20 SES 04, Innovative Research Methodology
Educational research shifted its focus lately, researchers are more and more interested in knowledge provided by e.g. students to the end of understanding youth interactions “from within”. The interest in data, therefore, shifted from ‘collecting data about’ to ‘collecting data with’ students. Epistemologically, that marks the shift from students as research objects to students as research subjects, methodologically indicated by different kinds of participatory approaches.
The research this paper draws upon can be considered as “participatory”, as students in a university class were asked to take part in an open research setting. The leading research questions were (and still are): “Is there a kind of ‘visual knowledge’ that has a different quality from rational thinking? If so, how can we approach this knowledge without reframing it rationally or ‘translating’ it into (verbal) rational order?” These two questions stem from the understanding of the visual sense as dominant sense in everyday life that –and that is surprising– seldom plays the same dominant or a systematic role in academic research settings.
Only in the last 10 or so years, visuals are more and more considered as objects in its own right, as objects that represent knowledges different from other artifacts. Intense research on photography can be tracked down to the later 20th century and it increased with the technical development as did the use of technical devises. With the ‘visual turn’ the potential of photography as aesthetic representation gained momentum; photography as visual documentation of life “from within the field” became famous for being “uncensored”, “straight forward”, and “documenting real life”. Methods such as photo elicitation were and are used as stimulus in focussed interviews or discussions; photos taken were and are interpreted by researchers, who produced knowledge about people.
Together with education students, the author wanted to focus on other potential of photography: we took photographs as documents that wittingly or unwittingly represent approaches and attitudes towards the world. The students were asked to bring and examine their own photographs in smaller groups to get a feeling for expressions through photography and for learning to look closer for experiences of world within photographs that might not be face value. In a second step, the same groups were asked to communicate on “Me and Other(s)” through pictures: they used the photograph they brought to class to start a nonverbal conversation on the topic. What they found out is that due to the previous group talk on photographs they had a shared knowledge on interpretive understanding of their photos. On the one hand, this shared knowledge helped them in the nonverbal conversation; on the other hand, it became clear that this situated knowledge is different from “academic knowledge” they were used to. Ethical considerations popped up immediately among the students and highlighted the ethical dimension of doing research and producing knowledge about people.
In class, we agreed on the potential of photography; but we also critically discussed notions of “democratic research” that often come with participatory approaches. Theoretically, we can discuss the shift I sketched out above as valuing different knowledges of our participants (“informants”) to overcome those powerful interpretations academia is used to. But on what cost do we focus on visual expression? Do we have an analytical framework that helps us to understand what is going on in those visual expressions? And it still needs to be discussed in what extent we cross ethic boundaries in declaring ‘participants’ to researchers on their on behalf.
Research methods in class included close readings of theoretical frameworks, deepen understandings of research methods in visual cultures, and roundtable discussions on experiences in the research groups. Stemming from these roundtables discussions condensed protocols were written to capture topic snaps but foremost to describe feelings of and the overall atmosphere in the group. During group meetings, students took minutes on their approaches to pictures and their conversations about photographs. At the same time the students were asked to take photographs of the group setting, including documentations of the process of presenting and positioning photographs on the table. This multilayered data collection is currently analysed with focus on methodological aspects on doing research with/on photography. The epistemic work undertaken here comprises reconsidering understandings of knowledge and knowledge production, it asks for those performative aspects of that production, which are not rational or reflexive. All in all the whole process reminds more and more on grounded theory approaches without claiming to be one. Observations and data collections, striving for deeper understandings, search for theoretical frameworks challenge each other in constructive ways but leave critical researchers with more open questions than answers.
The aim of the course was for students to learn about visual cultures and media as multilayered source of knowledge in education science. For the author of this paper, firstly the focus in class was to challenge certain understandings students learn to value in their academic life. Second, it was to show that situated knowledge does not comply with the academic differentiation of rational and non rational knowledge thus underpinning theories that ask for different conceptions of knowledges. The aim of the work done now is to re-conceptualise methodological rationals that help us to research and understand “the field”. The expected outcome for this paper is to underline how theoretical frameworks guide our research; it is to ask how “research in innovative intercultural learning environments” is conflicted in its doings. Thus it is about re-phrasing research questions, challenge academic rationals, re-framing “doing research” and “doing theory” in a (non)academic world.
Bourdieu, P, Wacquant, L (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago Press. Burles, Meridith; Thomas, Roanne (2014): “I Just Don’t Think There’s Any Other Image That Tells The Story Like [This] Picture Does”: Researcher and Participant Reflections on the Use of Participant-Employed Photography in Social Research. IN: International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2014, 13, S. 185-205. Collier, J. (2003) ‘Photography and visual anthropology’, in P. Hockings (ed.), Principles of Visual Anthropology (3rd edn). Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 235‒254. Cornwall, A. and Jewkes, R. (1995) ‘What is participatory research?’ Social Science & Medicine, 41(12): 1667–1676. Fleck, L (1935/1979) Genesis and development of a scientific fact. University of Chicago Press. Foucault, M (1988) Technologies of the self. University of Massachusetts Press. Geimer, A (2010) ‘Praktiken der produktiven Aneignung von Medien als Ressource spontaner Bildung’, Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft 13: 149–166. Gubrium, A, Harper, Ch, Otañez, M (eds, 2015) Participatory Visual and Digital Research in Action. Left Coast Press, S. 131-146. Hammond, J D (2004) Photography and ambivalence. IN: Visual Studies, Vol. 19(2), S. 135-144. Harley, A (2012) Picturing Reality: Power, Ethics, and Politics in Using Photovoice, International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2012, 11(4), S. 320-339. Harper, D (2002) Talking about pictures: a case for photo elicitation, Visual Studies, Vol. 17(1), S. 13-26. Harper, D (2012) Visual Sociology. London; New York: Routledge. Krause, S (2018) ‘Bilden Bilder?’, Krause, S, Proyer, M, Koenig, O, Gesellschaften/Welten/Selbst im Umbruch. Online: https://uscholar.univie.ac.at/view/o:706380 . Mannheim, K (1982) Structures of thinking. Routledge & Kegan Paul. Mannheim, K (1940/1997) Man and society in an age of reconstruction: studies in modern social structure. Routledge & Kegan Paul. Wacquant, L (2014) ‘Für eine Soziologie aus Fleisch und Blut’, Debatte 2(3):93–106. Wiles, R; Prosser, J et al. (2008) Visual Ethics: Ethical Issues in Visual Research. Url: http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/421/1/MethodsReviewPaperNCRM-011.pdf (last 09/2016).
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