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Visual Anthropology Review

by Sarah Marion

Website: http://etext.virginia.edu/VAR; www.ucpress.edu/journals/3a/var

Associated Groups: Society for Visual Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropology Association

Publisher: University of California Press, Berkeley

Circulation: 1000 plus online access

Issues per year: 2 (usually), issued April and September

Acceptance rate: Approximately 66% for past year

Review length: 1-3 months

Number of Reviewers: 1-2

Editors: Dr. Najwa Adra, Glen Cove, NY, and Dr. Andrea Walsh, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia

Mission Statement: “As the journal of the Society for Visual Anthropology, Visual Anthropology Review promotes the discussion of visual studies, broadly conceived. Within its breadth, visual anthropology includes both the study of visual aspects of human behavior and the use of visual media in anthropological research, representation and teaching. The journal welcomes articles, reviews and commentary on the use of multimedia, still photography, film, video and non-camera generated images, as well as on visual ideologies, indigenous media, applied visual anthropology, art, dance, gesture, sign language, human movement, museology, architecture and material culture” (VAR 2006).

Visual Anthropology Review (VAR) is the journal of the Society for Visual Anthropology (SVA), a section of the American Anthropology Association (AAA). VAR is part of the AAA’s group of journals and is published by the University of California Press. Since the AAA is located in Virginia, the publisher in California, and the co-editors in New York and British Columbia, the journal is spatially concentrated on either coast. The journal began as a newsletter for the SVA in 1970, and has since grown up into the scholarly and respected journal it is today. VAR is easily confused with Visual Anthropology, the journal of the British Commission on Visual Anthropology, which comes out of the United Kingdom and covers similar topics. Besides its British cousin, VAR is the only scholarly anthropological journal that focuses specifically on the anthropology of visual communication, culture, and artifacts.

As stated in their mission statement, VAR seeks to discuss and promote visual anthropology. Visual anthropology is usually connoted with ethnographic films and their production, but includes much more than this genre. The SVA’s definition of visual anthropology is long and inclusive, covering topics from “the visible expression of emotion” to “analyses of space and territory” to archiving (SVA 1998). It also includes the study of visual media and culture, including photography, cinema, and other art, produced by indigenous peoples and anthropologists themselves. While the emphasis in the journal seems to tend towards reproducible art (such and photography and cinema), visual anthropology can also include more ephemeral visual events and occurrences, such as dance, gesture, and other performances. Other important foci are visual ideologies and the use of visual materials in the teaching and representation of anthropology.

VAR seems to interpret its mission rather broadly, as demonstrated in the latest issue (Fall 2004), which includes articles with both a quite obvious visual component, such as Christopher L. Witmore’s “Four Archaeological Engagements with Place: Mediating Bodily Experience through Peripatetic Video,” as well articles whose visual emphasis is less clear, such as Jason W. Patton’s “Multiple Worlds on Oakland’s Streets: Social Practice and the Built Environment.” The journal requires that all submissions have some kind of visual component. Video and multimedia clips are available online for articles that utilize them, and many do. While this is useful if one has access to the online journal, it can be irritating if one does not. The required visual component usually, therefore, ends up being photographs. Many articles, such as Patton’s, are basically photo-ethnographies, where the visual component simply complements the text, rather than being the main focus of the article.

This standard fits, however, within the mission and goals of the SVA and VAR, which include promoting visual anthropology as a discipline. Part of this promotion includes supporting visual ethnographic material as “appropriate media for the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge” (SVA 2001). According to the SVA, visuals provide an access to contexts that writing cannot and are particularly helpful for instruction and demonstration. Theory informs the production and use of these images and so “visual media therefore link textual argument and image. They intrinsically align theory and documentation in the tradition of print scholarship” (SVA 2001). Thus, even if the focus of a project is not the visuals themselves, the use of visual media in research, documentation, representation, and/or teaching is enough to qualify the project as potential VAR material. That said, potential authors must still demonstrate how their use of visual materials contributes to their research and the article; they cannot just include a few photographs and call it visual anthropology.

The standard issue of VAR has one hundred pages, and the content is presented in a straightforward fashion. There are no letters, forums, front or back matter, and few advertisements. Currently, only full articles, review articles, and film and book reviews are included. There are usually four or five full articles (totaling around seventy pages), one to three review articles totaling about twenty pages, and approximately ten pages of film and book reviews at the end. Double issues contain more of each category, but are not fully double in size, and usually contain around 160 pages. Special issues depart from this format and their content depends on the theme, containing at some times only full articles and at others a mixture of reviews, articles, and other material, depending on the guest editor’s preference. All recent special issues have included introductory material from both the regular and guest editors. From 2000 to the latest issue (2005), VAR has published ten issues – four regular issues, two double issues, and four special issues. These frequent special and double issues are guest-edited and focus on specific topics, such as HIV and Southern Africa (Spring/Fall 2003, 19[1,2]), and applied visual anthropology (Spring 2004, 20[1]). Though the editor did not say whether they had any special policies on submissions for these issues, I suspect it might be the case because the special issues seem to draw bigger names for authors and guest-editors than the standard issues.

As demonstrated by the circulation numbers, this is a rather small journal. It is not included in the Social Science Citation Index impact rankings, and has only begun abstracting its articles with the latest volume (VAR 20[1,2]). While perhaps not as prestigious as some of the larger anthropological journals, VAR’s association with AAA gives it legitimacy. Furthermore, the journal reaches a pretty solidly academic audience. According to Najwa Adra, one of the editors, academic anthropologists make up the bulk of subscribers, though there is a significant minority of ethnographic filmmakers, as well as some museums (personal communication, February 28, 2006). In the past five years, the vast majority of VAR’s contributors of articles and reviews have been academic anthropologists. Many of these anthropologists specialize in studying visual culture and communication, and some collaborate with professional photographers to produce their VAR articles. There is also a contingent of contributing professionals, mostly photographers, journalists, and applied anthropologists. Even if these contributors are not working in strictly anthropological settings, many of them still have an M.A. in anthropology. Special issues have at least one article by a higher profile anthropologist, usually a member of the SVA. Only three contributors were graduate students in the past five years, and two of the three came from Temple University, which is well represented in the journal in general. This implies that graduate students and non-anthropologists may find it difficult to publish here, or it might simply show a paucity of submissions from these groups.

VAR’s acceptance rate is fairly high – approximately 66% from 2004 through 2005 – and the review process is fairly short at one to three months. At the moment, VAR uses one peer reviewer per article, but according to Adra, they are aiming towards two in the future (personal communication, February 28, 2006). Considering these facts, and that the mission statement is broadly written and interpreted, VAR in its standard format (non-special issues) may be a good place for newly minted anthropologists, though not necessarily graduate students, to publish if their work has strong visual aspects to it. It will be read by academic anthropologists affiliated (for the most part) with the AAA and professional media producers who might use the research in their work.


Patton, Jason W.

2004 Multiple Worlds on Oakland’s Streets: Social Practice and the Built Environment. Visual Anthropology Review 20(2):36-56.

Society for Visual Anthropology

1998 Bylaws of the Society for Visual Anthropology. Electronic document,http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/VAR/ , accessed March 1, 2006.

2001 Guidelines for the Evaluation of Ethnographic Visual Media. Electronic document, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/VAR/ , accessed March 1, 2006.

Visual Anthropology Review

2006 Introduction. Electronic document, http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/VAR/ , accessed March 1, 2006.

Witmore, Christopher L.

2004 Four Archaeological Engagements with Place: Mediating Bodily Experience through Peripatetic Video. Visual Anthropology Review 20(2):57-72.

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