CFP: Conference on Documentary Culture


Codes and Modes: The Character of Documentary Culture

A Conference at Hunter College, City University of New York
November 7- 9, 2014
abstracts due  June 22nd, 2014

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Brian Winston

Bringing together scholars, makers, graduate students, and curators, this event is an invitation to interrogate the social spaces and the formal and thematic boundaries within which contemporary documentary culture is produced.

Today a flourishing documentary culture finds its home in a variety of spaces of production, exhibition, and discussion: in the cinema, the gallery, the classroom, on youtube and increasingly, embedded in other forms of social and mobile media. Our goal is to promote critical dialogue around how documentary culture is taught, how it is learned, how it is reproduced and what assumptions and possibilities lie in this terrain.

We are pleased to announce a call for presentations of creative work, of modes of production and distribution, of papers, panels and workshops on questions including, but not limited to, the topics listed below.

The conference's keynote presenter will be documentary scholar Brian Winston, who has produced a seminal body of writing on the documentary and documentary ethics over the previous three decades.  In addition we will offer offer an homage to Brazilian documentary filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho with Professor Ivone Margulies.

We are pleased to announce a call for of papers, panels and workshops presentations of work, of modes of production and distribution on questions related to the themes below. Please send an Abstract (between 150 and 300 words in length including an indication of form and, if relevant, an indication as to which of the above categories your proposal might relate to.)  as well as a brief bio (100 words maximum) by June 22nd, 2014 to:   Each proposal should include name(s),  any affiliation, institutional address and email addresses of the author(s).   All those submitting will be informed by July 15, 2014.

HOW DO WE LOOK?: A Documentary Meta-Politics

In our current crises of representative politics, the philosophical issues of truth, witness and the subject and the nature of re-envisioned forms of relation are continually emerging on a meta-level in documentary practice globally.

  • What are the critical implications of producing a culture of documentary? Who has agency? Who gets left out?
  • Is the term “documentary” outdated, or insufficient? what are some alternative ways to describe the work we do and the communities we are engendering?
  • As teachers, producers, and programmers of documentary, how do our own institutional boundaries frame "what counts" as documentary?
  • How do funding mechanisms play into the current apparatus of documentary celebrity, and what are the ways we might foresee and forestall (or enhance) the implications of this tendency?


In some ways the documentary ‘brand’ finds itself overshadowed or sidelined by new social media tools and practices offering interactivity, self-representation, and new distribution platforms. In other ways we see people using notions of documentary to define work on these new platforms

  • How is the meaning of the documentary form in these new contexts, ones where the social is both virtual and technologically malleable, altered, enhanced or otherwise formed?
  • How is inclusion enhanced, harmed or otherwise impacted with the use of social media tools?


“The Network Society” as described by Manuel Castells is a ‘space of flows,’ a precarious moment in time and space in which societies are structured around a battle between the Net (networked communication) and Self (identities actualized). The current politics surrounding immigration, race, gender identity, land use, solidarity, etc., places the documentary form in the unique position of being used as a tool for exploring who we are and who we could become in a period of economic, social and political crisis.

  • What role and power does documentary culture wield in the face of these new hyper migrating forms of capitalistic space?           
  • Our networked communication systems for media and social interaction provide an intricate, flexible and immediate map that enables new capitalism to flourish. Are these same routes as useful for keeping pace with local needs to retain and form community identity? 
  • Can documentary culture continue to provide alternative maps to rabbit holes in the capitalistic networks?
  • How do we ensure learning environments to teach each other these mechanisms most efficiently? 

Conference organizers:  Jason Fox, Martin Lucas, and Kelly Spivey


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