Short courses


Anthropology of Home

  • 16 hours (2 hours per session)
  • 8 evenings (7pm to 9pm) - over 8 weeks


This online evening course uses documentary film to explore the meaning of home and belonging. It also considers the role of anthropology in understanding identity and belonging.

A home can be many different things: an apartment block, a tent, a hotel room, or a memory.

This course uses ethnographic examples from all over the world to discuss issues surrounding space and place. It also poses and encourages questions on home and exile.

This course is run by the Open City Docs School, based in UCL's Department of Anthropology.

Course content

Session 1: Non-western houses

In the film La lettre jamais écrite (The letter that was never written), Dominique Dubosc ‘writes’, in a 55 minutes sequence shot, the love letter that he never received from his father. We'll discuss non-western architecture and touch on Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal article on the Berber house.

Session 2: Pastoral nomads

The Woodabe are a pastoral nomadic group in West Africa who follow their herds in the search for fresh pastures. Homes are transient and easy to build. They tend to be beds made from sticks and a few blankets in the shade of a tree with no roof. How do the Woodabe understand home when they have no concept of borders?

Session 3: Communist housing

The Block is a piece of Communist urban planning in Romania and tells the story of the housekeeper and its residents. Designed as a visual ethnography, the filmmaker and anthropologist Maria Salaru carefully portrays life under a socialist regime and a forgotten architecture.

Session 4: Mobile homes

The US has a whole community of people who refuse to be settled in ordinary housing and want to enjoy their freedom. Chasing Houses (2007) follows the lives of residents who bought mobile houses and travel across the USA. What makes people want to keep moving and still own a comfortable house?

Session 5: Home and screen memory

In Behind the Screen (2012) Burmese filmmaker Aung Nwai Htway finds movies in an old film archive that show his parents, famous actors from the 1960s, together, happy and in love. Now divorced and irreconcilable, the found footage presents an idea of home the filmmaker never experienced. We'll discuss the home in regard to cultural memory.

Session 6: Labour camps and home as terror

The Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975 to 1979) arrested thousands of citizens for their anti-communist stance and kept them in inhuman labour camps. Cambodian director Rithy Panh made an animation, paired with archival footage, to find The Missing Picture (2013) of his and his family’s life in the camps. Home is here associated with cruelty and violence. The poetic commentary laments the memory of a terror era.

Session 7: Nostalgia

The German concept of Heimat (home, belonging, nostalgia) has often been associated with reactionary anti-modernism and provincial life. The short film Small Heimat (2007) investigates how the term Heimat has adapted to modern places and spaces. Situated in an open cast brown coal mining area, half of the village was destroyed and rebuilt in a new location in the 1950s. What role does the term Heimat, which traditionally concerned the preservation of local history and natural landscapes, play in such a place?

Session 8: Homelessness

Homelessness can have many faces. The film Room 11, Ethiopia Hotel (2007) recounts the life of children living on the street in Gondar, Ethiopia, by witnessing the interaction between two children and the filmmaker Itsushi Kawase. The entire film was shot in the room of the Ethiopia Hotel. Indeed, this film is more a sensitive testimony than a scientific documentary. This hybrid approach aims to explore new trends in visual anthropology, including the issue of dealing with intimacy and subjectivity. Australian artist Richard Goodwin’s performance in Barangaroo: Doppelgänger (1981 to 2015) on the other side is a re-enactment of a homeless man’s journey in Sydney.

Course structure and teaching

This course will be delivered via online distance learning. You'll need to have your own computer or other internet-connected device. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please get in contact at shortcourses@opencitylondon.com

Sessions will be held on Tuesday evenings for 8 weeks, from 7pm to 9pm.

Course team

Dr Barbara Knorpp

Dr Barbara Knorpp

Barbara is an anthropologist with a special interest in film history. Her work is situated in the interdisciplinary arena between anthropology, cinema, media studies and fine art. Before her PhD she worked in an international photo press agency, collaborated with artists, and worked in documentary and fiction film in Germany, Japan and Australia.

Barbara was a film curator for the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum in Krefeld, Germany, from 2018 to 2019. She was a Teaching Fellow in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies at UCL from 2015 to 2016, and a Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at Brunel University from 2007 to 2014. She's also a member of the RAI Film Festival film committee and recently published a book on African Cinema: African Film Cultures: Contexts of Creation and Circulation.

Course information last modified: 30 Nov 2022, 16:01