Visual Ethnography as a Research Methodology: Enhancing the Depth of Scholarship

Visual Ethnography as a Research Methodology: Enhancing the Depth of Scholarship

Candace Kaye (New Mexico State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8283-1.ch002
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Abstract

The chapter presents a rationale for using visual ethnography as part of the methodology in qualitative research and illustrates what visual ethnography methodology is capable of accomplishing when imagery is included in the investigative process. Visual ethnography offers a venue for collecting and analyzing data that would otherwise be inaccessible and positions imagery as an important, rather than a minimal or occasional, choice for use in qualitative research. Topics include contemporary definitions of visual ethnography and its value in qualitative research, historical applications of visual ethnographic theory that influence the way researchers view visual ethnography today, and contemporary uses of visual ethnography in data collection and analysis. Finally, the conclusion explores the future of visual ethnography.
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Introduction

[Images] are part of how we hope and fear, as well as how we communicate and represent knowledge. In research contexts images may inspire conversations, conversation might invoke images, conversations and performances visualize and draw absent printed or digital images into their narratives through verbal descriptions and references to them. Likewise, just as an image might invoke a memory of an embodies affective experience, experiences also inspire images. (Pink, 2020, p. 2)

The primary objective of this chapter is to present a rationale for using visual ethnography as part of the methodological process in qualitative research and thereby illustrate what visual ethnography methodology is capable of accomplishing when imagery is included in the investigative process. Specifically, the chapter will (a) show that visual ethnography offers a venue for collecting data that would otherwise be inaccessible and (b) position visual ethnography as an important, rather than a minimal or occasional, choice for use in qualitative research.

The chapter is organized into the following sections: contemporary definitions of visual ethnography and its value in qualitative research; historical and current applications of visual ethnographic theory that reflect how researchers view visual ethnography today; and contemporary uses of visual ethnography for data collection and analysis of qualitative research. Finally, the conclusion explores the future of visual ethnography and its continued acceptance into more traditional research methodology.

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Contemporary Definitions And Value Of Visual Ethnography In Qualitative Research

Visual ethnography methodology had its beginning in ethnographic studies, so an approach to defining the term visual ethnography logically starts by defining ethnography. Briefly, ethnography is the study and interpretation of social organizations and cultures in everyday life (Hammersley, 2018; Ingold, 2017; Monrouxe & Ajjawi, 2020; Parker-Jenkins, 2018). Adding the term visual to this description, visual ethnography becomes a research-based methodology that collects and analyzes data using photography, video, film, technology, and other visual means. In the process of defining visual ethnography as a research methodology, several constructs need to be examined, as presented below.

Constructs of Visual Ethnography

Researchers such as Pink (2020), Barrantes-Elizondo (2019), and Given (2008) acknowledge the importance of visual ethnography as a methodology for qualitative studies. Specifically, according to Pink (2020), visual ethnography brings “theory and practice of visual approaches to learning and knowing about the world and communicating these to others” (p. 6). Barrantes-Elizondo (2019) goes deeper, arguing that visual ethnography methodology is specifically the negotiation between the participant’s view of reality and the questioning by the researcher as a result of visual data. These researchers agree, however, that the constructs of visual ethnography as a qualitative methodology reside within its (a) elicitation of imagery as data, (b) contribution of additional techniques for data collection and analysis, and (c) inclusion of processes of modern technology. For the latter, visual ethnography includes photography, motion pictures, hypermedia, the web, interactive CDs, CD-ROMs, and virtual reality as ways of capturing and expressing people’s perceptions and social realities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Visual Imagery: A means of including perceptions of individuals or groups in a study to respond to a research question using a variety of visual images. Images can include, but are not limited to, photography, motion pictures, hypermedia, the web, interactive CDs, CD-ROMs, self-expressive art, and virtual reality.

Network Ethnography: A mixed-methods research design that balances social network analysis (SNA) with ethnography in interorganizational network studies; qualitative and quantitative data are collected and analyzed in a parallel fashion, implying convergence during data interpretation.

Thick Description in Visual Ethnography: An ethnographic and qualitative research technique that offers detailed descriptions and interpretations of visual data observed and collected by a researcher.

Visual Ethnographic Data: Range of visual data for collection and analysis; include but are not limited to photo elicitation, photo voice, photography, family photos, GIS mapping, interviews using video or photography, grounded theory mapping, mapping relevant social groups, art making analysis, attention to material culture, graffiti, SNA (social networking analysis) and ethnographic content analysis of imagery of cartoons, photographs, and headlines.

Visual Ethnographic Methodology: A qualitative research-based process that collects and analyzes visual data by comparing, contrasting, and categorizing the data in response to a research question.

Social Network Analysis (SNA): The process of visually investigating social structures that include the use of social media networks. Such networks can be visualized through sociograms as a means of qualitatively assessing networks by varying the visual representation to reflect attributes of interest.

Critical Reflexivity in Visual Ethnography: Depth of sensitivity of how the researcher and the research process organize the visual data collection and analysis, including the role of the researcher’s prior assumptions and experiences.

Visual Ethnographic Design: As a qualitative methodology, a planned design in visual ethnography guides the choices for data collection and analysis of imagery for empirical evidence as well as the dissemination of research findings.

Human Factors: The scientific discipline for understanding interactions among humans and other elements of a system, applying theory, principles, data, and methods to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

Ethnography: A research-based methodology supporting the study and interpretation of social organizations and cultures in everyday life.

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