Tag Archives: methods

ethnography and networked images

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be taking part in a summer school at the Copenhagen Business School. Part of the great programme for this event is intense interaction around PhD student papers, and it’s a true pleasure to be reading these pieces, all fresh from the keyboard, with the loose ends and struggles still in there. It also makes clear how polished (and maybe even a little bit stale) a lot of the published material is–not surprising given how long it takes to get things in print.

My own contribution will be built around a series of vignettes, narratives about moments from the field, that will serve to discuss methodological sensibilities, decisions and processes. So far, the themes will be:

  • following the actors
  • authority in a network
  • symetry of people and things

And I want to come up with one more to stress ethical issues in practice.

In the course of preparing for this, I’ve come across some recent (and not so recent) material that could also be of interest but that didn’t make it to the reading list:

Rabinow, Marking Time (suggested by Ine Hoyweghen)

Kien, Global Technography

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Constructing the Flickr site (2)

A few days ago, I wrote about some of the conceptual aspects of creating our fields. In today’s post, I reflect on the nitty-gritty of identifying what is relevant, and on the potential conservatism of my approach so far.

Of the four case studies in Network Realism, three are already underway. Sarah de Rijcke has been doing fieldwork on the practices around digital images of the collection of the Tropenmuseum, and has just started fieldwork on the practices around the documentation of artwork at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, I’ve been developing fieldwork on the use of Flickr by researchers and curators who study street art. One of the important dimensions of the Flickr case is a relation to ‘research’ or academic work. This is partly to link up the project to other work at the VKS (which focuses on academic knowledge production). But the use of a resource such as Flickr by academics is also interesting in its own right, since it was not developed to support research: How does Flickr get inserted into academic work? How do academics present themselves and their work on this platform?

In developing fieldwork, I’ve tried a number of approaches. Most successful so far has been to identify researchers who work on street art and make use of photography. I’ve found these researchers from websites such as artcrimes, which has a section with l(inks to) publications and from searching journals, such as Photographies. From these, I have identified scholars doing relevant work. I’ve contacted them by email, and traced their activities on the web and in publications–and of course on Flickr. I’m also using citation patterns to identify, in a snowball way, other relevant academics. (For example, following Schacter’s publication ‘An Ethnography of Iconoclash’, in the Journal of Material Culture.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing these scholars about their work practices. (When Sarah and I travel to London later this week, we will take part in CHArt‘s annual conferece (Sarah’s abstract is here) and meet up with colleagues and informants (Edgar Gomez, Rafael Schacter, and maybe Lane DeNicola?).)

These past few weeks, as I have been constituting the field, I keep coming back to the question: what would it mean for Flickr to be used for research? At this point, I can’t look at a photostream, and say, yes, this is produced by a researcher, or this collection is linked to a piece of research, or look at the membership of a group and say, yes, this one has a high percentage of scholars and curators. And I can’t say either whether these would be meaningful questions. As I learn about what these scholars do and how they use Flickr (or not!), academic or research-oriented activities on Flickr will become increasingly visible to me.

This uncertainty about what practices would look like underlies the motivation for following this ‘successful’ strategy of taking scholars and publications as starting points. While starting from traditional output such as publications introduces a conservative bias in the way I’m constituting the field, I’m well-aware of this and will be interrogating the effects of this starting point as fieldwork develops, and in the course of the analysis.


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Constructing the Flickr site (1)

The project Network Realism embraces four different sites. The sites contrast in the extent to which, at first sight, they are associated with easily discernable institutions. The physical presence of the Tropenmuseum and of the Rijksakademie lend a certain tangibility to those sites, making them seem more amenable to fieldwork. The buildings, the spaces these institutions occupy are an important ressources in constructing the site.  In other words, there is an obviousness (vanzelfsprekendheid) of the buildings that seems to extend to the ‘site’… and that seem to raise questions about the ‘where’ or ‘how ‘of the Flickr- and Funda-associated sites.

Yet, across the cases, we do our best to systematically formulate our sites as being “the practices associated with the web-based databases of Rijksakademie, Tropenmuseum, Flickr and Funda.” Though we are probably guilty of using ‘Tropenmuseum’ or ‘Funda’ as shorthands for what is quite a mouthful!

The point is that all these sites require constitution, and this involves:

  • having theoretical leanings that make certain starting points seem desirable or obvious
  • having practical constraints (whether physical, based on history with certain people, timing, etc) that make it more feasible to chose certain points of entry
  • recognizing that affinities that can be both intellectual and affective, which makes us more likely to engage with certain activities

In terms of these, there isn’t really a difference between sites. The import of physical space for constituting sites, however, derives from a long tradition of fieldwork.  This is why the concept of co-presence is so useful, because it helps to bypass the primacy of location as a way of constituting sites.

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After Visual Methods


Originally uploaded by Mediacciones Group

Looking back on the conference, we are both really pleased with the keynotes and papers we heard, the many new contacts we made, and with the exposure to the many versions of ‘visual methods’ that the conference afforded. Notably, much work involved ‘giving voice’ strategies (where researchers provide cameras to participants, and use the resulting images to empower or document). During our last visit to Leeds, when we visited an ethnography conference in March, we had heard an impressive presentation of research using similar approaches by Emanuela de Cecco.

We did find that our research was somewhat unusual at this conference in its combination of the visual as both method and object.  Interestingly, other work that focused on visual culture (i.e. Cox and Gomez Cruz) also addressed digital forms. Also came back thinking that one of the issues we need to pursue is how this category of ‘the visual’ is operating in our research.

What is the effect of this distinction between the visual as method and object? What could be gained by bringing them closer? One argument, which underlies our paper, is that more visual methods are likely to yield to better ethnographic work on visual culture. Our own paper from the conference,  on how to study a networked image, is now available here.

And in several research projects we heard about, it also seemed like more awareness of the visual ecology in which research was being done would have meant better use of digital methods and better insights. (What does it mean to give kids disposable cameras for a research project when they are in possession of camphones in their daily lives…) In other words, it would be valuable to consider the place of ‘researcher produced’ or ‘participant generated’ images  in relation to the visual culture of the research setting.


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