V for Ethnography

While I have put forward that we utilised a micro-ethnographic approach which is true to certain extent (albeit we were unaware at the time) we also went further and engaged with a sub section of ethnography which has seen a recent growth in acceptance; this being forms of Visual Ethnography.

Once popular in sociological research in the early 20th century began slowly tapered away and yet has seen a revival at the start of the 21st century. Visual ethnography is often used as a form of photo-elicitation where in participants are showed images in an attempt to elicit a response to be recorded or help “spring board” discussions. “By working with informants to produce images that are meaningful for them we can gain insights … into what is important for them as individuals living in particular localities” (Bryman 2012:457). While it was considered it use such a method of interviewing it was ultimately decided against; given the language barrier and the possibility of collecting a size of usable interviews.

What we did decide to use was photographic evidence to accompany Ethnographic field notes; the use of visual ethnography in this regard was most applicable. Incorporating images to support the observations and suggested hypothesis was put to great effect when reviewing our field notes retrospectively this has been referred to as an aide-mémoire. Practically all of the images where dated and were accompanied by a brief description allowing for a relatively accurate placement of the image within the field notes in relation to context, time and location.

Furthermore given high quality of the images and sheer volume collected by the photographer and the field research team along with accompanying audio recordings; it is possible that while still accompanying our noted observations they also become part of our analyses beyond their current supporting role. Peñaloza suggests that her “visual ethnographic study of Nike town in Chicago” (Bryman 2012:460) was well suited to using a similar use of photography with a specific reference to key aspects of project, “particularly its architecture, furnishings, displays of artifacts, images , sounds and textures in relation to consumers’ behaviours” (Bryman 2012:460). While our project does not directly concern it’s self with corporation to consumer power relations the areas of interests are similar given our approach to exploring the habitus and hexis of a different culture.

While this further supports our ethnographic work thus far it should be noted that visual ethnography traditional was used from a realist’s approach where the image “becomes a ‘fact’ for the ethnographer … and acts as a window on reality” (Bryman 2012:458). Our adopted reflective approach is close linked with our social-constructivism stance “the visual is frequently collaborative [and more importantly] there is a recognition of the fluidity of meanings of images, implying they can never be fixed and will always be viewed by different people in different ways” (Bryman 2012:458). Our project rejects any realist stand point suggesting that there are any tangible truths and in fact work under the presumed understanding “that reality is a ‘fragile social construction subject to lines of sight and interpretation’” (Bryman 2012:263). We are currently analysing our visual-ethnography within the context of our observational data simultaneously attempting to draw conclusion and remain aware that these ‘conclusions’ may be true with given context. This approach could be considered part “Post-structural Tale” (Bryman 2012:463) by Van Maanen and part “Postmodern Ethnography” (Bryman 2012:464) by Adler and Adler: first by our stated ontological and epistemological stances, it will also always be hard when conducting micro-ethnography not to personalise your work given the scale of the project, this is always intended as a preliminary project designed to reflex and improve upon what has been done and finally the attachments to this project are largely reflective in nature (Bryman 2012:455-465).

What should be raised are the ethical implications of using visual data containing images of individuals without their consent. The possibility of photographing individuals clear enough to be recognisable was possibility, this was raised in the Low Risk Ethical Check List and in this ethical analysis of this check list, which can be found on the blog.

The project was given the go ahead due to the fact that to obtain the required permission we have to break our covert observation as ‘Tourists’; then communication could be difficult at best, furthermore it could negatively affect our surroundings proving false visual data, ultimately a logistical nightmare. Our redeeming steps however to limit any possible damage (if any) encounter by an invasion of privacy were that the proposed risk was no more prevalent if this were to be carried out around our University campus allowing for the green light on this project. Finally as stated in a slight different manner for a slightly different ethical concern, we are constantly putting our work and subsequent ‘conclusions’ within context and as suggestions no matter whether they are favourable or not.

With this in mind efforts to continue to minimise risk are still on going.

[Nic]

References:

Beach, D. (1996) The Responsible Conduct of Research. Cambridge: VCH

Bryman, A. (2012) Social Research Methods. 4nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press

During, S. (ed.) (2007) The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd edn. Oxon: Routledge

Priest, H. S. (1996) Doing Media Research: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications

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