Looking into the Futures: Problematizing socially engaged research in Visual Sociology

Monday, 11 July 2016: 18:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Claudia MITCHELL, McGill University, Canada
This presentation advances the idea of a sociology of looking, as central to socially engaged research in contemporary visual sociology. Framed by an increasing focus on participatory visual research, particularly the growing use of participatory visual methods such as photovoice and participatory video in visual sociological practice, this paper responds directly to the politics and pedagogy of visual representation itself. Here, the term ‘looking’ is used as an umbrella term to refer both to the ways in which audiences might ‘look’ at images, but also to how participants and researchers might choose to ‘show’ images. This trend in participatory research raises new questions for visual sociologists. What does it mean, for example, to use visual images in the public domain? If our work is meant to be a feature of ‘doing’ socially engaged research, then engaging with whom and how? These are not questions that have typically been central to visual sociology although they were key in a ‘who reads what, why, how, and with what effect?’ of the sociology of reading in the 1960s and 70s. Typically terms such as curation, exhibiting, and screening which are associated with visual representation, are the purview of media specialists or those work in Museum Studies and not those working in visual sociology. But, even in these areas, the use of vernacular images ‘of the people’ is understudied. It is important that we ask, how is this work shifting the spectrum of theories that could be useful in our work? Building on the ideas of Batchen and others, particularly the idea of ‘aestheticizing’ the vernacular, this presentation considers the need for interdisciplinary frameworks which might, for example, help us think about ‘circulating’ the vernacular in a new sociology of looking that includes previous work on the sociology of gaze and iconic sociology.