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Kate Rennebohm

Kate Rennebohm

Film and Visual Studies

PhD Candidate

Harvard University

Kate Rennebohm is a PhD candidate in Harvard's Film and Visual Studies program. Her doctoral thesis, “Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century,” argues for the dramatic but un-theorized influence of cinema on ethical thinking and philosophy within the 21st century, via cinema’s introduction of the concept of “reviewing,” or the experience of encountering one’s self or the world as a moving image. A regular contributor to Cinema Scope, she has also written for The Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Film & History, Offscreen and Synoptique. Kate received the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Research Grant for both her Doctorate and Masters, and just completed a year as a pre-doctoral fellowship in Global Languages and Literatures at MIT. She also recently co-founded the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Film Philosophy Scholarly Interest Group, and is the current co-chair.

Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century

Kate Rennebohm's research belongs to the interdisciplinary field of film philosophy. In her dissertation, titled “Re-Vision: Moving Image Media, The Self, and Ethical Thought in the 20th Century,” she makes a strong intervention into not only this field but also film and media theory and histories of the moving image. Taking her cue from media theory’s claim that media frame the conditions for experience and thought in a given era, she argues that film has reshaped self-experience and ethical thought in the modern period. Via a number of non-fiction film-focused case studies, Kate Rennebohm's work excavates an alternative history of the moving image, one that reveals the wide-ranging uses of film and video as “devices of self-viewing.” The history she details includes early “local” cinema, where exhibitors introduced spectators to cinema by filming them and then showing the spectators these moving images of themselves; ethnographic film and early home movies; uses of video by artists, activists, and psychiatrists in the 1960s and 70s; and trends in documentary filmmaking in the latter half of the century.
In detailing these newly-mediated modes of self-encounter, Kate Rennebohm contends that moving images posed new ethical questions for both philosophers and everyday thinkers. To address these new ethical questions, which she analyzes across thinkers like Jean Epstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, and Rosalind Krauss, she proposes the term “reviewing.” This concept names the uniquely modern, ethically-loaded activities and concerns of watching one’s self and one’s experiences on screen. By analyzing these habitual media practices across a wide time span, revealing their constitutive role in moving image history, her work challenges film scholarship’s negative understanding of these self-viewing practices as solely nostalgic or narcissistic. Her work also endeavors to pose ethical and political questions to media theory, as this field has been largely agnostic to these. In future lines of this research, as she translates this work into a book manuscript, she will be investigating the relation between surveillance media and modern understandings of the “conscience,” how this history of reviewing reframes the phenomenon of “selfies,” and the question of film theory’s reticence toward reviewing and the self.