22nd June 2017: Improvised Fiction meets research: Creative and pioneering ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch’s lasting legacy by John Morrison

Come along to Cabaret Voltaire (36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR), doors open at 6.30pm and the talks start from 7pm. Come along for a bite of food, a chance to socialise and a talk about Jean Rouch’s film legacy…


Title of talk:

Improvised Fiction meets research: Creative and pioneering ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch’s lasting legacy

Jean Rouch
Jean Rouch

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • Potential uses of fiction and performative improvisation in ethnographic research.
  • Brief overview of Jean Rouch’s life
  • Key inspiration for Rouch
  • The surrealist movement
  • Soviet constructivist Dziga Vertov
  • American filmmaker Robert Flaherty
  • How these inspired the creation Rouch’s creative participatory approach ‘Shared Anthropology’ as a means of conducting research and the resulting ethnofiction film genre
  • Reverse anthropology
  • Contemporary ethnographic research inspired by John Rouch.
  • How Rouch is inspiring my research and teaching practice


A few paragraphs on your subject:

The genesis of the Ethnofiction genre can be attributed to the creative praxis (theory in action) of pioneering French anthropologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch, it can be identified by today’s definitions as hybrids of ethnographic documentary and fictional film genres.
During the 1950s, while working as an ethnologist for the French state in West Africa, Rouch asked the participants of his studies to respond to a subject inspired by aspects of their real-life experiences and act them out in front of the camera as fictional improvisations. This participatory and playful approach to visual ethnography was later dubbed by critics ‘Ethnofiction’.
The Ethnofiction genre can be framed alongside Rouch’s ‘Shared Anthropology’ – Rather than a research method, Rouch saw this more as a mode of operating, a surrealist inspired game, which he played with his fieldwork informants. However, the co-produced Ethnofiction films became much more impactful and well known than his more conventional ethnographic films, and provided a unique rich and nuanced view of the thoughts and feelings embodied in the lived experiences of his west African collaborators. Seminal examples include Jaguar (1957-67), Moi, un noir (1958) and La pyramide humaine (1959) (Sjöberg, 2009).
Though their active participation in the film production process and the support of Rouch, his fieldwork informants gained confidence as ethnographic researchers themselves, becoming long term collaborators and friends. Some later moved to Paris to study, and also produced Ethnofiction inspired films such as Petit à Petit (1971), where they performing tongue in cheek anthropological studies such as measuring the heads of white Parisians, in an approach later dubbed ‘reverse anthropology’ (Henley 2010).


Henley, P. (2010). The adventure of the real: Jean Rouch and the craft of ethnographic cinema. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Rouch, J. & Feld, S. (2003). Ciné-ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sjöberg, J. E. (2009). Ethnofiction: genre hybridity in theory and practice-based research (Doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester).

A few paragraphs about you:

I am a lecturer of Digital Media and Interaction Design in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University. My current research is concerned with better understanding and supporting the needs of care experienced students in higher education. Through an application of Jean Rouch’s ‘Shared Anthropology’, I will be exploring the potential value that digital tools and systems could bring to this collaborative means of research.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

(Phd blog coming soon)

What are your weblinks?

Website – johnlmorrison.com
Blog – https://uk.pinterest.com/ethnographic/
Twitter – @digiethnography
Facebook –
Public Email – [email protected]
Any others…. https://www.instagram.com/ethnofiction/