I was on a train to Gloucester earlier this week and my eyes were drawn to the laptop screen of the woman sitting next to me: the title of the paper she was working on had ‘ethnography’ in it. We began chatting it transpired that she’s Dr. Susan Balderston, a research fellow at Birmingham University. Her current 4-year ethnographic research project is focused on women in prisons.

She was brilliantly helpful in terms of providing insights into ethnography and, also, visual methods. She cited a criminologist – top marks if you can name him as I missed it – who stated that ‘Evidence counts what has happened. Ethnography accounts for what has happened.’

Until I stumbled into this conversation, I was conscious that I still had a ‘gap’ in terms of completing Week 4’s activities – i.e., references to examples of studies which use one of the methods we had chosen*. In terms of visual methods, Balderston highlighted two fascinating ones, both of which involved participant image creation.

One was an ethnography (I believe this is yet to be published) conducted by Karenza Moore, who provided festival goers with disposable cameras and asked them to visually document their drug use at festivals (they had to ensure that these photos were anonymous (I could write an entire other blog post about the ethical issues related to this…)).  The use of visual methods for this research provided a rich insight into the social nature of drug-taking. Users didn’t retreat to the privacy of their tents but rather shared the experience with others in communal spaces.

The second was conducted by Professor Karen Broadhurst. The study was focused on the removal of children from their mothers (it could be one of a number of papers cited on her Lancaster University profile page…). Part of the research involved women capturing images of their experience of going through this process. One woman – who had very low literacy levels –  took a photograph of the 10cm tall pile of papers and documents she had received in just one week. In this instance, the use of participant-created images served to convey much about the process from the subjects’ perspectives. The women’s selection of what they wanted to capture and their explanation about why they had taken the photographs they had, provided the researchers with insights which couldn’t have been garnered purely through interviews.

*This just about meets these criteria…’And finally, find and reference at least two published articles that have used this approach (aside from the examples given in this course). Make some notes about how the approach is described and used in each paper, linking to your reflections above.’ 

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