a new visual methods book

Sarah Pink has edited a new book on visual research methods for Sage, Advances in Visual Methodology.

In her introduction to the book, she characterises the field in interesting ways.  For example, she points out the parallel development of visual research methods over the past decade and of various theoretical ‘turns’ in the social sciences: the practice turn, the spatial turn, the mobilities turn and the sensory turn.  She also talks about the emergence of new technologies, and the impetus behind some visual research methods work to use visual methods as a way of engaging non-academic audiences in research projects.

As is the way with most introductions to edited collections, these things are touched on lightly.  They do raise some interesting questions, though.  One that occurs to me, for example, is whether visual research methods (which mostly involve photography, I would say) have encouraged or even enabled any or all of those turns.  My own sense is that they haven’t; visual research methods remain too marginal to have done that; indeed, I would suggest that the direction of influence tends to run more strongly the other way and that the arguments often made that visual research methods are particularly good at capturing practice, space, mobilities and the sensory are more about legitimating the methods by associating them with dominant theoretical positions, than about properly identifying what visual methods are best at…

What Sarah doesn’t do is suggest that visual research methods are part of some sort of wider move to the visual in everyday culture.  This is perhaps wise, as that’s a hard argument to make convincingly (not least because it involves defining both visual research methods and contemporary visual culture, neither easy tasks).  Maybe it is about time, though, that the recent popularity of visual research methods was given some sort of analysis that takes into account more than just the thoughts and tools of social scientists.  Just like the methods tracked in Mike Savage’s recent history of twentieth-century social sciences, or the visual anthropology explored in the book Made to Be Seen, perhaps it’s about time that visual research methods need to be embedded in a fuller account of their social field as well as their social practices.

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