Social Documentation

2017-18 General Catalog

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Faculty | Course Descriptions

Program Description

The Master's of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Social Documentation (SocDoc) is an innovative and unique interdisciplinary two-year program in the Film and Digital Media Department (FDM) that trains students to critically analyze, frame and reflect upon contemporary social issues through the art of documentary media. SocDoc M.F.A. students produce documentary video, photography and other media throughout the program culminating in well-researched, socially engaged and aesthetically crafted thesis project. In a rapidly expanding and changing field, the Social Documentation M.F.A. invites students to investigate critical social issues through an interdisciplinary approach that fuses arts based, social science and humanities research methods to the art of documentary media and storytelling. 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. Documentaries produced in the program have called attention to a range of under-recognized communities, problems, and structural inadequacies.

Upon completion of the program, Master's of Fine Arts graduates will be qualified to enter a range of documentary-related professions. Degree holders may work within industries such as public broadcasting, as independent producers and artists, at archives or museums, or within organizations committed to exploring the relationships between media and social change. As a terminal degree, M.F.A. degree holders are also qualified to teach arts, documentary and/or digital media at institutions of higher learning.


The Social Documentation M.F.A. program aims to train graduate students in critical thinking, social science analysis, arts-based approaches, and ethical standards for engaging with and documenting underrepresented communities. Additionally, students receive training in video production, animation and new media. In supplement to this broad curriculum, the FDM Department offers one-to-two-day master classes in audio and visual production taught by professionals in the field. The program’s adviser structure requires M.F.A. students to work with faculty from FDM and across the UCSC campus, providing students with a broad range of research approaches and aesthetic models for documentary practice. For example, a student may take courses in anthropology, feminist studies, history, literature and sociology wherein they learn social science and humanities research methodologies related to their topic of study. And a student will take a variety of required and elective courses within the Film and Digital Media Department where they will engage with the history and theory of documentary representations and receive technical instruction and professionalization in a variety of production and post-production techniques.

The core curriculum concentrates on critical approaches to the production of documentary media and on the role of documentary in framing and effecting social change. M.F.A. candidates may work in film or video; in photography (a book, a photo essay, gallery exhibition and/or time-based media); animation and multimedia; audio productions; and/or transmedia and web-platform projects. Graduates are expected to generate work that will have an impact on the world outside the academy and in the public realm. The M.F.A. thesis project, which constitutes the culmination of the two years of study, is to be given a public exhibition and becomes the springboard for continuing work after graduation.


The Social Documentation M.F.A. program offers a required and foundational core curriculum in the theory, history and practice of social documentary. Students work with three faculty advisers to design an individualized course of study that supplements the core curriculum with classes that support the student’s specific project, both in terms of content and technical production. Toward that end, students take elective courses in their area of interest in the social sciences and/or humanities, write and develop a written thesis, and then create a final documentary media project.

A total of 72 credits is required to complete the SocDoc M.F.A. Required courses include seminars on social documentary history; practice, theory, and social science research; and technical instruction on production and post-production processes and techniques. Full-time enrollment is required.

Core Courses

First Year (30 credits):

SOCD 200, Approaches to Social Documentation (fall)

SOCD 201A,Introduction to Documentary Field Production and Editing (fall)

SOCD 201B,Advanced Documentary Field Production and Editing (spring)

SOCD 201C, Project Planning for the Social Documentary (spring)

SOCD 202, Multiple Platform Social Documentary Production (winter)

SOCD 203, Documentary Research Methods and Social Science Representation (winter)

Second Year (30 credits):

SOCD 204, Ethnographic Writing and Social Documentation (fall)

SOCD 293, Studies and Practice for Social Documentation, Filmmaking, and New Media (winter)

SOCD 294A, Production/ Analysis/ Editing (fall)

SOCD 294B, Production/ Analysis/ Editing (winter)

SOCD 294C, Production/ Analysis/ Editing (spring)

SOCD 295, Project Completion (spring)

Additional Requirements

Electives (12 credits)

In addition to the required courses above, 12 credits of electives (offered by departments) are identified individually in consultation with the director of Graduate Studies and faculty advisers. SocDoc students choose elective courses based on their research needs and interests and will be advised to take graduate elective courses offered by their thesis advisers. Students may also elect to take independent studies with their advisers as a form of concentrated study in a specialized area.

Advancing to Candidacy

To satisfy requirements for the M.F.A. degree, a student must complete and pass all of the required first-year courses and electives, assemble a committee of three advisers, develop a thesis proposal and successfully pass a qualifying examination (QE). The thesis proposal serves as the basis for the QE and includes: 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 pre-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 enacted 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, and how will it move from analysis to critique?

The second year is focused on completion of the final documentary project, required for the M.F.A. degree. This project must reflect original research and creative activity while demonstrating a command of the field or topic of study. With an understanding of budgetary, equipment, and time limitations, students’ 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-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).

Documentary Animation. One complete documentary animation suitable for professional distribution and public exhibition. 

Transmedia Projects. One complete documentary transmedia project suitable for professional distribution and public exhibition. 

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

The final M.F.A. critique consists of a presentation and discussion of the student’s thesis work with their three advisers. In addition, every project must be accompanied by a written M.F.A. thesis describing its relationship to its field and must document its research via field notes, bibliographies, archival searches, filmographies, videographies, and photography searches. Final deliverables also include a basic website for the thesis project along with production stills, a press kit, and a draft civic engagement campaign. A public presentation of the project will complete graduation requirements. 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 director of Graduate Studies.

Designated Emphasis in Social Documentation

UCSC graduate students enrolled in doctoral programs may obtain a designated emphasis in social documentation as part of their Ph.D. or Master's degree. Students must meet the following requirements in order to obtain the designated emphasis:

  • Secure approval from a member of the FDM faculty to serve as the adviser for the designated emphasis.

  • Have one faculty member from the FDM 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. or Master's 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 FDM faculty adviser.

  • Successfully complete four graduate courses within the Social Documentation Program curriculum. The courses must be pre-approved by the student's FDM faculty adviser. 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: 09/01/17