Presentation on theme: "Outline Why reach for a picture? Why has it been hard for visual sociology to become established as an accepted part of sociology? What has encouraged."— Presentation transcript:
Outline Why reach for a picture? Why has it been hard for visual sociology to become established as an accepted part of sociology? What has encouraged its acceptance more recently? What other disciplines does visual sociology draw upon? How did Howard Becker (1995, 2002) attempt to justify the use of photographs in sociology? What are some of the possible similarities between documentary photography and social science arguments? Plans for seminar this week and next.
Visual Sociology Sociologist Elizabeth Chaplin (1994) encourages us to adopt ‘visually driven thinking’ – in which the visual becomes a routine and complementary part of our attempts to further our knowledge and understanding of social life. Visual Sociology – a sociology that also produces images as a routine part of its practice (Grady 2004; Harper 1998) Visual methods as a way of ‘ doing research that generates and employs visual material as an integral part of the research process, whether as a form of data, a means of generating further data, or a means of representing “results”’ (Knowles and Sweetman 2004:5). This module – includes analysis of some existing visual material as itself the object of analysis.
Grady (2004) invites us to work with the visual because: The visual dominates mass culture, so it is inevitably part and parcel of the society we study. As Steve Edwards says, ‘We all now live our lives in the presence of pictures... they do so much work in our society’ (Edwards 2006: 2-3) Images enhance teaching and learning (the capacity to communicate knowledge) Images enrich report writing Images add vividness and lucidity to arguments Images provide unique forms of data --
Caroline Knowles, ‘Uses of Photography in the Practices of Sociological Research’, International Visual Studies Association Annual Conference, Goldmsiths, July 2013 (1), Photographs can represent social relations in microcosm.
School children singing. Pie Town, New Mexico, October Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
(2) Photographs can reveal material contexts in which people live, the materiality of the world they create and which constrains them (e.g. P. Menzel (1994) Material World: A Global Family Portrait, San Francisco: Sierra Club.
(3) Pictures can help to foster critical alternatives as against convention, help to see things in a different way
"When I first started photographing industry it was out of a sense of awe at what we as a species were up to….But time goes on…’Edward Burtynsky on his images in Oil (2009)l graphs/Oil.html
(4) Photographs may reveal what can’t be said, sometimes because the habitus of a group or person is so habitual, so routine, it can hardly be explicitly named C. Knowles and D. Harper (2010) Hong Kong: Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) University of Chicago Press.
(5) Photographs ‘leak”- meanings seep from them that were unintended; they sometimes say more than the photographer intended. (6) They create and sustain relationships; people share and communicate, and we can do that too. T. Dunlop (2013) ‘A lost city: Photos of Bucharest's past’ 5 October Photographs of Bucharest in the 1970s by Andrei Pandele "I have seen women over 40 exploding in tears in front of my photographs, because they saw their life had been destroyed, but they realised it 20 years too late. And a lot of teenagers laughed neurotically - because they recognised something in the pictures that their parents had told them, but they had never seen for themselves.” Andrei Pandele
Why has it been so hard to establish the credentials of visual sociology and visual methods in sociology In early twentieth century American sociology photos were seen to aid sociology’s confrontation with reality; and the aim of some sociologists to further social reform. Enabled sociologists and their students and the public to come face-to-face with social (urban) conditions (e.g. slums, poverty, child labour) would aid case for reform American Journal of Sociology routinely included photos between 1886 and 1916 (Chaplin 1994) After that they were entirely dropped from the journal due to American sociology’s positivistic turn towards causal analysis, high-level generalisation and statistical reporting. Marginalised. Photographs thus threatened sociology’s theoretical status and intellectual purpose Photographs are ‘soft’ forms of evidence and an irretrievably subjective ‘view’ They emphasise point of view; human perspective and ‘the eye’ (i.e. the presence of the researcher, human activity, rather than detached science) Sociology, in contrast, should be an objective, ‘fact’-based, neutral and universalising science Hence the marginalisation of photography in sociology as ‘unscientific’ for much of 20th century Other academic disciplines (e.g. history) remained more enthusiastic
To be accepted has had to deal with skepticism (and still does) There is a hierarchy of value and rigour. Words and numbers are towards the top, pictures come near the bottom. Distort – photographs show what is otherwise not true. Not deception but they can be made to convey what is otherwise the case. They are partial and selective – we don’t know what is going on outside of the frame. Subjective – photos are products of value judgements and ideologies, rather than objective records; they are also arbitrary – we decide to point the camera at one thing and not another. Complex – they contain so much that analysis becomes difficult. Reactivity – of subjects and image maker. Narrative – they can show but not tell/ explain; from photos we can know but not understand
Use of images in sociology now more accepted international association, the International Visual Studies Association (IVSA) and its annual conference own journal ( Visual Studies ) IVSA ethical guidelines Visual Sociology postgraduate MA programmes BSA visual sociology group BSA ethical guidelines
A visual turnaround? Changing times: ‘clearly there are no longer barriers to building an academic movement or having our work published and seen by others’ (Harper 2012: 4) Why the turn about? technological developments: from atoms to bytes (Banks 2001): digital images theoretical developments: anti-positivism, interpretivism, post-structuralism, reflexivity in research, the qualitative (Knowles and Sweetman 2004) Fewer border wars to police the boundaries of sociology; more interchange with anthropology (e.g. Marcus Banks, Sarah Pink, Chris Pinney) and cultural studies’ (e.g. Stuart Hall, Annette Kuhn, Gillian Rose) theories about how images are constructed by those who produce them and how they are understood by viewers.
Becker, H. (1995) ‘Visual Sociology, Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: it’s (almost) all a matter of context’, Visual Sociology (now Visual Studies ) 10 (1-2): What makes a picture sociological? No essence to a picture that makes it sociological, (photo) journalism or documentary. In fact, these fields often use very similar types of images, although they are shaped by the demands of how they are used. So, it is ‘... context gives images meaning.’ (Becker 1995). This includes where we see the picture, captions, what we know about ‘that kind’ of photography, and the other pictures we see it presented with. In his 1982 book Art Worlds, Becker described how a work of art is formed and valued through the interactions of many individuals and institutions. Sociologists can also provide this context; must establish rules and uses to put images to sociological use
En route from New York to Washington, Club Car,1956 from Robert Frank, The Americans re/collection/artwork/9117#ixz z2gx8VUj7e San Francisco Museum of Modern Art re/collection/artwork/9117#ixz z2gx8VUj7e San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Convention Hall, Chicago, 1956, from Robert Frank, The Americans ollections/artwork/156011
Robert Frank, The Americans, 1956 American Lunch Counter om/blog/2013/01/07/timele ss-lessons-street- photographers-can-learn- from-robert-franks-the- americans/
H. Becker (2002) ‘Visual Evidence: a Seventh Man, the specified generalization, and the work of the reader’ Not easy to say if a picture is’ true’, but can ask whether and how it can be used as evidence in a social scientific argument. Uses the example of Berger and Mohr’s A Seventh Man, a study of migration of workers to Northern Europe (1975) by John Berger (cultural theorist, novelist) and Jean Mohr (photographer) The ‘images are evidence’ because they are ‘specific instances of the general argument’. They don’t prove the argument, they are not ‘compelling proof, but they ‘show that the thing we are talking about is possible’ (p. 5). And tell us something about the feelings of the migrants and the way they relate to each other.
Jon Wagner(2007) ‘Observing Culture and Social Life: Documentary Photography, Field Work, and Social Research’ Examines three documentary photographic projects in detail Although the practices of making observations of culture and social life between photographers and sociologists may differ, there are many similarities between documentary photography and (ethnographic) fieldwork: They are both forms of empirical social inquiry based on direct, detailled observation. They both may incorporate personal accounts and reflexivity about how they are produced. They can both be systematic, and explicit in their arguments They include enough detail about where and how they were produced to be credible.
For seminar this week: Becker (1995), Wagner (2007) What makes a picture/ photographic project sociological, i.e. what enables a picture or project to be used as evidence about society, and not dismissed as just personal or arbitrary? Are there aspects of some projects which should lead us to give them more or less weight as evidence? What are pictures telling us about the social world—and how do they tell us? Begin by examining a whole book, and then focus in on ONE image for 5 minutes!
Week 3 Read Becker’s (2002) ‘Visual Evidence: A Seventh Man…’ paying attention to the photographs and not just the verbal text. Training in practical aspects, Library RO.39 Monday, Before the seminar, produce 4 to 6 portraits of students on campus which ‘illuminate’ something about student life/diversity/conformity/work habits. Come to seminar prepared to discuss your experience of doing this.