Images in qualitative Research: A (very brief) review of reasons of non-use

There are several reasons, why the use of images in qualitative research is not very common. A rather obvious one is that is is harder to handle images with technology 1. Great amounts of text are easily stored and searched, but images and video have vastly larger file sizes and searching for all pictures showing a person is much harder than searching for all texts containing »Participant-7« or »Alice«.

As well, it is just unusual to use images: »It should be remembered that for most of the last century, continuing to the present day, conventional ethnographic studies have typically incorporated little or no visual data« 2.

But aside of being unusual the use of image in qualitative research of images is philosophically debated. A commonplace critique is the claim that photos and videos don’t show »the truth«, since they are made with certain intentions, and cropping, moment and perspective are chosen by the photographer 3. But: Researchers are probably well aware of this problem: »Researchers understand that video-recordings do not of course capture the "world-as-it-happens" and they recognise that« 1. As well, text or speech is naturally selective as well and is not »the truth« either. So the argument may be a strawman, which is put up by the claim that images are not questioned and/or inherently misleading.

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Images in qualitative Research: A (very brief) review of reasons of non-use by Jan Dittrich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

  1. Schnettler, Bernt, and Jürgen Raab. "Interpretative visual analysis developments: state of the art and pending problems." Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung (2009): 265-295. 

  2. Fischer, Michael D., and David Zeitlyn. "Visual anthropology in the digital mirror: Computer–assisted visual anthropology." Canterbury: Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, http://lucy. ukc. ac. uk/dz/layers_nggwun. html (2003). 

  3. Goldstein, Barry M. "All photos lie: Images as data." Visual research methods: Image, society, and representation (2007): 61-81.