It’s funny how the process of creating research questions can prompt you to question your research (and your sanity) entirely! I met with Dan to talk about my Lyme selfies project the other day, and I came away with many insights. Here are a few of them:
- Most academic monographs don’t have any pictures (or just a few in black and white) because they are incredibly expensive to print. We could say that this is one limit of the genre. My approach could be more of a genre-based approach that argues for the limits of alphabetic text; this would be something I’m very familiar with and would be a relatively easy argument to make.
- My interest in this might fit into a number of existing academic conversations: visual rhetoric, visual literacy, digital humanities, etc.
- It might be helpful to look for patterns to see how visual documentation of ill people/their bodies is happening in the vast social networks of the internet. (He highlighted Tumblr, Twitter, and Flickr). This means that I might start my analysis elsewhere–outside of my selfies–so better assess which conversation(s) I want to be part of.
- Whatever happens, it might be helpful to take time to identify good archives, or strong pools of visuals that I could pull on now or later as part of my dissertation work.
This has led me to some other possibly more fruitful questions, many of which Jason, Jen, and Tiffany pitched at writing group this week:
- How does a person license photos of their own body for public use? (Or do you?) Is there a kind of “best practices”? What choices do people make?
- What is it possible for an archive of photos to do? What do I hope/expect that people will do with them, if anything? How do I think they will be circulated?
- There’s an interesting rhetorical question here about public(s).
- Can visuals create a space for unheard voices/identities to be recognized?
- How are visuals a different way of knowing than alphabetic text?
- Do visuals tell an alternative story?
- How are visuals being use argumentatively? How could visuals be used argumentatively?
- What are the networks in which these visual artifacts circulate?
- How might digital methods/expectations interference/challenge disability studies methods/expectations? What are some effective digital approaches to making sense of things that aren’t alphabetic text?
- For instance: metadata. Dan suggested that I try not to give text descriptions of my photos because then I’ll be analyzing–and in effect permanently marking–my images and the way the will be used. However, in order to make my photos more accessible to individuals who use screen readers, for instance, I need to embed text into my photos so that screen readers have something to process.
- How will I catalogue and make sense of these images–my own and other freely available ones?
To prepare myself for a visual project (if that’s possible), I’ve been reading and rereading some scholarship about visual rhetoric, particularly ethnographic methods. This article my McNely et al. has been one of my main sources of inspiration. I thought that their justification for using photographs was compelling, so I’ve included it here:
We have made a concerted effort to use photography rather than videography for two primary reasons: first, as a practical constraint on our field research, we collectively had more experience working with the production and analysis of still images than video; second, and more importantly, we viewed photographs as affording both a medium through which we might better understand and analyze participant knowledge (in granular moments and as a collective whole), and as a mode of representing the complexity of our participants’ work. Our visual methods, therefore, helped us better understand the many genres of writing and rhetorical action that comprised participants’ eventual, public work.
–Brian J. McNely, Paul Gestwicki, Bridget Gelms, and Ann Burke, “Spaces and Surfaces of Invention: A Visual Ethnography of Game Development.” Enculturation (2013).