Visual ethnography: Achieving rigorous and authentic interpretations

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • nd

    g hisigd vandtiverch

    te and credible methodology inauthentic interpretations inioneerh co-ak as earacterad andereas cmer cn, cons

    cultural turn (Rose, 2001, p. 5) this paradigmatic shift includes an

    pictures of real people consuming Nutella. From another analyticalperspective, Grow (2006) uses visual methods to study the mediated

    ways, consumer experience and (brand) consumption is demonstrated

    Journal of Business Research xxx (2012) xxxxxx

    JBR-07490; No of Pages 4

    Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

    Journal of Businuptake of visual methods as an effective means to study the construc-tion of social life through social practice. The premise of this form ofsocial study is that different groups in society will make sense of theworld in different ways and that these varying meaning structuresdirect the way people behave.

    Demonstrating the value and meaning of the Nutella brand andbuilding on the earlier work of Muniz, Albert, and O'Guinn (2001),

    as central to the cultural construction of social life in contemporaryWestern societies. Accordingly, Rose (2001) argues that researchersincreasingly regard cultural constructions as the primary analyticalfocus. Visual text therefore, is a window on the world of consumerexperience.

    1.1. Describing reality and consumer experience

    Cova and Pace (2006) for example, show hof consumption holds a particular meaning wworld as understood and shared by the m

    Corresponding author. Tel.: +61 407 969 143.E-mail addresses: (S. Sch (M.V. Boyle).1 Tel.: +61 7 3735 7704, +61 457 426 356 (mobile)

    0148-2963/$ see front matter 2012 Elsevier Inc. Alldoi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2012.02.021

    Please cite this article as: Schembri, S., & BBusiness Research (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jbhave started to shift thetly understood. As the

    narratives that reect the cultural and social experience of luxury asdepicted on the big screen. Analyzing visual text in these variousmessy and accordingly, many social scientistsway social life is studied and consequenVisual ethnography is an appropriathe quest to achieve rigorous andmarketing and consumer research. As pMargaret Mead, in conjunction witbravely put visual technology to worgraphic analysis of the Balinese cha1942). Within the Balinese culture Meand documenting native culture, whand consumer researchers study consu

    As a social and cultural phenomenos of visual anthropology,uthor Gregory Bateson,rly as 1942 in a photo-(see Mead & Bateson,Bateson were studying

    ontemporary marketingulture.umption is complex and

    construction of community life within the world of Nike women'sadvertising. Using a semiotic analysis of 27 Nike print campaignsthat were implemented across a 10-year period, Grow (2006)shows how the advertising creatives effectively reect the culturaland social experience of women in an authentic manner where story-telling is the bind. Another study analyzing visual text but using ahermeneutic approach and contextualized in 50 years of James Bondlms, Cooper, Schembri, and Miller (2010) uncover a range of brand1. Introduction community. The depth of detail is in part achieved by using visualdocumentation with Cova and Pace (2006) incorporating realVisual ethnography: Achieving rigorous a

    Sharon Schembri , Maree V. Boyle 1

    Grifth Business School, Grifth University, Nathan Campus, Nathan QLD 4111, Australia

    a b s t r a c ta r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 1 May 2011Received in revised form 1 September 2011Accepted 1 November 2011Available online xxxx

    Keywords:Marketing researchConsumer researchVisual methodsVisual ethnographySocial constructionHarleyDavidson

    Visual methods have a lonused to gain a depth of inapproaches. As a rigorous anand consumption as socialimmersion serves as an effecas well as disseminate reseation of Schembri (2009).ow Nutella as an objectithin the online Nutellaembers of that online



    rights reserved.

    oyle, M.V., Visual ethnograpusres.2012.02.021authentic interpretations

    story in ethnographic research and ethnographic methods are increasinglyht and understanding not achievable with traditional marketing researchalid research method, visual ethnography enables documentation of marketingcultural phenomenon. Visual text collected through the process of culturaland credible research tool in the quest to collect and analyze empirical evidencendings. As a case application, this paper builds on the ethnographic investiga-

    2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    ess ResearchAssuming the interpretive focus of ethnography and the descriptiveoutcome of ethnographic research, Bryman (2001) considers ethnogra-phy as a creative process in experiencing, interpreting, and representingculture and society. The subjectivity of experience and the multiplicityof reality are implicitly fundamental assumptions. More specically,ethnography as an interpretive methodology assumes that reality issocially constructed alongside a non-dualistic ontology, where person

    hy: Achieving rigorous and authentic interpretations, Journal of

  • 2 S. Schembri, M.V. Boyle / Journal of Business Research xxx (2012) xxxxxxand world are considered inseparable. This underlying philosophydirects how to conduct (visual) ethnographic research in that theresearcher aims to come as close as possible to the phenomenonunder investigation, through themember's eyes and in this case, visuallyrecorded.

    Ethnography is the study of culture and ethnographic descriptionsare creative endeavors that allow researchers a window to the worldof a particular culture. Ethnographic knowledge is typically achievedvia eldwork involving participant observation and in situ interviews.Combining these traditional eldwork techniques, with the additionof visual technology, generates ethnographic knowledge in the formof visual text. World renowned anthropologist and strong advocatefor visual research methods Sarah Pink (2009, p. 97) asserts, [T]heuse of visual and digital methods and media in ethnographic researchis now common practice. Evidence to this effect in the eld ofconsumer research is provided by Pealoza (1998) employing visualandmaterial cultural approaches in attending to the design, architectureand accoutrements of the market spectacle in relation to culturalmeaning. Also presenting a visual ethnography, Schembri (2009)demonstrates the use of visual text as a credible researchmethodwithinmarketing and consumer research where the validity of a collaborativeand reexive approach is shown to maintain integrity throughout theresearch process.

    A collaborative approach to visual research assumes the researcherand member consciously work together to produce visual images thatare authentic representations of the research context (Pink, 2007).Collaborative visual documentation combines both researcher andmember interpretations, thus representing a negotiated outcome(Pink, 2007). At the extreme as a postmodern twist, collaborationmight also entail members' handling the camera and taking the leadas to what is recorded and how. Taking digital photographs and lmare tasks that members might identify with. Indeed, some membersmay be avid photographers or may offer technical hints in otherinstances. In this way, the visual images and technologies themselvesbecome commodities of exchange and sites of negotiation (Pink,2007). By the researcher releasing control and allowing members tohandle the camera, this visual expression effectively captures theconsumer/member view. For example, Schembri's (2009) ethno-graphic investigation of the experiential meaning of HarleyDavidsoninvolved members voluntarily taking on camera duty. One member inparticular lmed a ve-day 4000 km (2485 mi) ride of about 30members travelling from Wollongong NSW to Ayres Rock (Uluru),Northern Territory, for an annual rally. This member also interviewedfellow members about their HOG experience. In this way, collabora-tion between researcher and participant enhances the validity ofethnographic knowledge.

    Participants engaged in the documentation process become partnersand collaborators in the negotiation of experiential meaning. Capturingcultural experience with visual text therefore allows a transformativepotential (Pink, 2007). Recognizing this transformative potential inemploying the visual within ethnographic research highlights the needto take a reexive approach throughout the research process. A reexiveapproach underlines the centrality of the researcher's role as researchinstrument (Pink, 2007) as the researcher is intimately involved in theproduction and representation of ethnographic knowledge (Silverman,2001). In order to arrive at an authentic description reexive researchersideally focus on the member's subjective reality in terms of how themember experiences the world, rather than how the researcher seesthe phenomenon. This inter-subjectivity then enables a negotiated ver-sion of reality, a validated interpretation, and effectively the generationof authentic ethnographic knowledge (Bryman, 2001).

    1.2. Analyzing visual text

    The analytical approach to visual research aims to explore the

    meaningful links between the research experience of the culture

    Please cite this article as: Schembri, S., & Boyle, M.V., Visual ethnograBusiness Research (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2012.02.021under investigation and ethnographic knowledge generated, includingvisual text. Just as there is no set method for organizing ethnographicresearch in terms of specic evidence collection and analytical processes,visual ethnographers also develop appropriate systematic modes andmanners, as the project unfolds. Analysis is concurrent with and drivesevidence gathering and although eldwork ends when the researcherleaves the site, the process of analysis continues until there is no moreevidence to consider (Sayre, 2001). Taking a reexive approach inattending to the analytical process involves organizing eldnotes,transcribing interviews, and arranging the visual text in a meaningfulway.

    Researchers repeatedly review the different forms of text, includingvisual text to identify themes or patterns of behavior (Mead, 1995).Similar to the treatment of written text, visual text is compared,contrasted, and sorted into categories until a particular aspect of theculture is identied. Segmenting and shifting the text around (withvideo editing software) into relevant and meaningful units that hold aconnectionwith thewhole cultural experience is the goal of this analyt-ical process. Sayre (2001, p. 189) explains, sorting eld notes andtranscriptions is like organizing your closet everything goes intopiles of like kind; socks with socks, trousers with trousers, shirts withshirts and so forthafter an initial sorting, each pile can be sortedagain; dress socks from athletic socks, jeans from dress slacks, and T-shirts from tailored shirts. Sorting and resorting text, including visualtext, in this way categorizes the evidence according to an organizingsystem that derives from the evidence itself. While this inductiveapproach may not be a simple task, a depth of understanding thecontext is achieved via cultural immersion in order to capture anauthentic interpretation. For this reason, the analytical process beginsduring the early stages of eldwork and continues beyond exit of theresearch site. As Wolcott (2009) explains, a more astute place to getgoing with analysis is in the eld with some basic questions that in-clude: What is going on here?, How do things happen as they do?What do people in this setting have to knowin order to do whatthey are doing? ((Wolcott, 2009, p.37)). Such questions guide the ac-culturation process and aid the analytical focus. From there, initial cate-gorization begins with the identication of a few broad categories thenrened as more specic categories.

    What enables researchers to read cultural experience and interpretvisual text is the process of cultural immersion, as per authenticethnographic research. Within this process Sayre (2001) suggests thateldwork involving visual text provides a means of documentation,description, and disclosure for eldwork. Still images and/or videogra-phy enable recording and documentation of the happenings, eventsand artifacts (Belk & Kozinets, 2005); the camera is a tool for membersto document and describe an experience where images and visualmaterial potentially encourage member disclosure.

    Key events, for example, provide a lens through which to view aculture because cultural symbols and language indicate what theculture entails. The use of photographs or lm to record these keyevents, symbols, and use of language therefore achieves a documen-tation of the cultural experience. Just as anthropologists visuallydocument eld nds, marketing and consumer researchers can visuallydocument (consumer) cultural evidence. As well as a tool of documen-tation, the camera can also facilitate description, in this waymaking theaudience empathize, feel, imagine and recognize human conditions(Belk & Kozinets, 2005). Just as the camera is a valuable tool, visualaspects and material objects within the culture are also valuable toolsto elicit disclosure from members. In Pealoza's (1998) research, shegenerates insight regarding how the arrangement and position ofdetailed personal stories of once underdog but now professionalathletes transcend physical and mental challenges. These stories incombination with strikingly beautiful images stimulate not just feelingbut thinking and action by consumers as they process and relate tothese personal stories. In Schembri's (2009) study of the meaning of

    HarleyDavidson, the prominent cultural object eliciting disclosure is

    phy: Achieving rigorous and authentic interpretations, Journal of

  • 3S. Schembri, M.V. Boyle / Journal of Business Research xxx (2012) xxxxxxthe bike. Given that Harley ownership enables membership in this(HOG) culture and customization of the (HarleyDavidson) bike isconsidered evidence of commitment to the culture, the bike can beinterpreted as a symbolic artifact demonstrating the enactment ofcultural values and the transcendence of both gender and stereotype.

    Martin, Schouten, and McAlexander (2006) unearth the hyper-masculinity of the Harley subculture through feminist theory andfemale voices, thus adding a complexity and richness to the under-standing of an evolving subculture including motivation and behaviorsof womenwhowant to expand the power and reach of their femininity.Dialogue and visual text addressing the different aspects of this culturalartifact therefore generates valuable ethnographic knowledge. Visuallycapturing member conversations about the central cultural artifactseffectively enables the researcher to discover the essence of the culturalcontext and the experientialmeaning of different phenomenon of inter-est to researchers and scholars. Notably however, who says what aboutwhat, whom, and how, has political implications when a visual accountis the ethnographic outcome.

    1.3. The political implications of...


View more >