Visual methodology and ethnographic un/knowing

Year: 2008

Author: Singh, Parlo, Matthews, Julie

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Current research directions in education and the social sciences have led researchers to focus almost entirely on research outcomes and implications for policy and practice. A focus on the end product of research over data generation interactions and interventions occlude full consideration of knowledge generation processes in the research. In this paper we delineate the pedagogic dynamics of image production in a research project involving refugee young people in Brisbane, Australia. The Narrating our World (NOW) project drew our attention to the theoretical lacuna and restricted understanding of the opportunities and limits afforded by visual research, and to the need to theorise approaches that do not fetishise images or research outcomes as objective commodities independent of people, contexts and political agendas. In examining the interface of data generation and interpretation beyond that of methodological discussions about objectivity and subjectivity we reflect on our project as an 'activist ethnography' (Luttrell, 2003: 147). Activist ethnography addresses the concepts of remembering, ambivalence and related epistemological tensions, and is informed by postcolonial theory. It acknowledges the changing dynamics of the research encounter in relation to how we see and represent others. From this perspective activist ethnography is not simply about reporting findings as if they relate directly and simply to a 'real world'. Rather in conceptualising research as an engaged and tentative practice of knowledge making and unmaking, it remains open to articulating possibilities for new imaginings and 'what's never been' (Monk Kidd, 2002: 120-121).