This post summarises my published paper Hill, J. (2013). Using participatory and visual methods to address power and identity in research with young people. Graduate Journal of Social Sciences, 10(2), 132-151. This work is open access and the full text can be read here
Calls have been made to engage more deeply in investigations of students’ embodied experiences of physical activity and sports, which might be achieved through listening to young people’s voices. At the same time, researchers have commonly used multiple methods, such as those employed within ethnography, and increasingly visual methods, in order to see as well as listen. This paper outlines visual ethnographic research that aimed to do this. It also establishes a case for addressing power differentials in social research with young people, arguing that participatory visual and ethnographic methods enable consideration of ‘difference’ between social researchers and their participants. When provided with digital cameras, young people make their own decisions about what to photograph and to share of their lives; by interviewing them afterwards, photographers’ meanings behind their photos can be elicited: participant photography alone would not achieve this. Finally, photo elicitation interviews can be a pedagogical site to discuss inclusion/exclusion, normalisation and marginalisation with young people. Participatory and visual methods may challenge traditional power relations, but they are not a panacea; instead, they provide an addition to methods toolboxes that can involve young people as experts in their own lives.
Research with young people and children has developed over a number of years an argument for researching with, rather than on, younger participants (Thomson, 2008; Valentine, 1999). In qualitative research, the ways in which we carry out empirical research, the relationships that are developed between researchers and participants, the knowledge that is produced and the epistemological and theoretical foundations can be affected by how as powerful researchers we aim to observe and analyse. Where age, gender and ethnicity intersect in creating something of a “difference” between researcher and participants, these issues can need greater consideration. This paper presents some methodological background to the choices made concerning data production during a project in which a white, female, late-20s researcher with a feminist theoretical background investigated physical activity engagement by a diverse cohort of 13-14 year old students in an inner city secondary school in the Midlands, UK. By combining visual ethnography, interviews and collaborative photography, the project aimed to address concerns about student voice in research with young people on their school and sport experiences (O’Sullivan & MacPhail, 2010). The paper considers some possibilities and challenges of using this methodology within school-based studies. Reflections from this project are offered on the ways in which participants retained power over content and meaning of their photographic contributions, and researcher relationships in the field. Visual methods are argued to offer an additional tool in tackling traditional power relations and encouraging participant investment.