visual research methods: a thousand flowers…

I’ve just been browsing Paula Reavey’s new edited collection, Visual Methods in Psychology.  It’s a very interesting mix, very eclectic, and I enjoyed something about every chapter in it.

Eclecticism is in the nature of edited collections, I guess.  However, I am beginning to think that eclecticism is so entrenched in visual research methods that it might be worth thinking a bit more about its consequences.  It’s entrenched in terms of the extent of the variety of visual research methods, and also in terms of how unproblematic that variety seems to be to commentators on visual research methods.  There’s a sort of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach to research methods using visual materials, which is great, of course, particularly as it seems to allow lots of experimentation with new sorts of methods (or at least with variations of old ones).

However, there are also some disadvantages, one of which is that there’s very little sense of established practice developing as researchers learn from each other; reinventing wheels of slightly different designs seems to be preferred to building (dare I say it) a better wheel by learning from other people’s handiwork.  Where are the paper reflecting on, say, photo-elicitation as a method, as opposed to reporting the results of a study using photo-elicitation?  (Please let me know by responding with a comment!)

And the experimentation is also rather less wild than it sometimes seems when luxuriating in field of a thousand flowers (or wheels – sorry, metaphors going a bit awry here): an awful lot of methods depend on talk with photographs, for example; video gets a look in, too, but quantitative visual methods are rarely acknowledged as part of visual research methods; and participatory and elicitatory methods are hegemonic.

The field is surely now big enough to engage in some critical self-reflection, and I’m looking forward to seeing it emerge.

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