Filmmaking, Activism and Social Impact in International Relations

Course content

In troubling times, people pick up cameras and film the world around them. Across history, film and other visual genres have been deployed to bear witness to war, violence, suffering, marginalization, and oppression, as well as to expose the roots of these phenomena. This instinct – to document the world visually – attests to the potential power of film as a medium to change world politics.

This elective course explores the theoretical and practical intersections of filmmaking, social impact, and activism in international relations. It does so with a core focus on how filmmaking has been used to explore phenomena related to humanitarian issues globally, especially those linked to contexts of conflict, migration and violence. Based on an interdisciplinary approach, the course delves into the rich scholarship of visuality across the social sciences, introducing students to that work both theoretically and practically in three main ways.

First, students will engage with critical interdisciplinary perspectives on the role of visual media within contexts of violence through theoretical literature and audio-visual material.

Second, the course will explore practical skills in visual research methodologies. As such, in this section of the course, students will be expected to develop a (short) filmmaking project of their own. Workshop-format sessions will be offered to develop the skills necessary to achieve this. Thematically, we will explore how filmmaking can illuminate questions concerning violence, humanitarianism, conflict, and migration in ways that connect local (i.e., Copenhagen) and global contexts. In addition, guest lectures will be organized to inspire and connect students to experts in the field.

Finally, students will be asked to reflect on broader questions, debates, and dilemmas that concern the use of filmmaking for social impact, activism, and/or political intervention. This ranges from the critical examination of storytelling techniques, ethical considerations, and the influence of their own situated gaze (i.e., positionality) on crafting visual narratives. We will engage these issues by collaboratively reflecting on the filmmaking project that each student develops in the preceding section of the course.

Overall, this course will equip students with a nuanced understanding of the transformative potential of filmmaking, alongside tools to navigate the many ethical challenges intrinsic to visual research.


Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Bachelor and Msc in Anthropology
  • Msc in Social Data Science


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students
Learning outcome


Through this course, students will gain a comprehensive understanding of:

Theoretical Foundations: Students will grasp the theoretical underpinnings of visuality in International Relations, exploring the role of images and film in shaping political narratives, influencing public opinion, and impacting policy decisions. They will also gain insights into the concepts of affect, sensoriality, and non-representationality conveyed by visuality.

Interdisciplinary Perspectives: Students will acquire knowledge by integrating theoretical perspectives from Visual Anthropology, Migration Studies, International Relations, and Media and Cultural Studies. This interdisciplinary approach will enable them to consider the ethical implications of using visual methods, particularly in sensitive contexts of violence.


Students will develop practical skills in:

Visual-Based Research Methodologies: Students will learn to design and conduct visual-based research in International Relations. They will explore methods such as visual storytelling, Guerrilla filmmaking, and Participatory filmmaking. Through practical exercises, students will critically assess the applicability of these methods in a context of their choice.

Practical Filmmaking: Students will acquire skills in filmmaking through workshop sessions to learn the different steps of development, production, directing and post-production, based on a topic of their choice which reflects international matters of conflict and/or violence. This will enable them to translate theoretical concepts into practical applications. They will acquire the fundamentals of filmmaking and will learn about directing technics and the use of an editing program for post-production work.



The course will equip students with the following competencies:

Critical Engagement: Students will develop the ability to critically engage with academic literature, applying theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. They will learn to consider the impact of visuality on global issues and challenge conventional perspectives in International Relations.

Transformative Thinking: Students will be encouraged to explore the transformative potential of filmmaking and visual-based research. They will be equipped to navigate the complexities of global conflicts and violence, using visual methods to contribute practically and theoretically to the discourses and understandings of these issues.

Interactive collaborative learning: Students participate in interactive collaborative learning through group discussions and workshops. These activities encourage dialogue and the exchange of perspectives, fostering a communal learning environment.

Pedagogical approaches: The course integrates engaging pedagogical strategies, including case studies and real-world examples. Students critically analyze historical and contemporary cases of filmmaking for social impact, activism, and beyond, applying theoretical frameworks to practical scenarios.

Creative exploration: Recognizing the importance of visual engagement, the course encourages students to explore their creative potential. Practical exercises/assignments will challenge students to think innovatively.

Visual learning: Given the nature of filmmaking, visual learning methods are naturally incorporated. Learning through film screenings, visual analyses, and the deconstruction of storytelling techniques will help students understand the impact of visual elements in global politics. The course utilizes multimedia resources, including documentaries and other genres of films to supplement traditional teaching methods.

Balancing theory and practical application: The course maintains a balance between theory and practical application. While theoretical frameworks are discussed, hands-on activities such as film production workshops provide students with tangible skills and experiences.

Guest lectures: A guest lecture by an activist filmmaker as well as a guest lecture by a professor working in visuality and international relations will be proposed. This will enhance the learning experience through real-world exchanges about challenges and success stories of this medium.

Preliminary list:


Andersen, Rune Saugmann, Juha A. Vuori, and Can E. Mutlu. 2014. Visuality. In Critical Security Methods. Routledge.


Aradau, Claudia, & Huysmans, Jef. 2014. Critical methods in International

                             Relations: The politics of techniques, devices and acts. European                             Journal of International Relations, 20(3), 596-619.

———. 2019. ‘Assembling Credibility: Knowledge, Method and Critique in            Times of “Post-Truth”’. Security Dialogue 50 (1): 40–58.

Bleiker, Roland. 2001. The Aesthetic Turn In International Political Theory. Millennium, 30(3), 509-533.

———. 2009. Aesthetics and World Politics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

———. 2015. Pluralist methods for visual global politics. Millennium43(3), 872-890.

Butler, Judith. 2007. ‘Torture and the Ethics of Photography’: Environment           and Planning D: Society and Space.

Callahan, William A. 2015. The Visual Turn in IR: Documentary Filmmaking as a Critical Method. Millennium: Journal of International Studies 43 (3): 891–910.


———. 2020. Sensible politics: Visualizing international relations. Oxford University Press.


Fehrenbach, Heide, and Rodogno, Davide. 2015. A horrific photo of a drowned Syrian child: Humanitarian photography and NGO media strategies in historical perspective. International Review of the Red Cross, 97(900), 1121-1155.


Hansen, L. (2011). Theorizing the image for security studies: Visual

                             securitization and the Muhammad cartoon crisis. European journal                        of international relations17(1), 51-74.


hooks, bell. 1992. The Oppositional Gaze. In Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston,

 MA: South End Press.


Jovičić, Jelena. 2021. On the Visual (Re) production of Refugeeness: Images, production sites and oppositional gazes (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Sociology, Stockholm University).


Kurasawa, Fuyuki. 2013. The sentimentalist paradox: On the normative and visual foundations of humanitarianism. Journal of Global Ethics9(2), 201-214

Lisle, Debbie, Heather, Johnson, « Lost in the aftermath », in Security                     Dialogue, 50(19 2019, pp. 20-39.

MacDougall, David. 2011. Anthropological Filmmaking: An Empirical Art. In: The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, by Eric Margolis and Luc Pauwels, 99–113. 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP United Kingdom: SAGE Publications Ltd.


Mitchell, WJ Thomas. 2005. What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images. University of Chicago Press.


Mulvey, Laura. 1989. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In: Visual and Other Pleasures, edited by Laura Mulvey, 14–26. Language, Discourse, Society. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.


Pink, Sarah. 2003. Interdisciplinary Agendas in Visual Research: Re-Situating Visual Anthropology. Visual Studies 18 (2): 179–92.


———. 2006. The Future of Visual Anthropology: Engaging the Senses. London ; New York: Routledge.

Reinhardt, Mark. 2007. ‘Picturing Violence: Aesthetics and The Anxiety of             Critique’. In Beautiful Suffering, edited by Mark Reinhardt, Holly                             Edwards, and Erina Duganne, 13–36.Williamstown, MA: Williams                            College Museum of Art.

Rose, Gillian. 2016. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 4th edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.


Shapiro, Michael. J. 2013. Studies in trans-disciplinary method: After the aesthetic turn (Vol. 29). Routledge.


Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


———. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York, N.Y: Picador.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Type of assessment details
Portfolio exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • English
  • 56


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Social Data Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Maevia Laureen Griffiths   (3-706f6a436c6976316e7831676e)
Saved on the 13-05-2024

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