EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Participatory visual and digital research in anthropology: engagement and innovation

Location S-420
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Ana Isabel Afonso (CICS.NOVA/FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa) email
Francesca Bayre (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

We explore how visual and digital methodologies, combined with a participatory approach, allow for intimacy and public engagement. Research using participant-generated images may elicit emic narratives, disrupt power relationships, intervene in policy, and communicate with broader audiences.

Long Abstract

Participatory visual methods are changing the way anthropologists forge new knowledge and interact with informants in the field, creating possibilities for intimate and public-engaged inquiry. This approach brings the visual and digital production process into a participatory action research (PAR) framework. Participatory visual methodologies include digital storytelling, PhotoVoice, participatory video, and visual archival research, among others. These methodologies produce rich visual and narrative data, but also open other paths to a 'shared anthropology', guided by participant interests and priorities, putting the methods literally in the hands of the participants themselves. This approach appeals to wide and diverse audiences, deploying knowledge beyond the academy. It also allows to produce knowledge in more sensitive or sensory domains where verbalization might be more difficult (ethnicity, human rights, risk, climate change, etc.). This panel asks, "How can participants use images to render invisible issues visible?" and "What do we gain from taking a participatory approach?" It showcases researchers who are using these methods on the ground in diverse applications and projects. At the same time, the greater intimacy that these methods allow and the possibilities for communicating to a wider range of interlocutors raises new ethical and methodological questions. Each research project proposes innovative strategies for dealing with this complex quest. Topics for discussion include research ethics and community partnerships; the study of visual and sensory experience; the use of images in advocacy and policy making; indigenous media; and integrating participation throughout the research process.

Discussant: Dorle Dracklé

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Interstices of the city: a photovoice study of urban gardens in a Lisbon neighbourhood

Authors: Krista Harper (University of Massachusetts Amherst)  email
Ana Isabel Afonso (CICS.NOVA/FCSH-Universidade Nova de Lisboa)  email

Short Abstract

We present Photovoice research with an urban gardeners' association in Lisbon transforming "clandestine" urban garden spaces into an “agricultural park.” Photovoice allowed us to see how gardeners conceive of urban space as they make political claims to the right to the city.

Long Abstract

We present initial findings from our Photovoice and ethnographic research with an urban gardeners' association as it attempts to transform illicit, "clandestine" garden spaces into a municipally approved "urban agricultural park" in Alta de Lisboa on the edge of the metropolis. This coalition of Portuguese and immigrant gardeners is reclaiming land to grow vegetables and to re-grow "community" by forging shared experiences in the neighbourhood. We describe how we used Photovoice as a process for exploring residents' motivations in planting informal and community gardens on public land. What cultural values do they attach to these interstitial urban spaces and practices? How do these highly local spatial practices relate to the broader context of national crisis and austerity in Portugal and European states more broadly? The Photovoice approach allowed us to examine how gardeners use sensory, affective, and aesthetic characterizations of urban space to build new civic spaces and identities around gardening and to make political claims to the "right to the city."

Perspectives from the periphery: young Europeans between memories of a multicultural past and aspirations for a cosmopolitan future

Author: Anne F Delouis (University of Orléans)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses a visual ethnographic project carried out in collaboration with secondary school students in Transylvania/Romania. Participants explore their multiple experiences of European citizenship, the social memories, and economic aspirations associated with German-Romanian bilingualism.

Long Abstract

Emigration to more affluent countries is an option that many young Romanians consider, and foreign language skills are avidly sought after.

Starting from the premise that Europeanness is best defined from the periphery (E. Balibar), the paper looks at the particular predicament of the multilingual young generation in Romania, based on ethnography carried out in the most well-known "German" school of the country, located in Sibiu, Transylvania.

As these students are physically replacing their (German-speaking) peers whose families emigrated to Germany or Austria after 1989, in what ways do they accommodate their multiple ethnic reference points in everyday practice? To what extent do they embrace a certain "Germanness" or identify with the remaining Saxon (i.e. German-Romanian) community? What is the impact of memories of Transylvania's multicultural past, transmitted by educators and made visible in the architectural environment? How important are the hopes of future riches?

PhotoVoice seemed to be the most appropriate method to gain access to the intimate experience of these bilingual youth, reaching beyond the ambivalent messages to which ambitious parents, the remaining Saxon community, and German policy-makers expose them. Unlike typical PhotoVoice projects, this one does not engage a disenfranchised group but addresses people with various degrees of language proficiency. Issues that will be addressed in the paper include the methodological choice to combine a PhotoVoice project with a questionnaire submitted to a much larger group of respondents, and the negotiation of multiple research agendas of all collaborators involved (an educator, a museum professional, and the anthropologist).

Pictures of change: local photographers from rural communities of Kenya and Guinea-Bissau reflect on environmental changes and question livelihood options

Authors: Joana Roque de Pinho (ISCTE-Instituto Universitario de LIsboa)  email
Lindsay Simpson (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)  email
Rodrigo Penna Firme (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)  email

Short Abstract

Comparing processes underlying participatory visual research by Kenyan pastoralists and Bissau-Guinean farmers, we discuss the power of these methods to promote a local reflection on socio-environmental changes in the context of development/conservation interventions that have silenced local knowledge

Long Abstract

In 2009, in the midst of the worst drought in living memory, and in 2011, during an unusually wet dry season, two groups of Kenyan Maasai pastoralists used cameras to document the effects of climate change on their lives. With photography in 2009 and with video in 2011, these young pastoralists of both genders, and from various socioeconomic backgrounds, shared among themselves and with broader audiences their knowledge of and concerns over local climatic changes. In southern Guinea-Bissau, in the context of a research project currently taking place in an ethnically diverse rice farming community, local farmers are using photography and storytelling to share and reflect on the historical and ongoing environmental changes they perceive at different spatial scales, and their linkages to political economic factors. Basing our presentation on the visual work of both groups and comparing the processes underlying their image and narrative production, we will discuss the power of participatory visual research methods to challenge enduring stereotypes of well-known, yet marginalized, populations; to give a voice to "over-researched" communities; and to promote a local reflection on environmental and social changes in the context of decades of local top-down development interventions that have silenced local knowledge. In Kenya, Maasai portraits of local coping strategies and their authors' questioning of the future of pastoralism under rapidly evolving socioeconomic and environmental conditions reveal local pastoralists to be agents of change rather than just victims thereof. Meanwhile, the Bissau-Guinean farmers and photographers/researchers are grappling with a concept new to them: participation.

Returning and Sharing Memories (RSM) Project

Author: Silvana Palma (Università di Napoli "l'Orientale")  email

Short Abstract

The project "Returning and Sharing Memories" has as its goal the return and the sharing of the historical memory of the colonial past between Italy and its former colonized through the use of the web and the creation of a digital visual archive.

Long Abstract

The paper aims to illustrate the "Returning and Sharing Memories" project.

RSM is a joint project run by the University of Modena-Reggio Emilia, the University of Napoli "l'Orientale" and the Addis Ababa University to put together and return to Ethiopia visual and written documents generated during the Italian occupation, to supplement the largely Ethiopian oral knowledge base of that difficult time.

At the moment the project is focused on the gathering of the photographic material.

For "return" of these visual sources we mean the return of copies of the original documents, which, thanks to digitalization can be copied perfectly.

Thanks to the web the project may encourage participative forms in the research process and the analysis of a period, such as the colonial one, very poorly considered in textbooks and the teaching of history (and removed from political and social consciousness) in Italy.

Decolonizing Images? A methodological approach for researching visual colonial archives

Author: Francesca Bayre (Universitat de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

Can we attempt to decolonize images through participatory visual and digital methods in Anthropology? A methodological journey among photo elicitation, PhotoVoice, and participatory digital archives to approach the Spanish colonial photographs of Hermic Films in Equatorial Guinea (1944-46).

Long Abstract

According to Stoler (2002), even within anthropological research, the 'archival labour tends to remain more an extractive enterprise than an ethnographic one'.

How can we study visual colonial archives ethnographically?

This paper discusses some methodological issues I faced and strategies I developed while researching the photographic collection of the film production company Hermic Films in Equatorial Guinea during the Spanish colonial rule in the 40's. Since the beginning of the research and especially through photo elicitation (Harper D., 2002), both in Spain and Equatorial Guinea, I found it very helpful to discuss and connect the experience of the past and the present with research participants for a shared understanding of the colonial visual archive. Moreover, collaboration meant important methodological and epistemological changes.

From then on, the need to develop a more structured participatory approach in studying the archive led into a PhotoVoice (Wang, Burris and Ping, 1996; Harper K., 2013) project developed in EG in 2013. This paper focuses on this part of the fieldwork experience, which meant a new shift in the research, restructuring categories and opening new paths of understanding for and through images. However, if participatory visual and digital methods can be very helpful in dealing with the study of power and representation, with examples from my research I also suggest that crucial attention must be paid to ethical problems which may arise in the process.

Framing the frame: visible issues and the issue of visibility in a virtual research exhibition

Author: Shireen Walton (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the potentials and challenges of using a participatory exhibition as a method of research. It discusses relevant issues of visibility and framing in relation to a virtual research exhibition of Iranian photo - blogs.

Long Abstract

The predicament of any framed environment involves heightened visibility. Self - representational digital platforms such as photography - based blogs and amateur photographic exhibition sites are no exception and provide salient digital - visual narrative data for the digital anthropologist to collate and interpret.

Moving beyond the study of existing sites, this paper discusses how a participatory digital exhibition via a web 2.0 platform can be employed as a befitting tool in contemporary research of popular digital self - representational practices. A participatory exhibition can help distil a research project, gather participants in a delimited space of collaborative engagement and dedicate itself to the elicitation and dissemination of anthropological knowledge. But how does becoming part of academic research in an online environment affect the status, visibility and publics of participants and their practices? What are the narrative implications of displacing images from their original contexts, where they belong to specific epistemic contexts and kinetic digital - visual systems and placing them within a framework of research? How can the ensuing blend of emic and etic narrations between researcher and subject be appropriately moderated?

The paper discusses these questions with regards to a virtual participatory research exhibition of Iranian photo - blogs, which showcases a range of digital photographs by a group of Iranian photo - bloggers. It suggests how innovative visual and digital methods can aid the anthropologist in 'representing' self - representing subjects by engaging the collaborative potentials of participatory action research.

Participatory ethnographic filmmaking as visual ethnography

Author: Martin Gruber (University of Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking is an approach in which local research participants conceive and shoot films making use of observational and ethnofictional filmmaking. The filmmaking offers alternative ways of anthropological enquiry and constitutes a shift in representational power.

Long Abstract

From 2011 to 2013 I conducted participatory film workshops with rural dwellers in Namibia, Botswana and Angola as part of a large multidisciplinary research project. The three resulting films investigate natural resource management through locally important activities such as subsistence farming, fishing and the gathering of honey. The films are based on an approach I termed "Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking". Conceived and shot largely by local workshop participants the films make use of observational and ethnofictional filmmaking approaches.

In the paper, I want to give a critical account of my work and the role it played within a large multidisciplinary research project. While the impact on the wider research project was limited, the way in which rural dwellers are presented as experts in front of and behind the camera constitutes a shift in the representation of marginalised actors within the project and beyond. Local actors appropriated and used the filmmaking in different ways: to depict their activities and lifestyles positively, but also to call attention to their problems and make decision makers accountable. Fictionalisations served as an important means to address difficult issues. Handing over practical aspects of the filmmaking to workshop participants had great impact on the power dynamics within the film production and on the way locals related to the outcome. My own acting in front of the camera further blurred the boundaries between researcher and researched. "Participatory Ethnographic Filmmaking" thus enabled me to elicit new and locally specific forms of anthropological knowledge.

Generational filming: video diary as experimental and participatory research

Authors: Pekka Kantonen (University of Arts Helsinki)  email
Lea Kantonen (University of the Arts Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

We have used our home as a laboratory to develop a participatory method of video filming called Generational Filming. It is based on repeated viewing, commenting and reflecting on what has been filmed. Besides home videos we have applied the method in ethnographic research too.

Long Abstract

Since March 1990 we have documented our everyday-life on a daily basis. Later the diary was widened to include the interaction between our family and other people and cultures. The footage is now about 2000 hours of video. In order to analyse this overwhelmingly extensive data, we have developed a method called Generational Filming. It is a method of watching and commenting on (our home) videos with a variety of specialists and people of different age groups, and other viewers of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We have arranged more then fifty screenings in order to analyse the data in a collaborative way. These discussions are filmed, and then added to the next edition as a new generation of the video to be shown to other audiences. In this way, viewers help us to interpret and theorise our footage. Some of the case studies have layers of up to six or seven generations.

The shared anthropology of Jean Rouch has been great inspiration in developing the method. Generational Filming takes the reflexive methodology to a point of exhaustion or saturation. The chain of watching and commenting changes the meaning of the first shot, that is, the 'first generation' of the chain. The focus of the screening event gradually changes from the screen to the experiences of the audience members. While listening to the interpretations made by previous viewers the following viewers begins to make comparisons between different cultural positions ,and self-reflexivity starts governing the experience of watching. The title is borrowed from Pekka´s upcoming doctoral thesis.

Participatory audiovisuals methods in the border zone of Europe

Author: Francesco Bruno Bondanini (Universität zu Köln)  email

Short Abstract

Audiovisuals technics used as a Participatory methodology allow me to establish a newer relation with the informants on one side, and are a tool to promote changes for and with the participants, on the other

Long Abstract

Starting from my PhD fieldwork I have broadly studied through the use of Audiovisuals and Arts a range of issues in the context of Melilla, a Spanish enclave situated in Northern Africa, on the Europe's border zone. Through qualitative analysis, I researched into the way a wide variety of migrants living in a Camp, rebuilt their lives in this limbo. I used participant observation, interviews and especially Audiovisuals through a Participatory approach; i.e. I worked with migrants on photo voice, participatory video and radio workshops in which they narrate and debate in groups about different aspects of their lives abroad. Besides, I used photo elicitation technics during my interviews. Based on my first fieldwork, I started using Audiovisuals and Art as Participatory approaches in a PAR project titled Marcaré/Kahina in the suburbs of Melilla with the Berber-Imazighen communities so to ameliorate these areas promoting visibility of these groups; and to study coexistence in the city, where communities of people from the Spanish penínisula and other populations from Imazighen origins coexist. The use of a participatory methodology, in the two research projects allowed me to get in a deeper contact with the informants. Participatory approaches on the other side, promotes change for and with the participants and the audiovisual techniques, in this context, apply for their creativity and innovation. Finally, this methodology gives the chance to move academia outside, to a wider audience allowing the Anthropologist to mix actively in the practical life.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.