Friday, October 29, 2010

Image-Based Research, Visual Representation & Stuart Hall

©2009 Uscreates Point of View

This week's reading includes a short discussion by Knight of "image-based research," which is an overly brief and (in my humble opinion) not at all complete introduction to what is actually a very compelling and complex set of methodological approaches. I especially urge you to disregard the part where he says that the method is "so new in social science that there is little to guide the researcher" (p.102). As a former student of communication/media studies, and current colleague of a number of excellent people here at the iSchool doing visual research (e.g. Jenna Hartel and Matthew Brower), and an extended circle of faculty and students doing image-based research across UofT, this sentence nearly sent me into convulsions ;)

As this is just one among many methods we will be looking at this week, I wanted to make sure that I sent those of you who may be interested in visual research in the right directions for further readings, theories, etc.  You've already been introduced to David Gauntlett, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

A great place to start is to pour through back issues of the Journal of Visual Culture (e.g. pay special attention to methodology and research design).  Or visit the website of the Centre for Visual Methodologies and Social Change (esp. the work of Claudia Mitchell), or the International Visual Sociology Association, or track down the proceedings of the International Visual Methods Conference. Or you might consult the Handbook of Visual Analysis (co-edited by Theo Van Leeuwen & Carey Jewitt), or the Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods:

Sage also publishes a four volume set called Visual Research Methods that covers everything from the history of visual methodologies and theories, to issues of objectivity (another issues that was not handled all that well in the Luker text). Here's the table of contents - prepare to be amazed by the number of familiar names.

In addition to Visual StudiesVisual Anthropology, Art History, Museum Studies and Image Studies, a key forum for this type of research is the interdisciplinary (and oft-misunderstood) field of Cultural Studies. I point you in the direction of Stuart Hall, a leading scholar on the topic of representation in the media (thereby adding some much needed discussion of "signifiers" to Knight's remarks about "signs"). Here's a clip of a fairly accessible introductory lecture Hall gave several years ago:

I should also note that we'll be using some visual research methods in both of the courses I'm teaching next semester. If any of you are interested in applying elements of this approach (in terms of critically analyzing images, aesthetics, representation, etc.) to children's digital games, cultural texts and artifacts, you're more than welcome to join in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From

A student in this class, Gbby, wrote a great post last week on the role of collaboration (and discussion, roundtable debate) within the peer review process - you can check it out here. As I mention in the comments section, it reminded me of a short video by Steven Johnson promoting his new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, which highlights the importance of connectivity and collaborative spaces for generating new ideas. The key historical examples being the coffee houses of the Enlightenment and the salons (or pubs) of modernism - which he describes as "spaces where ideas could mingle, swap and create new forms." This discussion also reminds me of the Creative Research workshop last week - among the various benefits described by the participants, group dynamics and interaction appeared to play a particularly crucial role.

Check out the Steven Johnson video embedded below, or access it through My Youtube Channel (on the INF1240 Research Methods playlist):

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Short Introduction to Correlations

Via Sociological Images, a great graph (any clear, easy to read graph is pretty great) and interesting analysis of the *positive correlation between income and SAT scores, from data published by The College Board. There's a pretty strong relationship implied here - one that raises questions about the ongoing reproduction of class inequality and the hidden bias of standardized tests (as discussed briefly in relation to IQ tests - see Stephen Jay Gould).

©2010 Sociological Images

* Positive Correlation: Defined by Timothy C. Urdan as: "A characteristic of a correlation; when the scores on the two correlated variables move in the same direction, on average. As the scores on one variable rise, scores on the other variable rise, and vice versa." (For more, see Urdan, T.C. (2005) Statistics in Plain English (2nd edition). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.)

Note: Positive/negative correlations are found through "Correlational Analysis," which measures the strength of an association between two variables. Values range from +1.00 to –1.00. 

Rule of Thumb: Correlation should NEVER be confused with causation = they are very different things, and involve a very different set of calculations and often different research designs (methods, analysis, control groups, etc.). Causation causes correlation, but it is not necessarily the other way around. It is much easier to establish correlation than causation. And it is also very easy to confuse or inflate the significance of correlation - as seen in the media effects debates discussed in this week's Kline reading.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Creative Methods for Creative Explorations

This week's recommended readings include a link to the website of an incredibly innovative, mixed-methods research project led by David Gauntlett at the University of Westminster. Gauntlett is definitely a "salsa dancing social scientist" and uses "creative methods" or "creative visual methods" of his own design to explore a very tricky, very ambiguous and very hard to express set of questions about identity. Gauntlett's Art Lab Approach taps into personal creativity and subjective experience, enlisting the subjects as direct participants in a creative research process that involves a hands on manipulation of objects, materials and technologies. Gauntlett describes the rationale for his approach as follows:
"Engagement with contemporary media typically involves a complex interchange of visual information, aspirations, ideas, and references to other media, across an array of electronic and print formats. However, the traditional research paradigms have tended to treat people as audiences of specific forms and genres, and have then expected them to describe their reception and interpretation of these messages, in words, to researchers. Thus the complex, multi-layered, visual world of today's media consumption is sliced up and dissolved into straightforward, written accounts of its 'reception'.
The ArtLab studies represent a new type of research in which media consumers' own creativity, reflexivity and knowingness is harnessed, rather than ignored. In these studies, individuals are asked to produce media or visual material themselves, as a way of exploring their relationship with particular issues or dimensions of media."
©2007-2010 David Gauntlett

His approach can thus be seen as an alternative to interviews and focus groups - a face-to-face, qualitative method of inquiry, that incorporates some aspects of quasi-experiment, aspects of user-centred research, aspects of ethnography and aspects of media education. I've asked that you hone in on the LEGO Serious Play project, so that we have a mutual reference point example of the method in action. Also, the project website is filled to the brim with descriptions, examples and other materials from the LEGO studies, including slideshows, videos (e.g. check out this overview of the method itself), and data samples.

If you love this approach (or are just curious about it), you should definitely check out Creative Explorations - an entire book about Gauntlett's creative research methods!