Fall 2016

“Having a Voice”:  Theories of Voice and Documentary

Listed in: English, as ENGL-478  |  Film and Media Studies, as FAMS-478


Pooja G. Rangan (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 478 and FAMS 478.)  Documentary’s difference from fiction is frequently understood in terms of its emphasis on the spoken word.  In documentary studies, voice, rather than point of view, is the standard parlance for describing the unique social perspective of a documentary film.  Voice is also the metaphor of documentary’s social mission:  some of the most influential histories of documentary are narrated as a history of giving--and having, or appropriating--the right to speak. Rather than approaching the voice as a pre-existing social fact or content, this course will ask how discourses of documentary mediate our understandings of voice. Readings will include classic texts on the cinematic voice alongside contemporary and historical theories and counter-histories of voice from a variety of critical and disciplinary contexts, including philosophy, sound, music, disability, race, gender, and sexuality studies.  Screenings will draw widely from documentary and experimental film.  We will ask:  how are Western philosophical discourses of voice unacknowledged influences on the formal expressions of the spoken word in documentary?  And conversely, how do the conventional documentary expressions of speech, such as voice-over, interview, testimony, conversation cultivate normative and counter-normative modes of listening?

This is an advanced discussion seminar that places a heavy emphasis on speaking in class.  The course also includes a final research paper.

Requisite:  ENGL 280/FAMS 210, or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies.  Special consideration will be given to students who have taken a documentary course (whether theory or production).  Open to juniors and seniors, and to sophomores with consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Rangan.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to junior and senior majors who have fulfilled the prerequisites..


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Research, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2018