Chapter 1 - The Process of Research and Visual Methods

Critical Thinking

Use the following sets of questions and activities to further your understanding of the issues in the chapters.

‘Seeing is never innocent in that it occurs within already ascribed cultural boundaries.’

1. The image has been seen as problematic, leading to irrational and seductive delusions (see discussion on pp. 22–25). Why might visual information be seen as beguiling or less trustworthy?

1.1 Read the quote below from Roger Brown. Why might this feature of photography be a double-edged sword?

‘I think one of the great gifts of photography is not Realism or Objectivity but a Truthfulness to the appearance of things. Photography is not Realism – it has what the essayist Raymond Tallis calls Explicitness, a defining human characteristic he reminds us. It is something we all want to believe in. Recording all that is before the lens. This IS what Great Aunt Nelly looks like. Hey, that is the Apollo 14 lander, Antares, on the Moon in 1971. This is the full orb of the earth, seen and photographed for the first time ever from Apollo 17 in 1972. It is an explicitness that upsets a lot of people even today. But we muck about with it at our peril. It is reported that the Apollo astronauts don’t really remember space – what they remember are the photographs!’ (Roger Brown, IVSA Conference Carlisle 2009, p. 24)

‘The image is political; it presents a picture of the world, presenting events from a point of view – “spectacles” can be staged or selectively chosen to support or affirm an ideological platform.’ (Chapter 1)

2. Do you agree that ‘visual representation is always ‘political’?
Can you think of an image that is apolitical?

Think of an everyday object or image. How might it become politicised? (e.g. a bath, a kitchen and the objects in it, a pair of shoes or boots, a bicycle)

Inspiration might be gained from looking at the images produced by visual artist Rosy Martin (see e.g. Too Close to Home? North East Photography Network,
2010 [Online]

3. Look at the two images displayed here. What feelings do these images evoke for you? Why do you think you responded to them in this way?

3.1 Could such images be used to discuss the human condition? How might they be used in research, or in therapeutic contexts?

4. In what ways might social change be visualised? Give an example.

4.1 News media often present ‘spectacles’ which are seen to represent pivotal or historical events – can you think of examples? What are the inherent problems with these spectacles?

Consider photography as a tool of rationalisation

5. Find an example(s) of news or advertising images which have been manipulated to give a particular ‘reading’.

A famous example of how a story can be told from several points of view is given in the text – the Guardian newspaper’s Point of View advert (see p. 24). This example also indicates the possibilities of media distortion or ideological, selective perception. In addition, Sarah Atkinson’s essay makes reference to this aspect of film narratives of which the classic example cited is Rashomon (see p. 226).

5.1 In the example(s) you found are there implicit assumptions about the audience (i.e their demographics, values or beliefs)? How could the image(s) have been presented to give a different view?

In the case of anthropology and ethnology early use of images, despite the veneer of objectivity, operated in many case from within a culture which was built upon the active colonial domination of large areas of the world, and could be seen to actively legitimate ideas of superiority through pseudo sciences of racial hierarchy.

5.2 The textbook gives examples of the visual representation of ‘otherness’ (see p. 26). Find representations of different groups in news stories, advertising or public forums and assess the context, purpose and style, discussing the codes which have contributed to the image (see the discussion below of a poster).

6. Do certain images have an immediate sensory affect which precedes conceptual analysis? Can you give an example?

7. What recent trends in visual media and technologies have influenced visual research in the social sciences?

8. Are there inherent limitations and problems with the use of visual methods in the social sciences?

9. How can objects be used to embody (sometimes literally) attributes of shared social meanings encompassing specific locations?

10. Harper (2005) suggested that when you take a picture or point your video camera you must be thinking about social theory from the start.

Is it preferable to do this? Is it possible to do otherwise?

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