As a School-wide research group, Visualities brings together an interdisciplinary and dynamic range of research interests. It focuses on the theoretical, cultural, methodological, ethical and communicative significance of the visual dimensions of human societies.
The Visualities Research Group is represented by academic and research staff, and a strong core of doctoral candidates in Geography, Politics and Sociology.
This eclectic and cross-disciplinary orientation creates an inclusive research environment which incorporates work undertaken in the global, national and regional contexts, as well as that which is situated within everyday settings and the quotidian.
Our research is broad in its scope and ambitions. It ranges from think-pieces which make use of visual media to critically interrogate social and political theory, to that which explores how visual technologies and surfaces are mobilised in the construction and negotiation of identities and lived experiences.
Our work is methodologically innovative. We look to add to conventional research methods such as:
- discourse analytic approaches
- focus group and in-depth interviewing
As well as developing the range of methods and data-generating techniques being used, including:
- digital storytelling
- creative design and exhibition
- mobile methodologies
- virtual methodologies
- documentary film
We are keen to advance methodological portfolios which promote engagement with non-academic researchers and audiences. We achieve this through different kinds of participatory/action research approaches.
We aspire to produce leading research which:
- makes a significant intellectual contribution
- has utility for policy-makers and professional stakeholders
- nurtures knowledge transfer at the interface of the academy and a wide spectrum of user-communities
Research within the group is organised under six broad themes.
Visual methodologiesVisual methodologies
As Chris Jenks (1995: 12) states “Method... is not the servant of theory: method actually grounds theory. To speak/write depict the world as a coherent form is to formulate the world in line with an active method vision”.
For the researcher of the visual, whether as the substantive topic, eg: gender depiction in protest posters of the 1960’s, or as part of a larger phenomenon, eg: racial segregation in the Middle East, coherent visual methods are now a disciplinary requirement of a reflexively aware methodology investigating visual phenomena.
Over recent years Visual Studies and Visual Sociology within the Social Sciences have become major interest areas and have gained increasing prominence. What can be said in common to these studies is an approach to visual methods which is largely non-prescriptive and indeed encouraging of diversity, invention, new technology, ‘engagement’ with and involvement by subjects – indeed, ‘non-disciplinary’ in its true sense.
The photograph is often still central as a medium of capture and presentation, but in the digital age is free from its celluloid and paper-based restrictions, cost and technical knowledge for capture. The physical objects of the visual and their tactility are increasing utilised, and the internet web-based digital and computer phenomena are continually ahead of developing visual methodologies. Good text books do exist on visual methodology, but they are continually restricted by the characteristic described above. Visual research is continuously expanding in scope and developing methodologies to facilitate our understanding and analysis. Jenks, Chris (1995) Visual Culture. London: Routledge
Art and aestheticsArt and aesthetics
Many of us, as part of our portfolio of research interests, engage with issues of art and aesthetics. We have a specific focus on everyday and popular cultures, and within this our engagements range from the use and interpretation of art objects in research, to considerations of how aesthetic sensibilities (seeing, feeling, sensing) emerge in and through societal, cultural and (geo)political structures.
A persistent concern for group members is the interplay between discursive and beyond-discursive analytical framings, and visual and material cultures. A focus on art and aesthetics, thus, provides a common intellectual space to address these concerns, and to seek connections between our disciplinary groupings.
Current research projects which engage with this theme include:
- the visual and material economies of book covers
- conceptual art and non-representational theory
- the geopolitics of art and public advocacy
- aesthetic disturbance and the demand for human rights
- aesthetics, work and political economy
Theorising the visualTheorising the visual
Our concerns and engagements with the theoretical dimensions of the visual explore several lines of conceptual inquiry.
An important strand of this inquiry raises questions of the status of the visual as a discrete domain of research interest, provoked in large part by Bal’s (2003) complaints of visual essentialism. This important intellectual work examines the intersections of, for example, visual and material cultures, performativity and visualisation, image and text, interrogating assumed ontological boundaries and questioning the visual as an object of study.
A second area of our theoretical endeavours positions the visual within theories of social change and transformation, most especially the perceived shift from modernity to postmodernity. Alongside related notions of a contemporary ‘turn’ to the cultural, linguistic, ethical and emotional relations of socio-political life, the ‘visual turn’ creates opportunities for conceptual innovation and the reconfiguration of theoretical and epistemological landscapes.
Research and publications in this area include work on the transformation of work and labour; the intersectionalities of law and culture; science, the supernatural and transgressive displacement. These kinds of theoretical explorations not only make good and critical use of a variety of ‘theorists of the visual’ – such as Barthes, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Foucault, Goffman – but also encourage different orientations towards and alternative readings of the social scientific canon. Bal, Mieke (2003) Visual essentialism and the object of visual culture’, Journal of Visual Culture. 2(1): 5-32
Visualities and ethical lifeVisualities and ethical life
Within this thematic, we are interested in discussing questions around the ethics of images and the implications images and their ethics have not only for the audience of a particular research project but for the researchers themselves.
The relationship between the visual and the ethical takes us to, for example, complicate the assumptions about using images to exemplify and disseminate research analysis and conclusions. It is an invitation to focus on the dynamics of showing, seeing and looking in specific contexts.
Some of our work seeks to contribute to debates about the benefits and problems of showing and seeing specific images which go beyond the mere function of illustration, pointing towards their pedagogical, political or ‘consciousness-raising’ advantages and disadvantages.
We are concerned with disturbing the expectation that the production, collection or display of certain images will allow understanding or at least be the starting point of dialogue of the issues at stake. Such disruption allows for a productive exploration of issues that are defined and produced by their same visibility (say, for example, the visibility of ‘race’, beauty, the body, etc).
In this way, this line of work attempts to deal with the ambivalence of making use of the visible to ‘understand’ while acknowledging the need to denounce that same visibility as core to the production of particular forms and dynamics of social exclusion and inclusion.
Visual culturesVisual cultures
The idea that visual images convey a wealth of meaning in ‘ocularcentric’ cultures is one that many of us – along with growing numbers of writers throughout the social sciences – readily accept.
To speak about ‘visual cultures’ is to speak about different sorts of visual technologies (such as photography, film and television) as well as about the sorts of images they show us. This shared interest in the visual unites several members of our group, whose substantive interests fall under a variety of thematic sub-headings, notably media representation, including “new” and social media, visual politics/geopolitics, public narratives, film, photography and popular culture.
Current research projects which engage with these themes include work on:
- Western media representations of both Asia and Africa
- video games
- children’s literature
- climate change communication
Visual communication of researchVisual communication of research
One of the important benefits of working with visual materials and generating research data through visual methodologies, is the way in which these can be used to bring in voices, perspectives and ideas from groups who may be put off by or struggle to communicate their thoughts via traditional word or text based approaches.
For example, some of the projects within the research group are using visual techniques such as photography, storytelling and digital representations to tap into the creative expressions of children and disabled young people. These techniques enable a broader range of people to be part of the research process and also provide new channels and materials for communicating such perspectives in non-academic public environments such as schools, museums and art galleries.
The visualisation of our research outputs presents new challenges for the social sciences and creates a range of opportunities for developing a rich portfolio of dissemination practices.
People working in this research group:
- Dr Elaine Campbell (Convenor)
- Dr Edmund Coleman-Fountain
- Dr Martin Coward
- Dr Matt Davies
- Dr Lisa Garforth
- Dr Kyle Grayson
- Dr K Neil Jenkings
- Dr Kate Manzo
- Dr Janice McLaughlin
- Dr Monica Moreno-Figueroa
- Dr Simon Philpott
- Dr Audrey Verma
- Dr Alison Williams
- Professor Rachel Woodward
- Dr Matthew Rech
- Dr Sophie Yarker
- Dr Michael Richardson
- Nick Appleby
- Daniel Bos
- Ulpia Botezatu
- Ko-Le Chen
- Alicia Crowther
- Clare Fearon
- Cristina Fernandez-Garcia
- Robin Finlay
- Matthew Hanchard
- Tessa Holland
- Lee Imray
- Sobia Kaker
- Jenny Lloyd
- Mihai Macarie
- Ann Murphy
- Cahir O'Doherty
- Benet Reid
- Rebecca Richardson
- Yang Li