568.1 Visual imagination: An important competence of a sociologist

Friday, August 3, 2012: 12:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Piotr SZTOMPKA , Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland

In the current phase of modernity the visible and hence observable surface of social life has become significantly enriched. Both the iconosphere (purposefully created images) and the visual sociosphere (the visual manifestations of social events) provide the opportunity for descriptive observation and explanatory interpretation, unravelling deep meanings, regularities and mechanisms of society. Hence the visual imagination becomes an important skill for every working sociologist, and not only for the representatives of a specific subdiscipline of „visual sociology”. By visual imagination I mean the skill of linking the sociological concepts, models and theories with their empirical,  visually accessible denotations and conotations. This involves double, two-directional translation: (a) of sociological ideas into their concrete, observable manifestations in social life, and (b) of surrounding images and visual representations into sociological ideas. The first direction involves searching exemplification of concepts, models and theories of sociology  in visual evidence (either exisiting iconography, or created by the sociologist e.g. by  taking photograps). The second direction involves intepretation of images in sociological terms, unravelling their sociological meanings and relevance. I distinguish seven types of  such interpretation which are described in the paper.  The training of visual imagination is an important part of the methodological education of sociologists. For five years I have been leading a seminar and a laboratory where I apply several pedagogical strategies for that purpose: sending students to the field with sociologically defined photographic assignments, asking them to illustrate selected sociological texts with photograps, to interprete existing photographic resources (press photography, photo exhibitions, private collections, travel albums etc.)  in various ways, but always in sociological terms,  to select photographs particularly rich in sociological meaning and write an essay describing what the student perceives etc. These assignments are always followed by class discussions. In the paper I summarize my teaching experiences in detail, with illustrations.