Introduction

Envisioning Ethnography—Exploring the Meanings of the Visual in Research

in Social Analysis

Visual images are ubiquitous which, inevitably, is part of their appeal and their difficulty. As is the case with all sensory experience, the process of sight becomes naturalized for us, and it is easy to forget that how we interpret what we see is historically and culturally specific (Banks 2001). Similarly, the representations of what we see are influenced by our historical and cultural perspectives. In the forms of photographs, video, film, and new electronic media, these representations increasingly and apparently, often unproblematically, play a central role in the work of researchers, not just from anthropology, but also from a range of disciplines. As part of a broader ethnographic methodology, photography, film, and video have now been embraced by anthropology, sociologists, cultural studies, media studies, geographers, and other social scientists. The visual images are present in the form of cultural texts or they represent aspects of ethnographic knowledge and methodological tools. They can exist as the basis for the sites of social interaction amongst the informants or between the researcher and the researched. They can take the form of pre-existing images, such as television programs or contemporary or archival photographs and films (Banks 2001). It is hardly surprising, then, that visual images have become so important to the ethnographic endeavor. Yet, as Mac- Dougall laments above, relatively little has been written about how best to analyze and interpret the visual images, not only in anthropology, but indeed, in all of the social sciences.

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Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology