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Visual Research in the Social Sciences: Key elements of a taxonomic and methodological framework
Unformatted Document Text:  4 3. Mimesis and Expression Even as part of an ‘end product’ (e.g. an article or a film) visuals are sometimes regarded as a mere ‘gateway’ to data within the depicted reality. However, visuals don’t just provide information about what is depicted, also about how something is depicted and thus transformed by both the medium’s characteristics and the producer’s intentions. Consequently data is transferred about the culture of representation as much as about the represented culture. So a more visually literate and reflexive attitude would be to consciously account for the transformational properties (the ‘mediation process’) and the stylistic choices (the ‘aesthetics’) of the visual representations and the broader (visual and other) context of its use, and to knowingly integrate these aspects into a more hybrid form of scholarly communication. Paradoxically such visual scholarly products, be it anthropological or sociological films, photo essays, exhibitions, or web-based products, often tend to raise controversy the more they try to play out their varied visual traits. Exploring both the mimetic and expressive potential of the visual media indeed does provide a considerable challenge which can turn out for better or for worse, in our case: to strengthen or to subvert the scientifically informed insight one seeks to convey. Representations (visual, verbal or numeric articulations) are never innocent, nor unproblematic. 4. Toward a Visual Methodology While few will subscribe to the view that a camera automatically records what is useful for the researcher, nothing much has been done about a methodology to obtain researchable data or ways to bring about a 'scientifically informed' statement in a visual form. What the nature of 'scientific' visuals should be is an issue that gives rise to fierce discontent though little constructive discussion. The scientific value of a particular image or a series of images is not an intrinsic property of these visual products. Furthermore, and this may seem somewhat paradoxical, the scientific value of a particular picture cannot be read from the picture itself, least of all from an isolated one. Value is tied to a specific interest and to the process or global context of production. The same images may prove valuable sources for one type of research (question) and completely useless for another. For those reasons I think it makes more sense to speak about 'social scientific image pro- duction' than about 'social scientific imagery' as such. Also in general it is better to think in terms of degrees of 'scientific usefulness' than to speak about absolute categories like 'scientific' and 'non-scientific'.

Authors: Pauwels, Luc.
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4
3. Mimesis and Expression
Even as part of an ‘end product’ (e.g. an article or a film) visuals are sometimes regarded as a
mere ‘gateway’ to data within the depicted reality. However, visuals don’t just provide
information about what is depicted, also about how something is depicted and thus transformed
by both the medium’s characteristics and the producer’s intentions. Consequently data is
transferred about the culture of representation as much as about the represented culture. So a
more visually literate and reflexive attitude would be to consciously account for the
transformational properties (the ‘mediation process’) and the stylistic choices (the ‘aesthetics’)
of the visual representations and the broader (visual and other) context of its use, and to
knowingly integrate these aspects into a more hybrid form of scholarly communication.
Paradoxically such visual scholarly products, be it anthropological or sociological films, photo
essays, exhibitions, or web-based products, often tend to raise controversy the more they try to
play out their varied visual traits. Exploring both the mimetic and expressive potential of the
visual media indeed does provide a considerable challenge which can turn out for better or for
worse, in our case: to strengthen or to subvert the scientifically informed insight one seeks to
convey. Representations (visual, verbal or numeric articulations) are never innocent, nor
unproblematic.
4. Toward a Visual Methodology
While few will subscribe to the view that a camera automatically records what is useful for the
researcher, nothing much has been done about a methodology to obtain researchable data or
ways to bring about a 'scientifically informed' statement in a visual form. What the nature of
'scientific' visuals should be is an issue that gives rise to fierce discontent though little
constructive discussion.
The scientific value of a particular image or a series of images is not an intrinsic property of
these visual products. Furthermore, and this may seem somewhat paradoxical, the scientific
value of a particular picture cannot be read from the picture itself, least of all from an isolated
one. Value is tied to a specific interest and to the process or global context of production. The
same images may prove valuable sources for one type of research (question) and completely
useless for another.
For those reasons I think it makes more sense to speak about 'social scientific image pro-
duction' than about 'social scientific imagery' as such. Also in general it is better to think in terms
of degrees of 'scientific usefulness' than to speak about absolute categories like 'scientific' and
'non-scientific'.


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