Visual Ethnography

Dawn Mannay, Janet Fink, Helen Lomax

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Visual ethnography, and visual methodologies more generally, have become an increasing focus of interest within social research, not least because of the ocularcentric character of contemporary culture (Rose, 2016). The proliferation of digital images reflects the power of the ‘media sphere’ (Mitchell, 2011); the conventions of photographic journalism shape civic knowledge (Rose, 2013; Tota, 2014) and visual advertisements instil anxieties and capture the attention of viewing publics (Harper & Faccioli, 2000; Stavrakakis, 2000). At the same time, the burgeoning use of new technologies means that images are more easily disseminated (Mannay, 2014a), and distorted (Fink & Lomax, 2014; Sontag, 1977; Goldstein, 2007). Therefore, it is unsurprising that scholarly analysis of visual materials, found in and generated by the media, in policy, and in popular culture, has been undertaken to make sense of the social world (Pauwels, 2011). Concurrently, visual anthropology has long been interested in creating images to document and evidence the social world. This creative production was initially weighted towards the researcher (Collier, 1957; Harper, 2012). However, the move towards more participatory frameworks has seen the handing of the camera over to participants with the aim of enabling more collaborative approaches (Wang, 2006; Woodgate et al., 20017). Consequently, the visual is routinely employed within social research as a tool of data production, where participants create images to communicate aspects of their everyday experiences (Gabb & Fink, 2015; Mannay, 2016a; Wills et al., 2015). There has also been a development of ‘beyond text’ approaches to dissemination (Beebeejaun et al., 2014) whereby film, theatre and artworks are created and disseminated (Byrne et al., 2016; Mannay, 2016b), to support ‘Telling About Society’ (Becker, 2007). This chapter explores these three strands of visual ethnography, data generation, interpretation and dissemination, to consider how image-based approaches, techniques and tools can be mobilised to enhance ethnography’s concerns to document and understand social worlds. The chapter begins with a concise overview of visual ethnography and its roots within sociology and anthropology, as well as insights from history, geography and cultural studies (Pink, 2013; Rose, 2016). It then explores approaches to analysing visual materials, considering the ‘site of the image’; its materiality and compositional qualities; the ‘economic, political and social relations’ that surround the production and consumption of images (Rose, 2016, p.13); and the historical contexts of production and circulation, which imbue the ‘political, economic and institutional regulations of the period’ (Tinkler, 2013, p. 12; Trachtenberg, 1989).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSage Research Methods Foundations
EditorsPaul Atkinson, Sara Delamont, Alexandru Cernat, Joseph W. Sakshaug, Richard A. Williams
PublisherSAGE Publications
ISBN (Electronic)9781526421036
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sep 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Visual Ethnography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this