Documenting Subcultures

Vabianna Santos

Documenting Subcultures

Do subcultures still exist? Have you ever belonged to one? How can you tell? This Practicum course will ask you to examine a specific subculture of your choosing, and engage in the creative process by documenting how it currently exists.

The practice of documenting and “collecting” the identity of a social group is problematic, whether you are conducting this process from within it or as an outside observer. Some central questions we will consider are: Does the act of documenting change what is occurring? Do you need to belong to a group to depict it accurately?

By the end of the course you will have a “documentary” in any format of your choice (for example: a written or visual publication, video, compilation, collection of objects, etc.). Your project will showcase your skills: collecting data and interviews from subjects, media production, constructing independent research methodologies, encountering ethical considerations, and working in cooperation with communities. This course is open to all majors but is especially relevant to students of Anthropology, Communication, Critical Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, History, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts, Linguistics, International Studies, Urban Studies and Planning, Psychology, Sociology, and Visual Arts.

We will be examining how artists research and respond to cultural groups by creating visual documentation, curating ephemera, examining sites and territories, collecting histories, and writing reflectively about your own experiences. You may use these practices as a model for scholarly evaluation or use methods from your own career field. You are encouraged to explore your own first-hand experiences but you are not required to belong to the group that you investigate. You are also not required to have a creative practice or artistic skills, but you must be interested in making and presenting a refined finished product to the public.

We will discuss ideas of infiltration, participation, and gaining permission from subjects. We will take a look at appropriation of subcultural expression by artists and industries. We will read primary sources and compare them to sociological writing. Which paints a more accurate picture? How do you capture authenticity?

The students that excel in this course will possess a willingness to critically engage with the ethical and interpersonal dimensions of documenting a community. In other words, you must be wiling to question your own assumptions.

Together, we will showcase your projects at an exhibition open to the public at the San Diego Art Institute or the Che Café. You will also be asked to create a small, distributable version of your documentation (such as a zine or DVD) that can be given to the people who participated in your project.

Image credit: Nikki S. Lee, "The Skateboarders Project."


Virtual Advising:

Available through

Walk-In Advising:

Held in the Sixth College Annex.

Monday: 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Tuesday: 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Wednesday: 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Thursday: 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Friday: 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Summer I 2017