What role can film have in the field of sociology and to what extent can it lead people to critique and reexamine their understanding of the world?  This was the main question that Dr. Tukufu Zuberi examined during his speech at the University Oct. 31.

Zuberi was speaking at the annual Fritz Nova Lecture, hosted by the Social Science Forum and the Department of Sociology and Criminology.

He is the Lasry Family professor of race relations and professor of sociology and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition, Zuberi is one of the hosts on the PBS television show History Detectives, as well as the writer and producer of the feature-length documentary “African Independence,” which screened at the University Oct. 23.

“The particular interface between social science, popular movements, history and popular media is a really complex, even treacherous, field.” Professor Peter Knapp of the department of sociology and criminology said in his introduction. “Dr. Zuberi has managed to accomplish really interesting work in all of those areas.” The lecture focused on “film sociology,” or the application of film to the objectives of sociology.

Zuberi first explained his introduction to the world of media and his motivation for bringing a sociological perspective to film.  Although he admitted he was strongly opposed to entering the world of media in 2002 with History Detectives, he soon recognized the potential for film as a tool for sociology.

“I see myself as an educator,”  he said in reference to his objective in making films.  “The problem that I see myself trying to work out is can we engage in a kind of education in the public about issues which are relevant to their every day lives and that in some way prepares them to ask hard questions and to engage in critical activities.”

Zuberi then discussed what types of films best convey a sociological and historical perspective.  He used his film “African Independence” as an example of this correlation.

The trailer of the film said, “This is a story about Africa’s relationship with the world, told from the point of view of those who lived it and those who led the fight for change.”

Zuberi explained the point of view of his film, especially the importance of the understanding the stories of individuals involved in social trends.

“The kind of filmmaking that is important for sociology and the sociological imagination is narrative,” he said.  “It is trying to tell a narrative, which helps us understand our world by placing the historical perspective in a context.”

Finally, Zuberi talked about the insight he gained from seven-year process of making “African Independence” in terms of producing films with scholarship in mind.

He stressed the necessity of having both an understanding of the science of society and a grasp of the art of film to create the most informative and appealing narrative.

“My notion is the kind of film that is between the tradition of documentary film making and the academy which is my home,” Zuberi said on how he tries to balance both his roles as an empirical social scientist and a filmmaker. “I see myself as bringing the two together.”


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