Session: Doing Things with Images: Visual Methods Beyond Representation (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

29 Doing Things with Images: Visual Methods Beyond Representation

Thursday, January 16, 2020: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Congress, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement (RD&M)
Symposium Organizer:
John Doering-White, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Melissa Hardesty, PhD, State University of New York at Binghamton
How do images help and/or hinder social workers' efforts to enact change? In approaching this question, the papers in this symposium examine images as more than a reflection of meaning. The invention and widespread use of front-facing cameras embedded in smart phones (i.e. portable handheld computers), global internet connectivity, and internet profiles—have catapulted the importance of visual images as modes of representation and as tools (Rettberg, 2017). Social work scholarship that relies on visual methods tends to discuss visual objects—whether photographs, videos, or other renderings—as a means of accessing participants' interior worlds. Methodological frameworks including photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1997), participatory mapping (Bahn & Weatherill, 2012), and digital storytelling (Lenette, Cox, & Brough, 2015) are often framed as uncovering aspects of experience that are difficult to communicate verbally, or as a way of holding space for participants to communicate aspects of their lives that might be left out of researchers' interview protocols (Chapman, Hall, Colby, & Sisler, 2014). The visual artifact is thus understood to reflect a material person or thing in the world, a trace of its existence, reality, or thoughts. In this way, images are typically taken to describe what is. This approach tends to overlook the potential to engage images for their disruptive capacity, to illuminate the relations of power that they are a product of, and simultaneously make strange the very hegemonic meaning systems they are understood to convey. What can be gained from thinking of images as doing more than reflecting a person's lived reality? Building on scholarship that considers how visual objects mediate, facilitate, and transform social relations (Chin, Sakamoto, and Bleuer 2014), the papers in this symposium look at the effects (intended and unintended) of visual objects in social work research. In addition to considering what images represent and reveal, this panel considers how people do things with images. The first paper, for example, considers how Central Americans rely on photos to strategically maintain relationships with those from whom they are fleeing while migrating through Mexico. The second paper examines HIV prevention campaigns directed at men who have sex with men and identifies a gap between the fearless and fantastical social-sexual life depicted in campaign materials and the individual labor required to realize the prophylactic potential of expensive HIV-preventative medications in the wake of racial inequality and profit-driven neoliberal healthcare systems. The third paper examines how the performance of oral histories engages both performers and audiences and is an opportunity for cultural exchange that illuminates significant historical events. The fourth paper shows how a material break between real life people and the digitally-mediated bodies that appear in political ‘selfies' allows people to cultivate their political voices, while ultimately ceding control for how their digital bodies circulate and speak online. The fifth paper similarly considers the unpredicted circulation of images by examining how viral social media content that draws attention to sexual assault can also transform into victim-blaming.
* noted as presenting author
The Afterlife of Participatory Photography Along the Central American Migrant Trail
John Doering-White, PhD, University of South Carolina
The Visual and Racialised Life of HIV Prevention Technologies: Imagining Exclusionary Futures
Rory Crath, PhD, Smith College; Michael Waldon, MSW, Smith College
The Red Doors Will Never Close: The Performance of an Oral History of St. John's
Jane Gilgun, PhD, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Examining the Public Response to an Act of Violence
Megan Lindsay Brown, PhD, Arizona State University; Adrienne Baldwin-White, PhD, University of Georgia
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