Tara Milbrandt

Tara Milbrandt
IVSA Board Member

I am an associate professor of Sociology at the Faculty of Augustana, a small liberal arts and sciences campus of the University of Alberta in Canada. I teach courses in social theory (classical and contemporary), as well as media & mass communication; community; film & culture. I taught visual sociology as a special topics course in 2014 and am in the process of introducing it into our curriculum as a regular offering.

My graduate degrees (MA and PhD) are from York University in Toronto. My doctoral dissertation, Public Space, Collective Desire, and the Contested City (defended in 2006), was a theoretical examination and cultural study of the boundaries of “public” space in the contemporary city, focused on Toronto. It was soon after this that I pleasantly discovered visual sociology at the New York University meetings in 2007. The conference theme that summer, “Public Views of the Private/Private Views of the Public” partly inspired the manuscript that I am presently working on. Broadly, it is an inquiry into changes in the nature and experience of public life, morality, strangers, and selfhood in our late-modern era of camera ubiquity, incessant photographing, and image mobility.

I have published work in the areas of urban culture, public space, mediated suffering, and contemporary visualizing practices. I also work in the area of radical and neo-Durkheimian theory and am co-founder of the Canadian Network of Durkheimian Studies/Réseau canadien d’études durkheimienne (CNDS/RCED), a Developing Research Cluster of the Canadian Sociological Association.

Like many (I suspect most!) of my colleagues in IVSA, I have a passion for photography, especially documentary and urban street photography; this both feeds and is fed by my sociological interest in everyday/night life, especially the public realm of strangers. I find in visual sociology an invigorating mixture of critical, imaginative and reflexive approaches to the use of images in social inquiry and research generally.

I think that the IVSA is a unique and important scholarly organization and am happy to have been elected as a board member. Since 2007, I have presented papers, organized and chaired sessions at IVSA meetings in the US, Europe and South America on topics such as street postering; image circulation and new social movements (e.g. Slutwalk); image politics and transgressive photographs. I celebrate the multidisciplinary and international character of the IVSA, and value the dialogue it supports amongst activists, artists, and scholars. Additionally, I believe that it is important to sustain the critical and grounding perspective offered by a sociological imagination.


  • We never really know what’s around the corner when we’re filming – what turn a story will take, what a character will do or say to surprise us, how the events in the world will impact our story.

    Barbara Kopple


    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog

  • I believe that we face incredible obstacles in our attempts to see the world. Everything in our nature tries to deny the world around us; to refabricate it in our own image; to reinvent it for our own benefit. And so, it becomes something of a challenge, a task, to recover (or at least attempt to recover) the real world despite all the impediments to that end.

    Errol Morris

  • Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.

    Werner Herzog


    Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.

    Nicholas Mirzoeff


    Sometimes one picture is equal to 30 pages of discourse, just as there are things images are completely incapable of communicating.

    William S. Burroughs


    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp

  • If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you’re dumb and blind.

    Salman Rushdie


    Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must change.

    Bertolt Brecht


    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

    James Reston


    The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.

    Zygmunt Bauman

  • Before I became a film major, I was very heavily into social science, I had done a lot of sociology, anthropology, and I was playing in what I call social psychology, which is sort of an offshoot of anthropology/sociology – looking at a culture as a living organism, why it does what it does.

    George Lucas

  • Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way

    Howard Becker


    For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in.

    Howard Becker


    The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.

    Pierre Bourdieu

  • Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

    Henry Rollins

  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

    Kirsten Johnson


    One advantage of photography is that it’s visual and can transcend language.

    Lisa Kristine



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