Ethnographic and Visual Research Methods

Research that investigates subjects like statelessness, displacement and migration can easily fall prey to front loading the contexts of marginalisation. Paying attention to these contexts is undoubtedly important yet people are not simply defined by the inequalities they face. Conducting ethnographic research among noncitizen Vietnamese communities in Cambodia that draws on visual research methodologies has allowed for a three dimensional understanding of such phenomena as rooted displacement. During my research I observed and shared moments of joy, loss, hope and love. The use of participant observation within ethnographic research is an important cornerstone in unearthing intimate understandings of life. In addition, I have found using participatory research tools like drawing and photography have centred people's stories, as told by them. 


For my research in Cambodia I selected methods that work to share power and break down the boundary of researcher and researched. Working cross culturally with children I have had to think through the particularities of age, ethics, language and representation. To this end, participatory research methods that draw heavily on the visual, have helped in gathering data. I have used methods to explore temporal and spatial dimensions of children's lives. For instance, I used timelines to explore the past in the form of memories, and family heritage, and to explore children's sense of the future, their mobility and hopes for their family and community. Children drew self portraits to discuss how they see themselves in the present and who and what is important to them. I developed an 'identity flower' tool so participants could reflect on what makes up their subjective sense of self and what connects them to others. I am currently writing an article on my use of methods exploring the above in more detail. I hope to share that with you soon! Do contact me if you want to know more about my use of research methods on this project. For those that are interested here's a helpful reading list on visual research methods and ethical considerations when working with children. 

Take a look at this photo exhibition for an example of the use of cameras in this research project, and the collaborations page for how illustration and comic have been used to communicate research findings.