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On the relation between 'visual research methods' and contemporary visual culture

One of the most striking developments across the social sciences in the past decade has been the growth of research methods using visual materials. It is often suggested that this growth is somehow related to the increasing importance of visual images in contemporary social and cultural practice. However, the form of the relationship between 'visual research methods' and 'contemporary visual culture' has not yet been interrogated. This paper conducts such an interrogation, exploring the relation between 'visual research methods' – as they are constituted in quite particular ways by a growing number of handbooks, reviews, conference and journals – and contemporary visual culture – as characterised by discussions of 'convergence culture'. The paper adopts a performative approach to 'visual research methods'. It suggests that when they are used, 'visual research methods' create neither a 'social' articulated through culturallymediated images, nor a 'research participant' competency in using such images. Instead, the paper argues that the intersection of visual culture and 'visual research methods' should be located in their shared way of using images, since in both, images tend to be deployed much more as communicational tools than as representational texts. The paper concludes by placing this argument in the context of recent discussions about the production of sociological knowledge in the wider social field.

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