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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Patrick Smith, Film and Moving Image Studies

Capital, Carcerality, Borders: Documentary Spatiality

Date & time
Monday, April 6, 2020
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Jennifer Sachs



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Capital, Carcerality, Borders: Documentary Spatiality examines the political potential of representations of space, place and landscape in experimental documentary film. The driving question for this project is: how do nonfiction engagements with spatiality serve to expose various forms of political and economic violence? More specifically, this thesis traces a connection between a geographically disparate set of experimental nonfiction works that have a shared concern with visualising the spatial machinations of contemporary power relations. This thesis argues that over the past two decades we have seen an increasing number of experimental nonfiction works that are structured around political interrogations of the spatial. It is the contention of this thesis that the adoption of such a critical spatial perspective within contemporary documentary practice still needs to be effectively surveyed and theorised, and it is this crucial work that Documentary Spatiality aims to undertake.

The thesis has three main chapters, each with a different spatial and political focus. “Visualising Late Capitalism’s Landscapes” examines works that aimed to confront the various impacts of late-capitalist economic exploitation, including the exploitative practices of natural resource extraction and transport logistics. “Carceral Geographies: Spaces of Exception and Internment” focuses on works that explore the impacts of the prison industrial complex on material, economic and social space. “Border Regimes: Labour, Ports and the Sea” focuses on works that examine the contemporary reconstitution of borders as heterogeneous, shifting and proliferating regimes of spatial control. By forging connections between these works, the thesis not only highlights the presence of such a spatio-political tendency, but also examines the future aesthetic and political potentialities for such a critical visual praxis. It is the contention of this thesis that moving image practices must become radical tools to fight against the spatial machinations of contemporary power relations. This thesis is a crucial intervention into documentary, new media and spatial studies scholarship. By bringing these spatio-political works together, the thesis argues for the establishment of a whole new genre of political nonfiction media practice. Moreover, by mapping out the presence of a spatio-political tendency in experimental nonfiction practice, this thesis highlights the importance of continuing its development by finding new and radical forms of praxis.

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