Using Visual Methods in Domestic Spaces

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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

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