Visual Ethnography


Visual ethnography refers to the study of the social world, where drawing, photography, film, and digital techniques are commonly used to record aspects of everyday life, alongside the interrogation of visual culture. This entry provides a background to the field of visual ethnography and reflects on both its historical applications across different disciplines and its contemporary uses as an approach to social research methods. The entry asks, “How do researchers collect and generate visual data?” In answering this question, it focuses on how researchers “do” a visual ethnographic study, setting out different approaches to, and techniques of, creating visual data, including assemblages of photographs, collections of artefacts, and the participatory techniques of film, mapping, and collage. The second question, “How do researchers analyse visual materials?” leads to a discussion of how researchers come “to know” the visual artefact itself and the social contexts in which images are made and viewed, offering visual ethnographers new opportunities to understand social practices and relationships as they are articulated through the visual. Lastly, the entry turns to issues of dissemination and attends to the challenge, “How do researchers negotiate ethics, visibility, and representation?” In response, a number of approaches are presented as ways to ethically present, and re-represent, visual data to engage audiences and generate impact. The entry notes that visual ethnography has much to offer the field of social research but that it is important that researchers continue to work on developing its methodological, analytical, and ethical agendas for the future. The entry provides a foundation for gaining an understanding of visual ethnography and a basis for engaging with this project of development, offering strategies for negotiating best practice in fieldwork, analysis, and visual audiencing.

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