Visual Approaches to Knowledge and Experience
Sarah Pink: Doing Visual Ethnography
Sarah Pink is an accomplished ethnographer whose extensive work has effectively challenged and contributed to the field, notably through her research concepts and methodologies that emphasized fusing theoretical and practical elements in doing ethnography to enhance learning about the world. Pink observes that visual realities dominate our whole existence as individuals and as participants in human social and cultural orders as a whole. There is no escaping it. In this book, Pink takes the reader on a journey that demonstrates the universal significance and application of these visual realities. Pink maintains that, “images are thus an inevitable part of the experiential environment we live and research in; Doing Visual Ethnography is an invitation to engage with images, technologies, and ways of seeing and experiencing as part of the ethnographic process” (Pink, 1). Ethnographic researchers rely on “photography, video, and digital visual technologies” to bridge the gap between the visual ethnographers’ work in academia and the application of research practices. Pink sees this as an integral part of creating and conveying ways of knowing in the ethnographic process.
According to the author, the book was designed for researchers from diverse ethnographic disciplines and interdisciplinary fields who desired their research practices to encompass audiovisual media. It also addresses persons involved in visual media who want to explore how ethnographic research could potentially inform their work. (Pink, 2). Pink states, “ethnography is a methodology; an approach to experiencing, interpreting and representing experience, culture, society and material and sensory environments that informs and is informed by sets of different disciplinary and theoretical principles.” For Pink, visual ethnography as a process requires “continuous innovation” as it utilizes contemporary “digital and emergent technologies and media” in the pursuit of the “production of knowledge and ways of knowing” (Pink, 34-35).
Ethnography is a process in which the ethnographers’ own personal experiences impact how knowledge and ways of knowing the things researched are represented. Pink emphasizes that there is nothing inherent in the subject matter that qualifies it as ethnographic. The author explains that, “There is no simple answer or definition of what it is that makes an activity, image, text, idea, or piece of knowledge ethnographic. No single action, experience, artefact or representation is essentially, in itself, ethnographic, but instead these will be defined as such through interpretation and context” (Pink, 35). That being the case, it would appear that these things can be constantly redefined by various individuals, in various contexts, and in various times. The author further qualifies the aforementioned statement by commenting that, “For this reason, “ethnographicness of an image cannot be determined by its form, content or potential as an observable document, visual record or piece of data. Instead, the ethnographicness of any image or representation is contingent on how it is situated, interpreted and used to invoke meanings, imaginings and knowledge that are of ethnographic interest” (Pink, 35).
Pink provides two basic ways to assess the relationship of visual ethnography to academic disciplines and interdisciplinary fields. That is, to make a determination as to whether or not visual ethnography can serve the research interests of these disciplines and whether the attendant theories might be used to employ it. One way is to consider the relevancy of visual ethnography to the disciplines in question, then consider “how the theoretical tenets of those disciplines and fields might inform the way it is practiced.” The other way is “to consider which disciplines have overlapping concerns in seeking to understand visual images, audiovisual media, mobile technologies and the internet.” In this approach the visual ethnographer conforms to theoretical research practices and findings (Pink, 16-17).
The issue of ethical practices in the field of visual ethnography is a very complex one. The complexity goes much farther than the standards and methods that research courses address. According to Pink, these courses usually cover matters such as, “informed consent, covert research, confidentiality, harm to informants, exploitation and giving something back, ownership of data, and protection of informants.” Pink reveals that in actuality, “ethics are bound up with power relations between ethnographers, informants/research participants, other professionals, sponsors, gatekeepers, governments, the media, and other institutions” (Pink, 58-59). I would be interested to know what others in my cohort have to say about ethical practices in visual ethnography.
Visual Approaches to Knowledge and Experience