Social Comparison and Visual Methods: Manifesting the Latent in Accounts of Social Status

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Inka STOCK, Bielefeld University, Germany
Social comparisons are important tools to make sense of one’s social position (White, 2012). Understanding how migrants are using social comparison in accounts of their social trajectories may help us to reveal how they understand the nexus between social and spatial mobility.

Most empirical research on social comparison has used predefined frames of comparison in semi-experimental research designs, thus restricting respondents in the process of choosing foils of comparison. Qualitative approaches, by contrast, in which people are able to decide what they compare themselves to, are more useful to understand how social comparisons are operationalized in sense-making processes in social life. In this presentation, we will be analyzing the epistemological gains and pitfalls of employing visual methods of data collection together with qualitative interview data to elicit frames for social comparisons that migrants use when evaluating their own social status and that of others.

The paper is drawing on data from a larger mixed-methods study, involving in-depth interviews with migrants from different socio-economic backgrounds and mobility experiences in Germany. A loosely structured interview schedule was used together with exercises in which our respondents were asked to describe photos and sort them in particular orders. While photos proved to be useful in eliciting foils for comparison, difficulties arose when attempting to associate the use of specific types of comparison to specific topics of conversation and to specific images. The paper gives glimpses about how we sought to overcome these difficulties in the course of analysis, particularely when attempting to associate individual accounts and comparisons to structural phenomena.