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Visual Research in the Social Sciences: Key elements of a taxonomic and methodological framework
Unformatted Document Text:  3 images are often treated as mere collections of raw data that need to be transformed into more ’convenient’ (read quantitative) information (by counting occurrences, measuring distances, making inventories of the things we see in the pictures etc.). This very basic use of the camera is no doubt the least controversial mode of visual research not in the least because it hardly requires any changes in the established forms of research methodology and the image is no more than an intermediate phase in the research project. 2.3 Sociological and Anthropological Film Film as a scientific end product is another mode we are all familiar with (which can include almost all other modes). Like any other type of film, a film devised for the social sciences is a construct: filmic techniques (means and choices) are used to communicate a scientific view on the subject matter. This perspective implies a clear distinction between film and footage, the latter being the film’s raw material and, as such, to be considered a systematic recording product. Nevertheless, in practice this distinction may be relative: the ethnographic tradition in film which still very much emphasises ’objective data gathering’ and consequently tries to confine itself to the mimetic potential of the camera is quite different from more explicitly ex- pressive anthropological attempts. The theoretical and methodological discussion about the scientific production of imagery surely needs to be broadened to include approaches that are more sophisticated with regard to the use of filmic language without slavishly mimicking or uncritically adopting classic documentary or fictional film codes and styles. 2.4 Visual Feedback Techniques This category comprises first of all of the ’interview with images’-technique (also termed ’photo elicitation’). This technique aims both to obtain factual information about what is depicted and to trigger more projective comments through elements in the picture that prove to be meaningful to the respondent. An even more visual type of feedback is obtained by stimulating members of groups under study to handle the camera themselves to portray their (sub) culture (’elicited image production’ or ’cultural self portrayal’ ). There is some evidence that the products of this approach reveals significant patterns of culture in a unique way. 2.5 The Visual Essay Far from being a simple and unchallenged or widely accepted scientific practice, the ’visual es- say’ or ’photo-essay’ could be regarded as one of the more visually sophisticated modes of visual anthropology/sociology since images are not considered an intermediate phase of the re- search process but form an integral part of the end product, exploring both the mimetic and expressive potential of the static camera-image. Its major strength resides in the synergy of the distinct forms of expression that are combined: images, words, layout and design, adding up to a scientifically informed statement.

Authors: Pauwels, Luc.
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background image
3
images are often treated as mere collections of raw data that need to be transformed into more
’convenient’ (read quantitative) information (by counting occurrences, measuring distances,
making inventories of the things we see in the pictures etc.). This very basic use of the camera
is no doubt the least controversial mode of visual research not in the least because it hardly
requires any changes in the established forms of research methodology and the image is no
more than an intermediate phase in the research project.
2.3 Sociological and Anthropological Film
Film as a scientific end product is another mode we are all familiar with (which can include
almost all other modes). Like any other type of film, a film devised for the social sciences is a
construct: filmic techniques (means and choices) are used to communicate a scientific view on
the subject matter. This perspective implies a clear distinction between film and footage, the
latter being the film’s raw material and, as such, to be considered a systematic recording
product. Nevertheless, in practice this distinction may be relative: the ethnographic tradition in
film which still very much emphasises ’objective data gathering’ and consequently tries to
confine itself to the mimetic potential of the camera is quite different from more explicitly ex-
pressive anthropological attempts. The theoretical and methodological discussion about the
scientific production of imagery surely needs to be broadened to include approaches that are
more sophisticated with regard to the use of filmic language without slavishly mimicking or
uncritically adopting classic documentary or fictional film codes and styles.
2.4 Visual Feedback Techniques
This category comprises first of all of the ’interview with images’-technique (also termed ’photo
elicitation’). This technique aims both to obtain factual information about what is depicted and to
trigger more projective comments through elements in the picture that prove to be meaningful to
the respondent. An even more visual type of feedback is obtained by stimulating members of
groups under study to handle the camera themselves to portray their (sub) culture (’elicited
image production’ or ’cultural self portrayal’ ). There is some evidence that the products of this
approach reveals significant patterns of culture in a unique way.
2.5 The Visual Essay
Far from being a simple and unchallenged or widely accepted scientific practice, the ’visual es-
say’ or ’photo-essay’ could be regarded as one of the more visually sophisticated modes of
visual anthropology/sociology since images are not considered an intermediate phase of the re-
search process but form an integral part of the end product, exploring both the mimetic and
expressive potential of the static camera-image. Its major strength resides in the synergy of the
distinct forms of expression that are combined: images, words, layout and design, adding up to
a scientifically informed statement.


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