In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Graphic Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Journals and websites
  • Drawing as Archaeological Method
  • Drawing as Ethnographic Method
  • Graphic Anthropologies

Anthropology Graphic Anthropology
Coleman Nye
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0264


Graphic anthropology, broadly construed, approaches drawing as a mode of anthropological inquiry. Most commonly, drawing and sketching have been employed by cultural anthropologists as visual research methods during fieldwork. This practice, which can include sketching fieldnotes and inviting research interlocutors to create or respond to drawings, has developed as a way to document the process of coming-to-know during research and to visually explore the different perspectives at play in an ethnographic encounter. In archaeology, technical drawings, field drawings, and the analysis of drawings from the archaeological record have been central to the research process. In recent years, anthropologists across the sub-disciplines have begun to more actively explore the conceptual and critical potentials of drawing as a process (to draw) and product (a drawing) that is open-ended, multidimensional, and attuned to bodily practice. The creation and analysis of graphic arts in anthropology has fostered cross-disciplinary affinities and overlaps with medical and digital humanities, public health, visual culture studies, and the visual and literary arts. Of particular interest to many cultural and medical anthropologists is the genre of comics, as its unique blend of text and image arranged in sequence allows for the layering of different times, spaces, bodies, and perspectives within a single page in non-linear and non-hierarchical ways. While comics have long been a tool in public health campaigns, the early 2000s saw the growth of the field of “graphic medicine,” which explores how comics about illness and healing can provide unique insights into the cultural, personal, embodied, and epistemological contexts of medicine. Similarly, the fields of anthropology, literature, and visual studies have recently witnessed renewed interest in the social and aesthetic dimensions of drawings and there has been an upsurge in the creation of comics, zines, and graphic novels as major research outputs across academic disciplines and anthropological sub-disciplines. Graphic anthropology can also be situated in relation to the subfield of multimodal anthropology, which expands the domain of visual anthropology beyond its historical focus on film and photography to include engagement across multiple media technologies, platforms, producers, and publics. While graphic anthropology is connected to visual anthropology, the strong interdisciplinary articulations of drawing as a mode of research, practice, and creation combined with a focus on comics as site of cultural production mark the “graphic” as a rich domain of anthropological inquiry in its own right.

Journals and websites

There are no journals exclusively dedicated to graphic anthropology, as it is still a nascent interdisciplinary field. A range of academic journals and websites publish content related to culture, theory, and drawing. American Anthropologist publishes articles from across the four major subfields of anthropology and includes online content dedicated to multimodal and public anthropology. Visual Anthropology Review concentrates on visual cultures, with a strong emphasis on cultural anthropology. Anthropology and Humanism publishes conventional and artistic content that bridges the social sciences and humanities. Medical Humanities focuses on the arts and medicine with a number of works on the role of graphic narratives in health contexts. In the field of comics studies, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics covers multiple dimensions of comics production, consumption, and circulation within international contexts, while Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society publishes scholarly analyses of comics. In addition to conventional journals, there are several online forums that include work on graphic anthropology. The Nib is an online publication with daily political comics, many of which address key anthropological issues. The academic website Graphic Medicine publishes a range of content about graphic narratives, medicine, and culture. The University of Toronto Press Teaching Culture blog and the Center for Imaginative Ethnography website have a number of pieces on teaching comics in anthropology and on graphic ethnography.

  • American Anthropologist. 1888–.

    The journal of the American Anthropological Association publishes the most diverse disciplinary range of anthropological work on drawing as both a research method and an object of analysis, primarily in archaeology and cultural anthropology. Beyond the peer-reviewed articles, the journal website has an online forum in multimodal anthropologies that showcases a number of interesting ethno-graphic essays that employ graphic narratives, comics, and zines in research, communication, and pedagogy.

  • Anthropology and Humanism. 1976–.

    The articles in this journal are the most attentive to the role of artistic methods in anthropological research of the journals listed, publishing experimental and creative works by cultural anthropologists.

  • Center for Imaginative Ethnography. 2010–.

    The website for the Center for Imaginative Ethnography includes a “Graphic Ethnography” blog series that includes book reviews and academic essays exploring the uses of comics in cultural anthropology.

  • Graphic Medicine. 2007–.

    An excellent web resource on comics related to health, medicine, and illness. Founded and run by a community of medical practitioners, artists, librarians, and academics who are invested in exploring the intersection of comics and healthcare, the site provides updated listings and reviews of health-related comics along with podcasts and blog posts.

  • Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society. 2017–.

    The official journal of the Comics Studies Society includes peer-review essays, as well as archival materials, related to the analysis and history of comics. The publication has a strong humanities perspective and largely focuses on North America.

  • Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. 2010–.

    This peer-review journal boasts an impressive range of comics and graphic narrative-based research from global, interdisciplinary, and intersectional perspectives. The articles represent primarily literary and social scientific approaches to comics, with special-themed issues on topics such as Indigenous comics, South Asian comics, manga, and sexuality.

  • Medical Humanities. 2000–.

    This journal is a good resource for medical anthropologists as well those interested in the growing field of “graphic medicine.” Of particular interest are articles that explore the uses of comics in medical practice from the perspectives of patients, clinicians, and educators.

  • The Nib. 2013–.

    An online publication with daily comics about current political issues. While written from a journalistic perspective, many of the comics address anthropological issues and are useful for teaching.

  • University of Toronto Press Teaching Culture. 2012–.

    The official blog of the anthropology division at University of Toronto Press, which is home to the ethnoGRAPHIC book series dedicated to publishing anthropology in graphic form. The blog includes a range of essays on comics and anthropology, covering topics related to theory, practice, and teaching.

  • Visual Anthropology Review. 1970–.

    The journal of the Society for Visual Anthropology, a subsection of the American Anthropological Association, includes a range of useful articles with a particular focus on drawing as a visual method in cultural anthropological research.

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