Visual Sociology Essay

Submitted By ktnisbet
Words: 1637
Pages: 7

Photographs, and films have allowed a new way in which people can study, and analyze the world. As Douglas Harper explains in Visual Sociology, “The visual approach makes it possible to study subjects, themes and areas that can be studied in no other way” (Harper). Visual sociology is important to social science in three ways. It allows data collection using cameras and other recording technology, it allows researchers to uncover the role of visualization communication of societies values, and finally it allows us to analyze people’s relationships to the material world and their possessions.
Incorporating visual methods into data gathering, allows researchers to discover new things. Visual recording makes it possible to manipulate data, such as speeding things up, slowing things down, repeating, stopping, zooming in, zooming out, on things of interest. Devices like cameras allows sociologists to see places where one would not put a researcher, whether it be because the place is dangerous, or to simply remove the observer effect from a particular situation. For example, documentary photographer Zana Briski, went to Calcutta’s red light district to photograph prostitutes. While there, she befriended some of the children living there, and gave them cameras that they used to photograph their lives. In photographs taken by the children (figures 1, 2, and 3), viewers are given a different perspective on life in the brothels through the eyes of the children.

These photographs gave Briski a deeper understanding of the lives in the brothels, because it looked at a different perspective than what Briski was photographing. Photo elicitation is an effective way in which researchers can collect information. It is a process in which a photograph is inserted into a research interview so that it can be discussed. This method radically redefines the sociological interview because it centers on objects in a photo that both parties are looking at and trying to make sense of. Harper explains, “The photo becomes a bridge between people who may not even understand the extent to which they see the world differently” (Harper). Photo elicitation allows people to use images in one of several ways in order to learn something together. Harper argues that photo elicitations, “Collaborative methods are among the most important innovations in visual sociology and anthropology” because it broaches “subject matter that could be studied in no other way, and when empowerment is the result of research it signals a very big step for social sciences in general” (Harper). Film is another way in which researchers can visually enhance the data they collect. It allows whole events to be shown. Harper explains, “Human action can be seen in context; and the subjectivity of a culture can arguably be communicated more successfully through moving images, with or without sound than still photos” (Harper). Methods of data collection such as film and photo elicitation are important contributions to social science. They give researchers a clearer view on things that they may not have been able to see otherwise. Visual sociology also allows us to uncover the role of visualization communication of societies values. Through visual sociology we can interpret by identifying and evaluating the symbolic meanings images produce as a result of an endeavor with other purposes. For example during the 1970’s sociologist Erving Goffman studied gender roles in advertising. Media portrays gender in a very stereotypical way. It leads people to “continually and unconsciously perform social roles that are defined in part by gender’ (Harper). Harper explains that, “Goffman assumes that there is a correspondence between the human actions he sees in magazine advertisements and those that occur in normal social life” (Harper). Harper,along with Patrizia Faccioli, conduct a research project in which they photographed about 20 public display ads in Bologna, Italy, that