Using Visual Methods in Domestic Spaces



The Digital Epiphanies: Work-Family Configurations in a Digital Age project, by the Aberdeen team, explores how boundaries are being made between work and family in everyday practices, and how technologies are implicated in this process. We are currently working with 5 families in North East Scotland, all with at least one child under the age of 18. We are inviting them to take part in the project as collaborators in the research by involving them in the selection of methods and production of artefacts.

One of the questions we have been investigating is whether and how visual methods might help us get at the everyday practices of these families. Early on in the project we became interested in visual methods because we wanted to observe and understand family practices: what people are actually doing, and not just what they say they are doing. In August, Natasha went on a 10-day visual methods summer school in Antwerp to experiment with how we could use visual methods in our project. As a result, we decided to use the following methods: a video tour of the home; an interactive floor plan activity; researcher- and respondent-generated photographs, films, scrap or smash books, and diaries; individual and family interviews and conversations; and walk- or go-alongs using a GoPro as ways of participating in ‘A day in the life of …’ each family.

As we are working with these methods we are seeing how different stories are emerging depending on the methods that we are using. Coming into someone’s home with an additional sensory, visual and material focus feels like a different way of working compared to the more standard and static interviews we have used in the past. Moving around the home, looking at and talking about objects is an oblique way of getting at our research question, and brings new spaces, objects and practices into view. Having a visual record of our encounter, in addition to a mental image, memory or field notes, helps with the analysis and being able to look differently at the spaces, objects and practices. For example, it redirects our focus from certain objects, practices and stories – which held our attention at the time of our field encounters and conversations – towards other objects, other practices, and other possible stories.

We are currently writing up these experiments in visual methods and will be sharing them more widely at the upcoming XVIII International Sociological Association World Congress of Sociology in Yokohama, Japan, 13-19 July 2014

Until next time!

Natasha, Karolina & the DE team

Digital epiphanies: Work and family in a digital age

This post, written by one of the project team, Prof Natasha Mauthner, was originally posted on the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships blog in June 2013. CRFR is a consortium research centre for researchers interested in families and relationships working across several Scottish universities.

When I tell people that I am doing a research project on how digital technologies are reshaping our work and family lives, everyone has a story to tell.

A mother I meet on holiday in a youth hostel says that while her partner takes their three children skiing, she uses her day to clear emails, catch up on work and generally get ahead of herself for when she returns to the office.

Another mother explains that while her husband – who travels a lot for work – was physically present with the family during the Christmas holiday he was mentally absent, glued to his computer and iphone even when engaged in family activities.

While one father bemoans the fact that his wife spent their summer holiday ‘on the blackberry the whole time’, another tells me he finds the idea of having a holiday without wifi unimaginable. Gesturing to the smartphone that he is holding, he tells me his digital devices have become ‘part of my body’.

What questions do these anecdotal stories prompt?

    • Are people’s use of digital devices challenging not only the traditional separation between work and home, but also that between work and leisure?
    • Is ‘the holiday’, as we have come to know it in recent historical times, undergoing change?
    • Who stands to gain or lose from these shifts? Employers, employees, families, men, women, children?
    • Are these changes contested by some while accepted and even embraced by others?

These are some of the questions that colleagues and I are exploring in a project, Digital Epiphanies … read the full post here.


Natasha Mauthner & the DE team