Social Documentation

2014-15 General Catalog

101 Communications Building
(831) 459-3445

Faculty | Course Descriptions

Program Description

This is a crucial time for the documentary, as traditional sources of journalistic investigation and reporting are dwindling, untested opinions dominate the Internet, veracity is under constant attack, and audiences increasingly must search hard to find reliable perspectives on the world. It is at this moment that the Social Documentation (SocDoc) program has come into being to train the next generation of documentarians in creative and scholarly approaches to experience, representation, and argument. Founded in 2005, the SocDoc program at UCSC taps faculty across the campus to provide students with access to expertise and crosses traditional disciplinary lines in an effort to ground master of arts (M.A.) students in the deepest understanding of subject as well as medium. SocDoc has emerged as an exciting new center of gravity for an innovative new discipline. Our students have earned grants and awards for their thesis documentaries, produced around the globe, in film/video, photography, other digital media, and a range of documentary styles. We don't just tell a story; our students go beyond the story to place individuals in context and struggles in history, deepening the public's understanding of the societies in which we live and with which we connect.

The UCSC Social Documentation (housed in the Film and Digital Media Department) program is a two-year, full-time, graduate-level program leading to an M.A. degree. The program offers students a chance to develop expertise in the understanding and production of social documentaries in film/video, multimedia, photography, new digital media. Students may also work in other documentary mediums related to faculty expertise. Students learn how to translate various scholarly interpretations of social life into effective, accessible, and professional quality media projects.

Upon completion of the program, master of arts degree holders will be qualified to enter documentary-related professions such as documentary directing, producing, or editing. Degree holders may work within industries such as public broadcasting, or in the documentary field, as independent producers and artists, or for archival centers or museums or within organizations committed to issues for which documentaries can advance understanding and change. Degree holders may also choose to pursue a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in related fields in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

The program is designed to provide opportunities for the graduate student who is actively committed to social justice to work on a full-time basis beyond the boundaries of the university. Master of arts candidates build a curriculum around a required set of core courses that offer a foundation in the theory and practice of social documentary, elective courses in their substantive area of interest, and the creation of a two-year documentary project that is the final requirement for the degree. Courses and faculty expertise are related to social justice in terms of broad structural and social changes and community-based organizing. Documentaries in the program have called attention to a range of under-recognized communities, problems, and structural inadequacies.


The Social Documentation program aims to train its graduates in critical thinking and the use of visual, audio, electronic, and print media, as well as historic presentations and ethnographies, dedicated to the documentation of underrepresented areas of community life. The curriculum concentrates on the analysis of social problems, the creation of a critical approach to the collection and presentation of documentary material, and on the role of effective documentary in social change.  For the master’s degree, students produce projects of their own: documentaries in film or video; photographic essays (in book, gallery, or cross-platform presentations); multimedia and audio productions; and Internet or other web-platform projects.

Special features of the program include its focus on the study of “ordinary life” and its emphasis on training students to produce original social analysis in broadly representational forms. The course of study includes training in the techniques of appropriate media and systems of representation. The unique emphasis of the Social Documentation program, however, is the acquisition of a level of academic rigor in the chosen subject of focus, an insistence on humanities and social scientific methodologies, a reliance on an ethical process of production that takes its subjects into full account, and a commitment to research in the development of material for extra-academic uses and audiences. Broadcast and theatrical media have increasingly recognized the importance of ancillary distribution through partnerships with pertinent communities of interest, just as the Internet is increasingly utilized for added depth and community interaction on issues. The Social Documentation program aims to prepare documentarians for newly evolving social media landscapes. At the same time, students receive training in the basic theories of social documentation with the aim of applying these theories to the analysis, prioritization, and solution of social problems.

Graduates are expected to generate work that will have an impact on the world outside the academy and to develop an understanding of documentary practices as well as social codes that can form a foundation for future work in their targeted subject area and arena of practice. The master’s project, which constitutes the culmination of the two years of study, is to be given a public exhibition or reading, and becomes the springboard for continuing work after graduation.


The Social Documentation program has a required core curriculum around which students develop a plan of study. Each student has two advisers, one for creative guidance and the other for topical expertise, who will be involved in designing each student’s study and project plans. Full-time enrollment is required.

A total of 72 credits is required to complete the master’s degree in social documentation, comprising a combination of seminars on social documentary and social science research designed specifically for the SocDoc students, other courses on campus selected by students individually on the basis of relevance to the proposed project, and cohort courses focused on conceptualizing, executing, and completing the students’ social documentary master’s projects. There are eight required core courses.

Required courses for the first year are as follows:

  • 200   Approaches to Social Documentary

  • 202   Practice of Social Documentary

  • 208   Social Science Research and Social Representation

  • 270   Project Planning

Required courses for the second year:

  • 204   Ways of Seeing and Hearing

  • 294A Production, Analysis, Editing

  • 294B Production, Analysis, Editing

  • 294C Production, Analysis, Editing

In addition to these mandatory courses, an additional 32 credits must be secured through electives as identified on an individual basis, offered by other departments, or through independent study classes with or approved by faculty advisers.

To satisfy requirements for the master of arts degree, a student must complete the first year of required courses and electives. By the end of the first year, before summer quarter begins, students will have completed a proposal for their documentary project, which will be the basis for a required oral qualifying examination conducted by the graduate director and faculty advisers. This proposal will include a description of the subject to be documented, a treatment or narrative outline, a work plan including budget and timeline, and a preliminary annotated bibliography and filmography/videography of related works. Approval of the written proposal and satisfactory completion of the qualifying examination is a prerequisite for advancement to further coursework or fieldwork on the master’s project. The successful qualifying examination proposal should address the following questions:

  • What is the story to be told?

  • What is the stylistic approach?

  • What is the social analysis that will guide, inform, and underwrite the story?

  • How will that analysis be represented in the documentary?

  • What kinds of evidence will be generated to persuade the audience that the analysis is accurate?

  • How will the documentary use social analysis to make the personal political: how will it move from analysis to critique?

The second year is focused on the final documentary project required for completion of the master’s degree. This project must reflect original research and creative activity while demonstrating a command of related previous work by others. With an understanding of budgetary, equipment, and time limitations, students’ electronic, digital, and photographic or other projects should reflect a level of quality appropriate for publication, exhibition, or broadcast (including digital/web-cast).

Typically, the expectation in each medium is as follows:

Documentary Film/Video. One 20- to 30-minute documentary suitable for professional distribution and public exhibition.

Documentary Photography. One major exhibition on or off campus with a minimum of 10-20 images with text, and/or a 10-minute multimedia presentation and/or a publication-ready book of photographs and essay(s).

Online/Digital Platform Projects. To be clarified with program chair and advisers, given the evolving nature of this field.

Audio Documentary/Sound Recording. One 20-30-minute documentary suitable for radio broadcast or museum/public installation.

The final examination consists of the public presentation of the project.

In addition, every project must be accompanied by a written essay describing its relationship to its field and must document its research via field notes, bibliographies, archival searches, filmographies, videographies, and photography searches.

All materials will be filed in digital form and archived for future reference and access. All final projects, in every medium, must be submitted in the formats specified by the program chair.

Goals for Social Documentation Graduates

The Social Documentation program prepares graduates with critical skills and professional tools well suited to careers in the evolving fields of documentary media in the private and public sectors, for collaboration on community-based projects, for a range of activities geared to the analysis and documentation of sociopolitical issues, and for work with private and public organizations in need of media expertise and analysis. It is expected that students will make careers in the nonprofit fields evolving to link social justice organizations with media outlets, as well as in a range of public campaigns and initiatives. They will also be well equipped to function as independent documentarians working on behalf of social change within the expanding sectors of media production and representational intervention.

Also, given the emphasis on the histories of the social documentary and on developing methods suitable for contemporary challenges, many graduates are likely to enter the field of education on a part- or full-time basis. The Social Documentation program’s teaching assistant (TA) training program, in conjunction with the Film and Digital Media Department, provides graduates with the preparation necessary to exercise pedagogical options.

Designated Emphasis

UC Santa Cruz graduate students enrolled in doctoral programs may obtain a designated emphasis in social documentation as part of their Ph.D. degree. Students must meet the following requirements in order to obtain the designated emphasis:

  • Secure approval from a member of the Social Documentation Program core faculty to serve as the adviser for the Designated Emphasis.
  • Have one core faculty member from the Social Documentation core faculty serve on the student’s qualifying examination committee or dissertation committee.
  • Submit a significant piece of documentary work that demonstrates competence in the field of social documentation. This project could consist of a digital video or photography project, or possibly an audio or web-based piece, focused on the student's area of study and thus constituting a parallel investigation into the subject of the Ph.D. dissertation. In certain circumstances, a documentary project on a subject other than the dissertation could be approved, but generally that would not be the case. The submitted project must meet the approval of the student's social documentation advisor.
  • Successfully complete four graduate courses within the Social Documentation Program curriculum. The courses must be pre-approved by the student's designated emphasis advisor. In most cases, these courses would included 200, 202, and two others, but may be adapted to fit the needs of particular students.

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Revised: 09/01/14