Epistemology: This is the branch of philosophy concerned with whether knowledge is possible, and if so how it can be gained and what its limits are. Epistemological argument may relate to knowledge in general or to knowledge of particular kinds. Scepticism is one, radical, epistemological view – it questions the very possibility of knowledge. It may be applied to all kinds of knowledge or just to some. For example, there are philosophers who are sceptics about the notion of ethical knowledge – concerning what is good, what ought to be done, etc – but who are not sceptics about factual matters – regarding what types of thing exist in the world, what sorts of relation operate among them, and so on. Another epistemological disagreement concerns whether or not a distinctive mode of inquiry is required in order to gain knowledge about human psychological and social phenomena, as against the physical phenomena studied by many natural sciences. While epistemological issues are analytically distinct from ontological issues, the latter have implications for the former. Hammersley (2012)


“In general, this has tended to lead to the use of qualitative methods, and sometimes also (as with interpretivism) to forms of action research or participatory inquiry in which any role distinction between researcher and researched is weakened if not abolished. However, there is a potential conflict here with the idea that participants’ views may be ideological, and that a research perspective is required to see through ideology.” Hammersley (2012)

Habitus as a methodological tool for educational research

Ideas like those of habitus, practice, and so on, were intended, among other things, to point out that there is a practical knowledge that has its own logic, which cannot be reduced to that of theoretical knowledge; that in a sense, agents know the social world better than the theoreticians. (Bourdieu, 1991, p. 252)

Exploration of the individual disposition of learners, their engagement with learning, experience and their ‘graduation’ to the emerging collective habitus of the interdisciplinary individual (or team) within ‘fused’ clusters in the creative industries.

Habitus is a useful concept in terms of the research as it can be considered as pertaining to specific fields as well as social class (for example) and that different habitus ‘realize themselves’ in relation to distinct fields through ‘occupational, institutional, cultural… norms, values, rules and interests’ (Bourdieu 1990). ‘Place someone in a different position within the field, or in a different field altogether, and they will behave differently – and will be more comfortable of ill at ease – depending on their ‘feel for the game” (Bourdieu 1990) with which they are now confronted’ Sweetman (2009). The importance of field in relation to a fusion of education/industry is important. A philosophical approach which lends itself to analysis of fields and observation of the impact on individuals as they take on different roles and experience different field-related locations is valuable. As students experience the industrial field – or as Bourdieu (2000) suggests ‘negotiate their entry into the [industrial] world’ – through visits, briefings, pitches, crits, workshops; how do they feel and operate? Do they know ‘what to do… how to behave’ (Bourdieu 1990)? Or, as Sweetman suggests, is such flexibility and adaptation already a requirement of their habitus?

“Habitus operates – or ‘realizes itself’ (Bourdieu 1990b: 116) – in relation to field, each field representing a relatively distinct social space – occupational, institutional, cultural – in which more or less specific norms, values, rules, and interests apply.” Sweetman (2009)

Social capital:

“The profits which accrue from membership in a group are the basis of the solidarity which makes them possible. This does not mean that they are consciously pursued as such, even in the case of groups like select clubs, which are deliberately organized in order to concentrate social capital and so to derive full benefit from the multiplier effect implied in concentration and to secure the profits of membership – material profits, such as all the types of services accruing from useful relationships, and symbolic profits, such as those derived from association with a rare, prestigious group.” Bourdieu (1986)


“A field has a dialectical relationship with habitus and is understood as a social space or network of relationships between positions occupied by actors. The different positions are structured and anchored in forms of unequally shared power or capital. Conflict and competition characterize the relationships between the actors as they try to accumulate, conserve, or convert different types of capital. The positions are ones of dominance, sub-ordinance or equivalence (homology) according to the types and amounts of capital possessed by an actor.” Ihlen (2007)

“Being part of a field means internalising, practising, enacting the values offield and its systems, a feature, process and ‘generative formula’ known as habitus.” L’Etang (2013)

“Habitus is difficult to identify and make explicit. It is concerned with the qualities acquired over a period of time that become instinctive and habitual. It is typical that such qualities are left unstated. The individual members of the field are, in general, only partially conscious of these qualities – and the actual point of the habitus is that it is not about anything that is easily explained. It is partially connected with the fact that the habitus stands for flexible qualities rather than formal rules – the habitus makes possible the ‘correct’ usage of conventions and norms rather than the mechanical adherence to them. (The subdivision of these can be just as strong in both cases. The norm to show oneself as being uncompelled can be just as compelling as that of having to carefully follow a particular social convention.) The habitus is also connected with cultural capital and status, and is thereby connected with the power potential that is contained in the competence to act culturally correctly. The specific worth of the latter for the actor and the field is contingent upon the difficulties in copying the correct way of operating. There is, of course, no ulterior motive behind the hidden qualities of the habitus, but it is a matter of social competition and dynamics. In the struggle for position and prestige between and within the different fields, mechanisms of social differentiation and likeness are developed. There are no specific persons behind this even if different actors’ strategic actions can marginally influence the dynamics. Within the advertising branch, the latter concerns, for example, the institutionalization of official annual ranking, competition and the giving of awards (e.g. the ‘Gold Egg’, similar to Oscars and Emmys) which underscore the creative and aesthetic nature of advertising work and increase the cultural capital of the winners.” Alvesson (1994)

“…use of the word “autobiography” suggests that the habitus of the advertising practitioner is to some extent materially imprinted and preserved in the texts he or she authors (see Cronin 2004c). So much so, in fact, that for the above informant the creative’s life story is traceable through his oeuvre; it functions as an autobiographical archive.” O’Boyle (n.d., pp.14)

“In advertising, social capital exists in the network of agencies, media houses, publishers, photographers, designers and countless other stakeholders which make up this industry. It is also generated in award shows, conferences, workshops, and other industry gatherings: Being known on the industry circuit of award ceremonies and campaign launches and participating in wider social networks is crucial for career success. Social capital, the resources available to an individual or group as a result of belonging to a network (Ancliff, Saundry and Stuart 2007), is integral to the pursuit of the successful creative career (McLeod, O’Donohoe and Townley 2010: 3).” O’Boyle (n.d., pp.16)

“Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps the most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive). Some forms of social capital are, by choice or necessity, inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups. Examples of bonding social capital include ethnic fraternal organizations, church-based women’s reading groups, and fashionable country clubs. Other networks are outward looking and encompass people across diverse social cleavages. Examples of bridging social capital include the civil rights movement, many youth service groups, and ecumenical religious organizations.

Bonding social capital is good for undergirding specific reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity. Dense networks in ethnic enclaves, for example, provide crucial social and psychological support for less fortunate members of the community, while furnishing start-up financing, markets, and reliable labor for local entrepreneurs. Bridging networks, by contrast, are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion. Economic sociologist Mark Granovetter has pointed out that when seeking jobs — or political allies — the “weak” ties that link me to distant acquaintances who move in different circles from mine are actually more valuable than the “strong” ties that link me to relatives and intimate friends whose sociological niche is very like my own. Bonding social capital is, as Xavier de Souza Briggs puts it, good for “getting by,” but bridging social capital is crucial for “getting ahead.”” Puttnam (2000)

General: DERC
Facebook: Mariamz
Facebook: Ethnography Matters
Facebook: Anthropology of Media
Twitter: Postill

Visual/hypermedia ethnography

The operationalisation of habitus through visual methods builds on the work of Bourdieu [and others]. If it is agreed that habitus (or the effects of habitus) is largely unconscious and therefore a ‘slippery concept’ for the researcher and participant (or informant), how might it be recognised or made explicit?

Bourdieu’s ‘Photography: A Middle Brow Art’ and his use of photography in his fieldwork in Algeria introduced me to the idea of incorporating visual representations into my research, though I was introduced to related theory many years ago In Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ which I realise regularly emerges over the years as a point of reference and as a reminder of my central concern and passion of visual communication. In order to capture the visual aspects of learner, teacher and industry interaction a visual ethonographic approach is considered in order to provide a richer range of representations. This is allied to a hypermedia approach which provides additional advantages in dissemination, development of narratives, contexts, interpretations, juxtaposition. Moving away from a sequential, linear presentation. Another advantage of the approach is that the notion of a completed or finished piece is undermined.

An important consideration in all of this is the habitus of the researcher. As moving between the fields of industry, higher education and research are negotiated to what extent is the lack of awareness of the ‘rules of the game’ important? Does the use of visual research provide a comforting constant, literally viewed through different conceptual lenses? How does the increasingly informed researcher take up his camera differently? Can pre-research photography be considered using the emerging research paradigms?

Visual methods

1. Images can be used to capture the ineffable, the hard-to-put-into-words.
2. Images can make us pay attention to things in a new way.
3. Images are likely to be memorable.
4. Images can be used to communicate more holistically, incorporating multiple layers, and evoking stories or questions.
5. Images can enhance empathetic understanding and generalizability.
6. Through metaphor and symbol, artistic images can carry theory elegantly and eloquently.
7. Images encourage embodied knowledge.
8. Images can be more accessible than most forms of academic discourse.
9. Images can facilitate reflexivity in research design.
10. Images provoke action for social justice.
Weber (2008)

“There are no sound reasons not to combine positivist empirical visual methods with interpretive visual methods when the circumstances warrant a mixed-methods approach.” Prosser and Loxley (2008)

“Students in the arts are not as rigorously trained to glean insights from books. Their accomplishments are more directed to mastering creative processes, and their distillations tend to be visual and creative. Perhaps for this reason they develop conclusions more swiftly and with more organisation than library-trained social science students. This phenomenon is of great importance in discussing visual research.” Collier and Collier (p.198, 1986)

“When creative processes are combined with meticulous field and analysis craft the results can be astounding” Collier and Collier (p.199, 1996)

On the ambiguity of positivist objectivity/interpretive subjectivity approaches:  “The first refers to how an image or artefact can and should be read – as an explicit, precise, and matter-of-fact communication or as a polysemic and ambiguous social and cultural artefact. The second ambiguity refers to how images in general can and should be used in social inquiry – as information–rich data for extending scientific investigations or as evocative artefacts for challenging or stepping away from a science too narrowly conceived.” Wagner (2001, p7)

“Assuming the interpretive focus of ethnography and the descriptive outcome of ethnographic research, Bryman (2001) considers ethnography as a creative process in experiencing, interpreting, and representing culture and society. The subjectivity of experience and the multiplicity of reality are implicitly fundamental assumptions. More specifically, ethnography as an interpretive methodology assumes that reality is socially constructed alongside a non-dualistic ontology, where person and world are considered inseparable. This underlying philosophy directs how to conduct (visual) ethnographic research in that the researcher aims to come as close as possible to the phenomenon under investigation, through the member’s eyes and in this case, visually recorded.” Bryman (2001) in Schembri and Boyle (2013)

“Using the camera in self-conscious ways both research participants and researchers explore particular, and often affective, dimensions of experience in ways often not approached using conventional methods.”  Pink (2011)

“Just as images inspire conversations, conversation may invoke images; conversation visualizes and draws absent printed or electronic images into into narratives through verbal descriptions and references to them.” Pink (2012, p21)

Social Media Ethnography

“The everyday life of the social media ethnographer involves living part of one’s life on the internet, keeping up-to-date with and participating and collaborating in social media discussions. This is not simply a virtual experience but is connected to the material world in important ways.” Postill and Pink (2012)

“Tagging web contents was integral to his day-to-day research activity. The routine consisted of attaching keywords such as ‘activism’, ‘social media’ or ‘protest’ to contents he bookmarked on Delicious and, less frequently, on his research blog. Delicious was central to John’s research. By 20 December 2011 he had stored over 3,700 bookmarks coded with more than 4,000 tags (keywords). The rise of tagging (de Kerckhove,2010) raises questions about the changing nature of field notes in the digital era. One intriguing question is how extensive tagging may shape the fieldwork process.” Postill and Pink (2012)

 “It is not just that online formats have the potential of a global reach but that they provide an opportunity to think about how we conceive of the on-line format as a place to think the form of sociology differently, imagining ‘texts’ that are compounds of word, image, sound and text. It is possible to imagine forms of social research that are themselves animated and develop a life of their own within the spheres of the virtual, that produce and provoke further questions.” Back (2012)

Important visual/media/digital researchers:
Sarah Pink
Jon Postill (@JohnPostill)
Dr Paul Sweetman
Richard Rogers
Deborah Upton
David Beer
Les Back


Alvesson, M. (1994) Talking in organizations: managing identity and impressions in an advertising agency. Organization Studies, 15 (4) pp.535.

Back, L. (2012) Live sociology: social research and its futures. The Sociological Review, 60: 18-39.

Back, L. (2009) Portrayal and betrayal: Bourdieu, photography and sociological life. The Sociological Review, 57: 471-490.

Banks, M., & Morphy, H. (1997). Rethinking visual anthropology. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Becker, H. S. (1998). Categories and Comparisons: How We Find Meaning in Photographs. Visual Anthropology Review, 14(2), 3-10.

Becker, H. S., Knowles, C., & Sweetman, P. (2004). Afterward: photography as evidence, photographs as exposition Picturing the Social Landscape (pp. 193-197). London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1986) The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York, Greenwood, 241-258.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice (translated by Richard Nice). Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Bryman, A. (2001). Ethnography. London: Sage.

Collier, J., & Collier, M. (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method (Rev. and expanded ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Collier, M.,  (2001). Approaches to analysis in visual anthropology. In van Leeuwen, T., & Jewitt, C., eds. Handbook of visual analysis (pp. 35-60). London: SAGE.

Grimshaw, A. (2001). The ethnographer’s eye: ways of seeing in anthropology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Grimshaw, A., Ravetz, A., & ebrary Inc (2005). Visualizing anthropology pp. xi, 167 p). Available from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ucsc/Doc?id=10069606

Hammersley, M. (2012) Methodological Paradigms in Educational Research. British Educational Research Association on-line resource.

Hartel, J. and Thomson, L. (2011) Visual Approaches and Photography for the Study of Immediate Information Space. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Ihlen, O. (2007) Building on Bourdieu: A sociological grasp of public relations. Public Relations Review, 33 (3) pp.269-274.

L’Etang, J. (2013) Sports Public Relations. London, Sage. pp. 164.

O’Boyle, N. (n.d.) Obstinacy in innovation: The cultural discourse of advertising. Centre for the Critical Study of Global Power and Politics. Trent University.

Pink, S. (2012) Doing Visual Ethnography 2nd Ed. London, Sage.

Pink, S. (2011) Images, Senses and Applications: Engaging Visual Anthropology. Visual Anthropology: Published in cooperation with the Commission on Visual Anthropology, 24:5, 437-454.

Postill, J. and S. Pink (2012) Social media ethnography: the digital researcher in a messy web. Media International, Australia.

Prosser, J. (1998). Image-based research: a sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London; Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Prosser, J., & Loxley, A. (2008). Introducing visual methods: National Centre for Research Methods Review Paper. Available from http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/420/1/MethodsReviewPaperNCRM-010.pdf

Puttnam, D. (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Schembri, S. and Boyle, M.V. (2013) Visual ethnography: Achieving rigorous and authentic interpretations. Journal of Business Research 66 (2013) 1251–1254

Stanczak, G. C. (2007). Visual research methods: image, society, and representation. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Sweetman, P. (2009) Revealing Habitus, illuminating practice: Bourdieu, photography and visual methods’. The Sociological Review, 57(3): 491-511.

Wagner, J. (2001) Does Image-based Fieldwork Have More to Gain from Extending or Rejecting Scientific Realism? Visual Sociology, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp 7–21.

Wagner, J. (2004). Constructing Credible Images: Documentary Studies, Social Research, and Visual Studies. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(12), 1477-1506.

Weber, S. (2008). Using visual images in research. In J.G. Knowles & A.L. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues (pp. 41–54). London: Sage Press.



Openly self-critical, invite scrutiny

Verstehen (understanding) may be gained

Action research

Idiographic (detail, precise, fine grain)

Own view of the world

Gathers subjective accounts

Multiple interpretations

Conceptual Frame

Own position and experiences

Outsider/insider perspectives

Adaptations of research models

Informs, relates to, is informed by:


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