DOING VISUAL ETHNOGRAPHY IS VITAL IN RESEARCH
DOING VISUAL ETHNOGRAPHY A VITAL TOOL FOR RESEARCH
The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (2004), defines the following terms:
Visual as a noun is a picture, map, piece of film used to make an article or talk easier to understand or more interesting.
Ethnography is the scientific description of different races and cultures
Ethnographer is a person who studies different races and cultures
In the world of academia today most people are coming up with ways that can help the researcher understand the process of writing and explaining an issue through very many ways. Pink; in her book affirm that, “She is offering a tool for conducting Visual Ethnography and not as a means to guide a researcher on how to realize a visual Ethnography study. Whatever the motivation is to undertake a research study using visual tools, it is essential to remember every picture that tells a story.” (2001). It is important to note that the author’s objective is to offer an additional technique for conducting ethnographic research and not to make the book a guide for conducting visual ethnography. Pink is categorical that the tool can be used in both the Qualitative and quantitative research. Hence a question arises what is Qualitative and quantitative mean?
Kombo and Trop define the two words as:
Qualitative research is a form of research that involves description. Qualitative seeks to describe and analyze the culture and behaviour of humans and their groups from the point of view of those being studied….Qualitative research includes the following: Ethnographies, which are observations of groups. Quantitative research relies on the principle of verifiability. That means confirmation, proof, corroboration or substantiation. Knowledge emerges from what can be proven by direct observation.
In this case, the use of ethnography in research will help the researcher study different races and cultures using visual images. This yields to a sense of belonging and demonstrating the identity of a particular race or group of people through observation. In this research the investigations are based or focused on group discussions as a research instrument, however the researcher can change the research instrument depending on the respondents, (Kombo and Tromp).
Each culture group of people has their own images that describe their behaviour within the society. These images or visual ethnography deepens the understanding of the researcher in observing the people group, because it is essential to know that every picture tells a story.
Pink, alludes, images inhabit and inspire our imaginations, technologies, texts and conversations…. And that the visual is therefore inextricably interwoven with our personal identities, narratives, lifestyle, cultures and societies. Images are indeed part of how we experience, learn, and know as well how we communicate and represent knowledge. Images are thus an inevitable part of the experiential environments we live and research in. (2001, pg )
Doing visual ethnography today appeals to the researcher to be acquitted with some methods that Pink is discussing or proposing in her book. The objective of the book is to bring together some elements that may prove to be theoretical and practical approaches to learning and knowing about and in the world, and communicating these to others. She gives some principles or methods of understanding how to do research using visual ethnography. She clearly outlines her work by showing how visual ethnography is applicable in other disciplines. However, it is not only while doing qualitative or quantitative research but other discipline like Geography, anthropology can utilize the visual ethnography methodology in research work. The research should produce knowledge in the area of study for example photographing, video, and web, online and digital. She advises that the visual ethnography may go public; in this case the culture of the people group can be studied and read by other cultural groups. Ultimately, the research has to do presentation of the same to find out how it works in other fields and the successful collection of data to be interpreted in the research.
The instruments involved in the study have to focus on the challenges that the research is causing to the respondents. Some of the methodological techniques can be a problem to handle because it generates misunderstanding to the people. Technology has some implications for example if we are to us the internet, web, video’s to explore how new visual ethnography is done; we need to allow the experts to help in employing the techniques. Another area found in this instrument is the interpretation of visual materials in the ethnographic process. The researcher has to be keen because of respondent’s reaction to wrong interpretation of the pictures, for they may not carry the same view as that of the respondent. In this case cultural difference may cause misunderstandings within the community.
From the above, I remembered in our advance in London some weeks ago, we had the Pecha Kucha presentation by Lgp 8. The use of visual ethnography helped me understand what was being communicated in the research though it needed a lot of time to relate the pictures with the narrative. However, one gets to know what the researcher was anticipating to accomplish in his or her research. The pictures are telling some narratives that were being practiced within the people cultural group. The images inhabited and inspired made me to follow the story to the latter part of the story. One of the things I learned was that the pictures should be taken within the cultural context and be able to explain them to other people who may not know the culture of the given group. The experience of the researchers in a given topic also inspires the images to be used. The use of art and craft can also be useful in observing the cultural perspective of a given people group. Most of our people can be identified through their cultural observations and this is what Pink is encouraging. This is a book worthy reading and implementing.
 Kombo D. Kasili and Tromp K Donald, Proposal and Thesis Writing: An Introduction. Pauline Publications Africa: Nairobi. (2011) page 9, 10-11,
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