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Seeing the Social World: A review of visual sociology methods

As J. Ruby (1996) notes, “culture is manifested through visible symbols embedded in gestures, ceremonies, rituals, and artifacts situated in constructed and natural environments.” While we live in a visually rich environment, we have little in the way of

Stephen Sills

on 18 August 2010

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Transcript of Seeing the Social World: A review of visual sociology methods

Seeing the Social World:
A review of visual sociology methods Stephen J Sills, PhD
Aneliese Dar, MA candidate University of North Carolina
Greensboro “Culture is manifested through visible symbols embedded in gestures, ceremonies, rituals, and artifacts situated in constructed and natural environments.” Visual literacy is the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically. Generally speaking, the visually literate viewer looks at an image carefully, critically, and with an eye for the intentions of the image’s creator. Those skills can be applied equally to any type of image: photographs, paintings and drawings, graphic art (including everything from political cartoons to comic books to illustrations in children’s books), films, maps, and various kinds of charts and graphs. All convey information and ideas, and visual literacy allows the viewer to gather the information and ideas contained in an image, place them in context, and determine whether they are valid. Visual Literacy If visual media is so rich in information, why does Sociology tend to privilege text and exclude images from its repertoire of topics of study? Using cameras and other recording technology to gather data

The study of symbolic & non-verbal data produced by cultures

Communicating with images and media other than words
Eric Margolis http://courses.ed.asu.edu/margolis/va.html Visual Paradigms gathering visual data In addition to observing or documenting with the lens, visual sociology employs various other data collection techniques
Autodriving & Reflexive Photography -
photos taken by the interviewees themselves with directions about what to shoot. Then used in photo elicitation: "the interview is 'driven' by informants who are seeing their own behaviour"
Reading Images as “texts” Photo Interviewing or Photo Elicitation -
use of photographs to provoke a response during interview Visual observation: photodocumentary, documentary film, etc. Images can be produced by participants as data.
Found or existing images can be used as data or springboards for theorizing.
Images and objects are useful to elicit or provoke other data.
Images can be used for feedback and documentation of the research process
Images are useful as a mode of interpretation and/or representation.
Weber, S. (2008) Visual Images in Research. In J. G. Knowles and A. L Cole (eds.) Handbook of
the Arts in Qualitative Research. Sage, Los Angles, London.
1. 2. 3. Telling a sociological story through visual media The purpose of any type of documentary is to record and demonstrate what is important about any sort of event, people or place. The finished project should contain selected excerpts from the entire observational experience--the excerpts are (in the mind of the author) the most crucial aspects of his/her research or observations that best represent the whole.
Photovoice & Photonovella -
photos taken by marginalized/ voiceless peoples
enables people to record and reflect their community's strengths and concerns
promotes critical dialogue and knowledge about important issues through large and small group discussion of photographs
Used to reach policy makers and broader public Examples Visual media captures the shared human bond of the viewer and the subject (Margolis, 1990)
The best medium for raising consciousness of important social issues (Wang et. al. 1996)
Participatory video ethnography -
Using elements of Participatory Action Research (PAR) and video documentary
An effective strategy for social change Other 'hurdles' Human Subjects (IRBs don't like visual projects)
Protection of the Subject
Legal Concerns
Liability of the University
image collection/Filming in Public Spaces
image collection/Filming in locations
Informed Consent
Model/photo Releases

Technical expertise.... cameras, lighting, audio, editing, mounting and framing, webpages... hey, they didn't teach me any of this in grad school. And... well...let's face it, Sociologist do numbers well and theories, but we aren't always the most artistic bunch. "Goffman’s Gender Advertisements (1979) was a rigorous and penetrating analysis that stimulated other visual sociologists into taking into account what is commonly referred to as ‘found’ imagery."
Prosser, Jon. 2008. Introducing Visual Methods. National Centre for Research Methods
Gallery shows Webpages Stand alone photo essays (ie. the middle section of Context magazine) Documentary films Charts, graphs, figures in texts Illustrations and images in texts Bias/ subjectivity "The photographer was thought to be an acute but non interfering observer--a scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what's there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world." Susan Sontag, from "On Photography" "Visual representation of data and findings in visual research is mostly in the form of photographs, film/video, flowcharts and diagrams but also involves, where appropriate, a wide range of visual media including cartoons, doodles, pictograms, pictographs, and advertisements. In the 1930s the Chicago School produced diagrams and concept maps that expressed the relationship between key themes and were useful in depiction of narratives or ethnography."
Prosser, Jon. 2008. Introducing Visual Methods. National Centre for Research Methods
Assignment # 1 Visualizing the Triad’s Migrant Communities

As you will learn, visual research is far more selective and intentional than other forms of observational research (and thus able to be manipulated by your biases and preconceptions). In these assignments, you will be conducting your own field work on visualizing the Triad’s immigrant community. In this introductory assignment you are instructed to shoot a series of photographs (10 images total) that visually demonstrate immigration to the Triad. You may interpret these instructions in any way you wish. After shooting the series you are asked to write a short paragraph for each image explaining how these images are “evidence” of immigration. This assignment is worth 100 pts. (10% of final grade). 27. Paper Session— Doing Sociology: Reflections, Methods, and More (Grand Hall A)
Presider: Stephen J. Sills, University of North Carolina Greensboro
• Research Record Keeping: Best and Actual Practices, Kenneth R. Wilson, East Carolina University (wilsonk@ecu.edu); Alan A. Schreier, East Carolina University; David Resnik, Nih/niehs; Amanda Drozdowski, East Carolina University
• Seeing the Social World: A Review of Visual Sociology Methods, Stephen J. Sills, Univerity of North Carolina Greensboro (sjsills@uncg.edu); Aneliese Dar, University of North Carolina Greensboro
• Utilizing Facebook for Online Focus Groups, Jean S. Humphreys, Dallas Baptist University (jean@dbu.edu)
• Walking the Walk vs. Talking the Talk: A Comparative Analysis of the ASA and ASPA Ethics Initiatives, Thomas P. Dunn, Troy University (tpdunn@troy.edu); Manfred F. Meine, Troy University Visualizing Immigrants in the Media

Visual content analysis of images of immigrants found in the Greensboro News and Records to gain a better understanding of how the local media both shapes and reflects the dominant discourses on immigration. The project has developed an online database of images by systematically reviewing daily newspapers for images of immigrants. These images are then analyzed, using a combination of inductive coding strategies (akin to Grounded Theory Method). Patterns, trends, and associations emerge from the constant comparison between images. Images are also tied to the major social and political happenings of the times to see how they are used to illustrate current events. Comparisons are then made between these intended messages of the images (their connotation) and the unintended or hiding messages contained within them (denotation). J. Ruby 1996 target selection
socio-spatial governing of urban space Recent Projects
Street Life on Mill - a participatory video documentary about street youth in Tempe AZ
Kapit sa patalim (holding the knife) - a photovoice project with Filipina factory workers in Taiwan
Immigrants in the Media - a visual content analysis of the Greensboro News and Record 1965 to Present
Visualizing the Triad’s Immigrant Communities - a student photo essay project
A 'Place' for Graffiti - artist identity and the socio-spatial control of urban space
"Photography is NOT reality." photography's inevitable focus on the particular appeared to make it irrelevant Follendore 2005 Harper 2005 "All photos lie" Goldstein 2008
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