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 children's stories, as told by them.
For my research in Cambodia I used methods selected by participants 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. Methods used considered the temporal and spatial dimensions of children's lives. For instance, timelines were used to explore the past in the form of memories, and family heritage, and to discuss children's sense of their future, 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 digging into 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.
Visual Research Methods: participatory photography
My research reinforced a desire to show communities - often boxed in categories - to be more than "migrant", "a policy problem" or "non-citizen". It is an obvious thing to say, but unfortunately people are all too often reduced to bureaucratic labelling. Using visual research methods such as photography and drawings with children lent itself to rich, participant led descriptions of daily life.
Covid-19 has meant that plans to exhibit children's photographs, taken with disposable cameras, has been halted. It is great to have this space to showcase the photographs taken by research participants and give some context to the stories they tell. Below is a snap shot of some of the pictures. I will host an online photo exhibition in due course. If you want to know more details of this even please sign up here.
The images taken by children reveal the significance, and use of, space, community and children's future aspirations.