Hochschule Düsseldorf
University of Applied Sciences
Peter Behrens School of Arts
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Peter Behrens School of Arts / Conference, institut bild.medien

Must We Say What We See – Keywording as Ordinary Language Philosophy

Film-Philosophy Conference 

Title: Must We Say What We See – Keywording as Ordinary Language Philosophy

Abstract: The heterogenous and steadily growing body of online film and art databases and archives sheds a new light on the importance of keywording practices. Increasingly, we find databases that list more than just verifiable metadata, but also feature descriptive keywords which may denote, for example, a film’s genre (a notoriously fluid category) or point to the presence of specific aesthetic categories (e.g. ‘affective’ or ‘sublime’ in Digital Art Archive). Because databases generally raise the claim of objectivity, fixed indexing systems such as the US Library of Congress Subject Headings have been developed to ensure the researches can rely on a so-called controlled vocabulary or a thesaurus. However, such indexing systems rarely accommodate jargon pertinent to more niche subjects such as film studies. A dictionary of film terms can certainly be helpful when it comes to creating a film studies thesaurus but will often fall short when it comes to more specialised aesthetic terms needed to describe the formalist leanings of artist's cinema or video art. In a database, keywords carry both descriptive and normative functions as by using specialised terms as annotations we also prescribe meanings to them. A researcher – and that is the focal point of my paper – keen on finding the correct descriptive vocabulary will need to verify their semantic claims (relying, for example, on extensional or intensional approaches, to fall back on Benson Mates’s terms), question their own expert knowledge and explore the tension between ‘what we ordinarily mean by the terms we use’ and ‘what we ought to mean when we use these terms’; in short, to perform ordinary language philosophy. Drawing on examples from my current research, I want to explore how scholars might approach keywording from the perspective of ordinary language philosophy and, more generally, how we articulate what we see onscreen.

Lara Perski is a researcher at the institut bild.medien at Hochschule Düsseldorf – University of Applied Sciences in Germany. She is currently working on a project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Online Video Platform – Archiving / Presentation / Communication, and is studying the video art archive of the imai – inter media art institute. Before that, she was a research associate at the University of Marburg where she organised the annual Cinematographer’s Award.


The conference will be held at the University of Brighton City Campus using spaces in both Grand Parade and Edward Street buildings.

University of Brighton
Grand Parade Campus
9 – 11 July 2019

Film-Philosophy Conference
Lara Perski MSt presents a current project at the institut bild.medien funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to international researchers at University of Brighton, UK.