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Visual Research in the Social Sciences: Key elements of a taxonomic and methodological framework
Unformatted Document Text:  9 5. Scientific Imagination and the Camera: Synthesis and Conclusions In conclusion, we may say that camera images have a great unique mimetic and expressive potential which may lead to a vast number of approaches. But it will only gradually become clear how images can both capture and comment on significant manifestations of society in their own unique, varied and complementary way, and all this within the framework of science. There’s not much value in locking oneself up in one school of thought. The use of camera and image in the social sciences is not limited to certain approaches or paradigms, and is not by nature a soft (qualitative) or a hard (quantitative) technique. The camera as a means of col- lecting data and the image as a primary source of data have already proven their value in a wide range of applications. However, as a means of scientific expression the camera’s achieve- ments are less clear-cut and convincing. Up till now science primarily embraced the mimetic potential and more expressive approaches were explicitly or implicitly rejected as unscientific. Therefore to clarify and explore the expressive potential of the image should become the primary task of a visual social science. The scientific language of the image is clearly still in its infancy. A critical but open attitude is needed here. Moreover there is an urgent need to educate our specific audiences in order to make them more aware of the different visual languages as our visual products will become more sophisticated. The sophistication of visual language can only succeed if both producers and consumers gradually build up a shared repertory of codes. Social science involves decoding society but it should also involve consciously developing and making explicit its own codes. Despite tendencies toward integration within mainstream social science, the visual study of society still is a peripheral and weakly legitimated activity. However, there are some promising signs: the number of professional organisations and periodicals that are opening up to visual productions is steadily increasing; more attention is paid to specialised publications, and graduate courses and curricula devoted to the study of the image are being initiated at a growing number of universities. However, the true future of a more visually oriented science is not to be found in the isolated development of a new specialism, but rather in a multifaceted integration within the social and cultural sciences. Such an integration should take place on an organisational level as well as on the level of theory and methods. Unfortunately the present emphasis in visual sociology and visual anthropology on applied re- search is often at the expense of a more systematic inventory of the findings and a further development of a theoretical and methodological framework. The critique of visual products too often focuses predominantly on the subject-matter that is presented and not on the specific vi- sual way of telling, which at this stage is just as important. A visual methodology should help to determine how visual material with a high degree of social scientific relevance and integrity (always with regard to a particular research problem and

Authors: Pauwels, Luc.
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9
5. Scientific Imagination and the Camera: Synthesis and Conclusions
In conclusion, we may say that camera images have a great unique mimetic and expressive
potential which may lead to a vast number of approaches. But it will only gradually become
clear how images can both capture and comment on significant manifestations of society in their
own unique, varied and complementary way, and all this within the framework of science.
There’s not much value in locking oneself up in one school of thought. The use of camera and
image in the social sciences is not limited to certain approaches or paradigms, and is not by
nature a soft (qualitative) or a hard (quantitative) technique. The camera as a means of col-
lecting data and the image as a primary source of data have already proven their value in a
wide range of applications. However, as a means of scientific expression the camera’s achieve-
ments are less clear-cut and convincing. Up till now science primarily embraced the mimetic
potential and more expressive approaches were explicitly or implicitly rejected as unscientific.
Therefore to clarify and explore the expressive potential of the image should become the
primary task of a visual social science. The scientific language of the image is clearly still in its
infancy. A critical but open attitude is needed here. Moreover there is an urgent need to educate
our specific audiences in order to make them more aware of the different visual languages as
our visual products will become more sophisticated. The sophistication of visual language can
only succeed if both producers and consumers gradually build up a shared repertory of codes.
Social science involves decoding society but it should also involve consciously developing and
making explicit its own codes.
Despite tendencies toward integration within mainstream social science, the visual study of
society still is a peripheral and weakly legitimated activity. However, there are some promising
signs: the number of professional organisations and periodicals that are opening up to visual
productions is steadily increasing; more attention is paid to specialised publications, and
graduate courses and curricula devoted to the study of the image are being initiated at a
growing number of universities.
However, the true future of a more visually oriented science is not to be found in the isolated
development of a new specialism, but rather in a multifaceted integration within the social and
cultural sciences. Such an integration should take place on an organisational level as well as on
the level of theory and methods.
Unfortunately the present emphasis in visual sociology and visual anthropology on applied re-
search is often at the expense of a more systematic inventory of the findings and a further
development of a theoretical and methodological framework. The critique of visual products too
often focuses predominantly on the subject-matter that is presented and not on the specific vi-
sual way of telling, which at this stage is just as important.
A visual methodology should help to determine how visual material with a high degree of social
scientific relevance and integrity (always with regard to a particular research problem and


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