Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Distanciation in general refers to the stepping back or distancing of the observer or reader from an object of scrutiny.

explanatory context

NOTE: distanciation is sometimes spelled 'distantiation'


Distanciation or estrangement allows for or facilitates a critical attitude.


In film studies distanciation refers explicitly to the estrangement of the spectator to the filmic representation, which thus allows a questioning stance to the film text.

analytical review

University of Washington (undated):

Distantiation/Distanciation: The effect of distancing or estranging a spectator through means within the form or content of a text that challenge basic codes and conventions, and therefore mainstream ideological expectations. The term, drawn from the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, and connected with the “alienation effect” theorized and practiced by German Marxist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, has been used by film theorists in discussions of the possibilities and limitations of using cinema to challenge mainstream ideological and institutional structures. Formally, distantiation may be achieved by such things as obvious jump cuts, glaring lighting, violating the 180 degree rule, etc. Narratively, the film may employ absurd, arbitrary, and/or non-linear story lines. Distantiation may be achieved through characterization by creating characters that audiences can neither identify with nor mindlessly loathe. A key question within film theory concerning distantiation is whether a film can achieve its intended political effect simply by being formally alienating without being directly political, particularly in today's post-modernist cinema, when shocking innovation has become part of the standard palette employed by Hollywood directors. (Adapted from Hayward, Key Concepts in Cinema Studies)

Henning (2007) writes: :

...face-to-face interactions lose their significance in everyday life, as modern media such as money or more recently the Internet step in between. The consequence for individuals is the process of distanciation. It has both a spatial and an emotional side: people who feel a sense of belonging can live far away from each other, and people sharing the same neighborhood may not even talk to one another.

associated issues


related areas



Henning, C., , 2007, 'Distanciation and Disembedding', in Ritzer, G., (Ed.), 2007, Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, Oxford, Blackwell.

University of Washington, undated, 'Distantiation/Distanciation' available at , accessed 21 January 2013, still available 17 December 2016, 'not found' 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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