Re-Forming vision. On the governmentality of Griersonian documentary film

Source of Publication

Studies in Documentary Film


© 2015 Taylor & Francis. This essay traces and discusses John Grierson's programme for documentary film and its projected function and operation within liberal democracy. It is argued that documentary film as envisioned and propagated by Grierson neither set out to advance 'open' and/or controversial public discourse 'from an Enlightenment standpoint' (Rosen, Philip. 2001. Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 249) nor to educate its popular audiences through the dissemination of facts. As such Griersonian documentary film should be less located within the pedagogical tradition of the Enlightenment and was not to mainly function as a 'discourse of sobriety' (Nichols, Bill. 1991. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press). Rather, it was to insensibly shape subjectivities and agents by strategically arranging 'visions of the real'. Documentary set out to model what Grierson termed 'the subconscious', the implicit framework that shaped citizen's thoughts, desires, emotions and agency by which they governed their selves, others and by extension society at large into the future. Grierson's documentary programme decisively governmentalised so-called non-fiction film as a specific technique of democratic government. It sought to render the formative and 'creative' aspects of its production transparent in favour of effect through affect by shaping appropriate visions for a reality yet to become. Thereby Grierson's programme set out to strategically subjectify popular audiences/'ordinary citizens' towards a desirable and 'better' national and global future.

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Author First name, Last name, Institution

Lars Weckbecker, Zayed University