Video Research

Visual Anthropology Research Statement

This statement has been prepared to enable ‘Five Ways In’ to be submitted as a potential REF2021 research output. For REF2014 only a few videos and documentary were submitted as research for anthropology. This statement follows REF2014 guidelines.


FIVE WAYS IN (2014: 73 mins)

Co-Directors: Mike Poltorak, Alyssa Lynes, Sonja Bruhlmann

Cinematography, Editing, Blog: Mike Poltorak


Research Questions, Methodology & Dissemination


The practice of the improvisational dance form of Contact Improvisation (CI) in local dance communities and international festivals supports an extensive global network of practitioners. Aided by social and video media, CI has expanded from a US origin and strong western European base to South America, China, India and Eastern Europe. The intended lack of codification by the founders allowed a process of creative adoption by teachers and practitioners who saw opportunity in new social, organisational, performative and pedagogical contexts.


The video research aimed to identify key contemporary meanings of the form through following five of the three hundred participants at the biggest and most international CI festival in Freiburg, Germany. Our guiding research question on precisely how the festival as a transformational space served to develop, propagate and make the form meaningful to people in relation to their everyday lives, became ethnographically specific through the very personal concerns, curiosities and processes of the five participants.


As a valued part of a process of collaborative knowledge production, counter to objectivist and realist claims for the value of video (Pink 2011), the five participants identified questions of politics, community, pedagogy, lifestyle, spirituality and the challenges of learning the form during the week long festival.


Responses to intermediary versions of the ethnographic film that explored the degree of resonance of their experience with other practitioners were recorded during feedback screenings and analysed in relation to the reception with people not aware of the form.


The final version thus expresses an accommodation to wider general concerns of the community, both in support and tension with the idiosyncrasy of the five protagonists, while providing the necessary visual cues to make the research accessible for a wider public.


The video research contributes to the evocation of multi-sensoriality in more sensuous scholarship (Stoller 1997) and develops the participatory ethnographic style through mediation and feedback( Vannini 2015, Boyer 2012). It also affirms a wider agenda for a more accessible anthropology exemplified in: ethnographies of the particular as tactical humanism (Abu-Lughod 1991); intersubjectivity and the relation between the universal and particular (Jackson 1998) and in the convergence of applied and public anthropology (Lamphere 2004). Film festival, dance festival and academic conference screenings of the documentary and sharing of feedback on a dedicated blog has extended the value and utility of the research. Future reviews in anthropological journals and distribution will ensure wider availability.




The screening at the International Ethnographic Film Festival in Sofia in 2014 marks this video as complimentary and distinct to text based research outputs on CI in journals, newsletters, experimental ethnographies (Novack 1990) and PhD theses. Through dedicated community research screening events it provides a means to develop research capacity in the wider community and increase reflective awareness of the value of the form. Successful Kickstarter crowd funding for post-production created a network of supporters who have access to the video and are supported to use the documentary to develop their own research interests in the form.




Abu-Lughod, L. 1991. Writing against Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present. Richard Fox, ed. Pp. 137–162. Santa Fe: School of American Research.

Boyer, D. 2012. Media Anthropology and the Anthropology of Mediation. In R. Fardon, O. Harris, T. Marchand, M. Nuttall, C. Shore, V. Strang & R. Wilson (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Anthropology (pp. 383-392): Sage.

Jackson, M. 1998. Minima ethnographica: intersubjectivity and the anthropological project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lamphere, L. 2004. The Convergence of Applied, Practicising, and Public Anthropology in the 21st Century. Human Organisation 63, 431-443.

Novack, J. 1990. Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press

Pink, S. 2011. Doing Visual Ethnography. London: Sage

Stoller, P. 1997. Sensuous Scholarship. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia.

Vanini, P. 2015. Ethnographic Film and Video on Hybrid Television: Learning from the Content, Style, and Distribution of Popular Ethnographic Documentaries. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 44(4), 391-416.

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