Picturing social encounters: visual research on diversity in public spaces (completed)

Anna Seegers-Krückeberg

In recent years visual methods and their application in field research have gained more and more attention from international researchers. Methodological discussions started in different disciplines like cultural anthropology, sociology and 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’). My doctoral project investigates the following research questions: what kinds of knowledge can be gained using various visual methods regarding everyday interactions in the public spaces of a highly diverse neighbourhood? And what kinds of content are transmitted through visual representations and documentations?

Using multiple (visual) methods, the longstanding or fleeting encounters of migrants – interactions between friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers – will be visualized and analysed. Latham (2004) complains that this research area is often overlooked or taken for granted because it is so ordinary. Amin (2002) calls for an anthropology of ‘the 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 in itself. Ultimately interaction not only involves spoken words, but also, for example, 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 place as well.

Strikingly research projects mostly make 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 analyse 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 result in a doctoral thesis. In addition, a comparative ethnographic film and an interactive website are planned so a wider audience may visualize the findings.

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