Picturing social encounters. Visual research of diversity in public space

Picturing social encounters. Visual research of diversity in public space

Anna Seegers-Krückeberg


During the last years visual methods and their application in field research gained more and more attention of international researchers. Methodological discussions started in different disciplines like cultural anthropology, sociology or geography. This thesis seeks to contribute to this body of work with reference to my fieldwork in Astoria, New York City (within the research project „GLOBALDIVERCITIES. Migration and New Diversities in Global Cities: Comparatively Conceiving, Observing and Visualizing Diversification in Urban Public Spaces“). The doctorate project investigates following research questions: what kind of knowledge can be gained using various visual methods regarding everyday interactions in public space of a highly diverse neighborhood? What kind of content is transmitted through visual representations and documentations?

Using multiple (visual) methods longstanding or fleeting encounters of migrants – interactions between friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers – will be visualized and analyzed. Latham (2004) complains that this research area is often overlooked or taken for granted because it’s so ordinary. Amin (2002) calls for an anthropology of ‘local micropolitics of everyday interaction’ akin to what Leonie Sandercock (2003) sees as ‘daily habits of perhaps quite banal intercultural interaction.’ The importance of visual methods within this field of research arises as a result of a complex social environment in which migrants live and the complex social interaction by itself. Interaction eventually not only involves spoken words, but also e.g. pitches of the voice, gestures and mimics (Theye 2004). In addition Latham (2004) notes that social interaction is influenced by the setting. With visual methods one can record the environment in which the interaction takes part as well.

Strikingly research projects make mostly use of one or two visual methods at a time within their project. This project combines a whole set of visual methods with ethnographic field methods to visualize and to analyze intercultural interaction: filming, guided tours, video feedback, photo elicitation, participatory photo/film elements, mappings (e.g. movement maps, mental maps), participatory observation and interviews. The findings will be published as doctorate thesis. Additionally a comparative ethnographic film and an interactive website are planned to visualize the findings for a wider audience.