Visual Research at the Crossroads


  • John Grady Wheaton College



visual methods, photography, visual data, methodology, communicating research findings, photo elicitation, video data, interpretation


The author argues that visual methods are at the crossroads. They can remain in a niche or move into the mainstream by also addressing all people using visual materials. In the social sciences, visual methods encompass photography, video, and graphic representations. With respect to the visual, one has to note that all interpretations that are ontologically dependent on photography require more interpretation. "Looking at" means "being framed by," and this means also the picture maker who is also considered to be a viewer. For the social sciences, pictures provide us with personal insights as well as with a personal record of spatial and social relationships. On this basis one may raise questions like "how pattern variations occur over time?"; "how are social processes organized?", or "what is the role of emotion in social life?" These are issues, the author continues, to which visual data can contribute. It may be added that methodological discussion should, however, besides the areas of visual data generation, analysis and interpretation also include solutions for the problem of communicating research findings. Some of these questions can be approached via controlled photo-observation, photo-elicitation techniques and imagery provided by the subjects themselves. Finally, the author turns to the question of what remains to be done? Here, he delineates three main areas: (1) evaluating the theoretical and conceptual basis of visual research; (2) creating public databases for the development and testing of theories; (3) defining "best practices" for visual research. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0803384


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Author Biography

John Grady, Wheaton College

John GRADY's research focuses on the impact and significance that the material world of nature and human artifacts has on social organization and daily life; the use of visual imagery in social research and analysis; and making documentary films. He was President of the International Visual Sociology Association (IVSA). He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine (, and is the New Media Editor for Visual Studies




How to Cite

Grady, J. (2008). Visual Research at the Crossroads. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(3).



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