offer MA students the option of including a visual component with their thesis (along with a written portion). It should be noted, however, that most university courses in Taiwan are taught in Chinese. Although some faculty members may be willing to accept non-Chinese speakers into their classes on a case-by-case basis, most programs teaching visual anthropology require a certain degree of Chinese proficiency.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in a special issue of NAFA Network, the Newsletter of the Nordic Anthropological Film Association devoted to MA programs in Visual Anthropology around the world. You can download a PDF of that issue here.