Visual Methods at the Crossroads

Visual methods are at the crossroads. They can remain in a niche or move into the mainstream by also addressing all people using visual materials. In the social sciences, visual methods encompass photography, video, and graphic representations.

With respect to the visual, one has to note that all interpretations that are ontologically dependent on photography require more interpretation. “Looking at” means “being framed by,” and this means also the picture maker who is also considered to be a viewer. For the social sciences, pictures provide us with personal insights as well as with a personal record of spatial and social relationships.

On this basis one may raise questions like “how pattern variations occur over time?,” “how are social processes organized?,” or “what is the role of emotion in social life?” These are issues, the author continues, to which visual data can contribute. It may be added that methodological discussion should, however, besides the areas of visual data generation, analysis and interpretation also include solutions for the problem of communicating research findings. Some of these questions can be approached via controlled photo-observation, photo-elicitation techniques and imagery provided by the subjects themselves.

Finally, the author turns to the question of what remains to be done? Here, he delineates three main areas:

  1. evaluating the theoretical and conceptual basis of visual research;
  2. creating public databases for the development and testing of theories;
  3. defining “best practices” for visual research.
  4. The above is an abstract from a full article published at the online journal “Forum: Qualitative Social Research”

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    Project contributors: John Grady

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  • Before I became a film major, I was very heavily into social science, I had done a lot of sociology, anthropology, and I was playing in what I call social psychology, which is sort of an offshoot of anthropology/sociology – looking at a culture as a living organism, why it does what it does.

    George Lucas

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    One advantage of photography is that it’s visual and can transcend language.

    Lisa Kristine

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    Visual culture is now the study of how to understand change in a world too enormous to see but vital to imagine.

    Nicholas Mirzoeff

  • Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way

    Howard Becker

  • If you want to tell the untold stories, if you want to give voice to the voiceless, you’ve got to find a language. Which goes for film as well as prose, for documentary as well as autobiography. Use the wrong language, and you’re dumb and blind.

    Salman Rushdie

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    For any picture, ask yourself what question or questions it might be answering. Since the picture could answer many, questions, we can decide what question we are interested in.

    Howard Becker

  • You try your hardest to give people their space, but at moments you know you’re capturing their image in ways they may or may not be okay with. It’s that rocking back and forth between respect and betrayal that I feel like is at the heart of the film.

    Kirsten Johnson

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    If it’s far away, it’s news, but if it’s close at home, it’s sociology.

    James Reston

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    Reality changes; in order to represent it, modes of representation must change.

    Bertolt Brecht

  • We never really know what’s around the corner when we’re filming – what turn a story will take, what a character will do or say to surprise us, how the events in the world will impact our story.

    Barbara Kopple

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    Every photograph promises more than it delivers and delivers more than it intended.

    Steve Harp

  • I believe that we face incredible obstacles in our attempts to see the world. Everything in our nature tries to deny the world around us; to refabricate it in our own image; to reinvent it for our own benefit. And so, it becomes something of a challenge, a task, to recover (or at least attempt to recover) the real world despite all the impediments to that end.

    Errol Morris

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    There are dignified stupidities, and there are heroic stupidities, and there is such a thing as stupid stupidities, and that would be a stupid stupidity not to have a camera on board.

    Werner Herzog

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    The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal that which is hidden.

    Pierre Bourdieu

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    The task for sociology is to come to the help of the individual. We have to be in service of freedom. It is something we have lost sight of.

    Zygmunt Bauman

  • Watching a documentary with people hacking their way through some polar wasteland is merely a visual. Actually trying to deal with cold that can literally kill you is quite a different thing.

    Henry Rollins

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    Sometimes one picture is equal to 30 pages of discourse, just as there are things images are completely incapable of communicating.

    William S. Burroughs

  • Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images. Our civilization does not have adequate images. And I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it doesn’t develop an adequate language for adequate images.

    Werner Herzog

#Visualsociology

Dr Zuleyka Zevallos

Square Cloud Compound, Mikala Dwyer, 2010 buff.ly/2kNVrN0 #visualsociology

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