Film ethnography and critical consciousness: exploring a community-based action research methodology for Freirean transformation

Michael Brown, Mary-Jane O'Leary, Hari Joshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Downloads (Pure)


Film ethnography is established within social development academia and praxis, but there is limited impact-evidence of its ability to positively transform participant communities through studies based on credible theoretical underpinnings. This article suggests that Paulo Freire’s ‘critical consciousness’ (Freire, 1978) theory, involving self-reflection and transformation, has relevance for film ethnography because ethnographic film can present life situations back to its subjects in ways that allow people to view themselves differently. Fieldwork is presented describing the use of film ethnography as an action research methodology based on Freirean principles where vulnerable Nepali communities (whose lives and livelihoods are heavily dependent on working equines) and their equines engaged in participatory film ethnography, facilitated by project partners seeking transformation in working equine welfare. The broader historical theoretical underpinnings of ethnographic film are discussed, followed by a description of how they were applied in the action research. Informed by Heider (2006: 2) the authors have resisted the temptation to define and apply ethnographic film as an absolute, but rather as ‘various attributes, or dimensions, that effect ethnographicness’ in films and filmmaking methodologies. Drawing on Wiek at al.’s (2014: 120) ‘effect-capturing approach’ an evaluation methodology is described aligned to Freire’s (1978) conscientisation praxis using high levels of participant self-reflection. Initial findings do evidence some effectiveness of community-based film ethnography as an action research methodology for positive change based on Freirean methodologies, showing transformation in participant knowledge of, and behaviour towards, their equines. The community actions that have emerged from the film ethnography process offer improvement in the health and wellbeing of equines, promoting greater resilience and stability of income generation capacity within communities. Some positive enhancement of the wider socio-political environment for equine welfare is emerging through stakeholder engagement and new equine outreach services. The bespoke evaluation methodology employed contributes to the originality of the research findings and outcomes. In conclusion, the authors suggest that, by going beyond observational cinema and demonstrating ethnographic film as an action research methodology that can catalyse transformation within communities, this article presents the type of participatory praxis that Henley (2020: 481) alludes to, offering ‘interesting possibilities for “ways of doing” ethnographic film in the twenty-first century’.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalVisual Studies
Early online date02 Feb 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 02 Feb 2023


Dive into the research topics of 'Film ethnography and critical consciousness: exploring a community-based action research methodology for Freirean transformation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this