Identity ChrisWithin the health and social sciences there is increasing interest in the potential of visual methods to capture the subtle and nuanced ways in which people live unequal lives, including the ways in which inequalities are expressed and understood through the medium of visual culture. This interest mirrors the proliferation of the visual in contemporary life. Developments in new visual technologies are such that the visual has become an increasingly important means of mass and individual communication and a powerful campaigning instrument of health and social welfare initiatives. However, the speed with which these techniques have been adopted is such that their value for understanding and their potential for challenging, ameliorating or sustaining inequalities remains unclear. At the same time the multi-disciplinary origins of visual methods, and their location in distinct, and sometimes contradictory, epistemologies and theoretical traditions, is such that there is considerable debate about their scope and application for such research.  This includes, for example, whether and how the visual might complement existing social science approaches or constitute a distinct innovative research agenda; questions which are critically connected to issues concerning:

  • Meanings and interpretations of the visual including ontological and epistemological issues generated by visual methods and tools and their effect on the researched

  • Connections between visual and other methodologies and theoretical perspectives in discursive psychology, discourse analysis, psycho-social and psycho-analysis

  • The rationale, ethics and practices of involving participants in the research process

  • The significance of semiotics, emotion, memory and collective viewing for visual interpretative processes and practices

  • Ways in which, as academics and practitioners, we might move beyond stereo-typical visual representations which reinforce common sociological stereotypes