360° Video

Authored by: Mark R. Westmoreland

The Routledge International Handbook of Ethnographic Film and Video

Print publication date:  April  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780367185824
eBook ISBN: 9780429196997
Adobe ISBN:


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The rising popularity and accessibility of 360° video makes immersive experiences a new frontier for ethnographic research. While “immersive journalism” and other forms of “immersive witnessing” have gained significant attention through high-profile productions by major news outlets and the United Nations, there has been very little work in what could be called “immersive ethnography.” By having the freedom to look in any direction, 360° video provides viewers an active role in constructing their own visual experience. Often discussed in the context of virtual reality (VR) for its immersive attributes, 360° video is based on direct recordings of actuality rather than on the production of computer-generated environments. Whereas full VR offers users more interactivity by allowing them “to move the ‘camera’ position” within the virtual environment (Reutemann, 2016, p. 162), the video-generated environments of 360° filmmaking may limit users to a more passive experience (Hardee and McMahan, 2017), but nonetheless offers novel ways of interfacing with indexical recordings of lived reality. 360° video thus sits at the intersection of cinematic and VR innovation, presenting a new combination of technological affordances and limitations to consider. The shift from standard video to the enveloping experience of spherical video suggests that we are facing a technological paradigm shift that calls for urgent critical evaluation, particularly when it comes to implementation in visual research methods.

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