(Please note that this section is not about the type of ‘visual research’ that is a central part of most art and design courses, where students are encouraged to use museum visits and other image-related searches to inspire and inform their own practice. Instead it addresses the potential use of visual research methods in other subjects.)
Qualitative research in most disciplines still relies heavily on written or spoken language, with questionnaires, interviews and focus groups dominating most students’ assumptions about research methods. However, the researcher’s toolkit should also include a variety of visual approaches, which can be effective in helping respondents to access areas and levels of experience that might not easily surface in verbal form. In particular, it is often the move back and forth between visual and verbal modes of communication that generates key insights.
Some disciplines, particularly in the fields of sociology, anthropology and ethnography, do make use of qualitative visual research methods and have generated a rich literature on practical and methodological issues. However, these often focus on photographic approaches, so students may need extra help and confidence-building to use more hands-on methods where these might suit their research.
Here are the slides from two versions of a half-day workshop designed to offer practical experience and ideas for using drawing and collage for research purposes. Either could be adapted for other subjects, using some of the examples and activities in the Drawing to Learn section.
- For academics undertaking an Educational Enquiry module Visual Approaches to Research (for PgCert L&T in Higher Education)
- For postgraduate health science professionals undertaking a Qualitative Research module Visual methods workshop for clinical ed students
- About Image-based Research
Useful overview, part of the website of The Image and Identity Research Collective (IIRC)
- Building Capacity in Visual Methods Project based at Leeds University offering introductory and advanced workshops on applied visual research methods.
- Digital Video as Research Practice: Methodology for the Millennium Shrum, Duque & Brown. Journal of Research Practice Volume 1, Issue 1, Article M4, 2005 Useful online introduction and primer.
- Social Research Update Issue 11: Marcus Banks ‘Visual Research Methods’
- Social Research Update Issue 40: Rosalind Hurworth ‘Photo-interviewing for research’
- Visual Studies is a peer-reviewed journal, published on behalf of the International Visual Sociology Association.
- Among print resources, standard texts include:
Banks, M. & Zeitlyn, D.Visual methods in social research. London: Sage, 2015
Prosser, J. (ed) Image-based research:A sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London: Falmer 1998
Rose, G. Visual methodologies. London: Sage, 2016
Some examples of visually oriented research projects
- The Teaching Landscape in Creative Arts Subjects This research project undertaken through the Creative Learning in Practice (CLIP) CETL used photo-elicitation interviews.
- David Gauntlett’s ArtLab website (University of Westminster) includes examples of “creative and artistic activities as research tools to gain insights into people’s identities and their relationships with media culture” and articles such as ‘Creative and visual methods for exploring identities’ You can see several short videos on YouTube demonstrating his approach – for instance ‘Representing Identities‘ or Models of Learning
- Barbara Zamorski ‘Research-led Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: a Case study’ Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2002 “12 undergraduate researchers were … asked to carry out a set of small-scale qualitative research tasks’. [These included] using a digital camera to capture 12 ‘images of research’ at the University and provide a written commentary to accompany the images.”
- Qualitative Inquiry (journal) – see eg special issue August 1 2003, Volume 9, No. 4 on the Arts and Narrative Research
Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software
- Choosing a CAQDAS Package: A working paper 5th edition July 2006 by Ann Lewins & Christina Silver, is an excellent overview of what different software packages can (and cannot) offer – including Transana (see below) . This paper is one of many resources produced by the University of Surrey CAQDAS networking project, which also arranges workshops and other events.
- Transana is open source software ‘for professional researchers who want to analyze digital video or audio data… a new way to manage large collections of video and audio files and clips.”