A Spectatorship-based Approach to Undoing Blindness Stereotypes in Documentary Practice

Brylla, Catalin. 2017. A Spectatorship-based Approach to Undoing Blindness Stereotypes in Documentary Practice. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The research is presented as an audio-visual thesis, consisting of a 62,000-word thesis and two documentary film artefacts (forty-five and forty-eight minutes, respectively). The equal ratio of theory and practice symbiotically combines the background research, written analysis and practical experimentation.
The portrayal of blind people in Western media largely conforms to stereotypical representations that oscillate between two poles: either as unfortunate, disabled and deprived, or exotic, mysterious and in touch with the supernatural. This ‘othering’ of blindness in documentaries is the symptom and partial cause of socio-cultural stigmatisation and ‘ableist’ hegemony.

Challenging this hegemony, the thesis proposes the adoption of a spectatorship-based approach to film practice. It first identifies a range of stereotypes in mainstream documentaries, revealing the overwhelming use of formulaic narratives that foreground either tragic or heroic, goal-oriented plot trajectories, and stylistic devices that objectify blind characters. These insights frame the making of my own documentary films about two blind people. The aim is the mediation of everyday experience from the characters’ own perspective, with the result that the spectator experiences them as ordinary people, performing ordinary activities, albeit with extraordinary bodies. The films focus on everyday objects and spaces, and use narrative fragmentation to elicit a temporal sense of ‘everydayness’. The methodology operates on two levels of filmic mediation: the pre-filmic, comprising my first-person encounters with the subjects, and the post-filmic that addresses the mediation of pre-filmic experience to the audience via the film. The pre-filmic level makes use of phenomenological methods; the post-filmic implements a range of methods adapted from cognitive film studies. This spectatorship-focused model offers a new way of representing and communicating the ordinary ‘everyday’ of the two blind characters, undoing the stereotypes that consistently ‘other’ members of this community.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Documentary, Spectatorship, Cognitive theory, Everyday, Alterity, Materiality, Disability, Blindness, Practice, Stereotypes

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


28 February 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

29 Mar 2017 16:29

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:47



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