Different Kinds of Storytelling: Ethnographic Writing and Documentary Film-Making


  • Cati Coe


Care, emotion, editing, ethnography, film-making, Ghana


This paper compares and contrasts ethnographic writing to ethnographic film-making as different ways of crafting a narrative. Films have the ability to reach larger audiences, including our own informants, and to make audiences feel connected to the central participants who seem to speak directly to them, but are less conducive to providing the broader context for those stories or showcasing stories that are less visually interesting. Film also seems more effective for making an intervention in policy or public opinion. Both modes of storytelling involve the selection of a few key incidents from a much larger set of footage or fieldnotes to tell a compelling story, shaped by emotion or theory, and the manipulation of the strongest elements available to construct that story. Documentary film-makers are more willing to discuss the construction of their product than ethnographic writers. Finally, the form of the final product, whether dissertation, monograph, or film, shapes the process of inquiry and discovery, affecting what is learnt and what is possible to tell. I came to documentary film-making as a result of my dissatisfactions with ethnographic writing, but I have realised that film does not replace writing; rather, they work in tandem, with different goals and possibilities. Based on my experiences of writing three monographs and making, in a less skilled fashion, two short documentaries on the same themes, this paper reflects on ethnographic storytelling through different media.





Coe, C. (2021). Different Kinds of Storytelling: Ethnographic Writing and Documentary Film-Making. Ethnoscripts, 23(1). Abgerufen von https://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/ethnoscripts/article/view/1669