Chapter 2 - Visualising Social Life

Critical Thinking

1. What is ‘outsider arrogance’ and why was it seen as less of an issue 50 years ago?

2. Consider research that you have been involved with – how did it begin? What interested you in the issue you pursued?

3. What advantages might active research which requires ‘doing’ (building a Lego representation of identity or making a drawing) have?

4. Why might the use of images as representations be like a form of ‘indirect ethnography’?

5. Why does an ethnography of our everyday lives present certain problems to the researcher?

6. Why might the notion of reflexivity in research be heavily criticised by positivist scholars and how should such an approach be defended?

7. Consider how you might make use of visual narrative research in preparing a research design with an older community resident.

8. What ethical guidelines should be set out for visual practitioners investigating the complexities of contemporary social life?


Other Documents to Consider

Simple ‘found’ juxtaposition

The Empire Diary 1938 (see below) was used as a place for family cuttings and recipes. Looking into family archives like this may produce some interesting ‘found’ juxtapositions – in the case below, for example, three male figures who epitomised traditional British values in the Second World War period and a cutting from a (1950s) ‘Charles Atlas’ ad. On the one hand, the dour ‘lest we forget’ deceased figures – exemplars of wartime patriotism and masculinity of the late King, Earls Haig and Jellicoe – and opposite a cutting from a later date (probably saved for my uncle) and a very different American teenage image of masculinity.

Issues Gender, masculine identity, body shape, class, and national identity, Britishness, patriotism, wartime austerity, and  (by contrast) American culture and birth of the teenager, issues of narcissism and sexuality, generational conflict.

Section from a First World War diary (a Sergeant of the West Yorks Regiment. who ended the war as a POW).
Issues – British identity, class divisions, discipline, duty, sacrifice, treatment of POWs (international agreement – Hague rules on fair treatment).

Considering the way in which these samples might be used in research leads us to consider institutional ethnography (IE), another approach for theorising visual artefacts, images, objects and documents which mediate our lives and embody social and cultural meanings and values. Dorothy Smith’s work suggests that through recognising the role of such ‘texts’ in our lives a closer understanding of the power and discursive organisation within institutional bounds is gained.

In other words, it emphasises connections among the sites and situations of everyday life, professional practice and policy-making. Such connections are accomplished primarily through what Smith has labelled ‘textually-mediated social organization’ – a form of social coordination that has been under-theorised even as it has become more and more pervasively significant.

‘Texts hook you up beyond the local; they are not contained within the local setting. And the more I began to explore that the more I began to see how important that was in the whole development of what I have come to conceptualise as the “the living relations”’ (Dorothy Smith in an interview with Karen Widerberg).

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