Vignetthnographies. A DIY visual technique for fast ethnographies

<intro> With Helen Thornham we have been thinking and experimenting with concepts, methodologies and techniques (what we like to call methodological prototypes). One of our projects, in the last couple of years, comprised a series of “fast ethnographies” in hackathons, hacklabs and apps-development companies. We have addressed the concepts of fast innovation and creative thinking in the staging of these events, trying to think about them in terms of disruptions. The second stage of this project consisted in funding, through the Communities and Cultures Network +, a series of events to intervene critically in the configuration of these events (by not setting a goal for example or prioritizing collaboration rather than competition). I did participant observation in one of these events in Sheffield, a Wreckshop organized by Alex McLean from the University of Leeds and Jake Harries in the interesting space he leads: Access Space. Besides my notes and audio interviews. I did a 10 minutes video interview with Paul Granjon on the concept of Wreckshop and then edited a 5 minutes video with some images from the event (see below)….

<Note 1> the concept of vignette is very suggestive because, as someone interested in photography, it works in two different ways. Vignette could mean a small illustration, sketch or brief description of something but in photographic argot; it could also refer to a technical affordance (or defect indeed) that obscures certain parts of the images (usually the margins). This mechanism is usually used for photographers in order to bring attention to a particular area or element in the image.

<Note 2> If we combine this double meaning of vignette, in conjunction with visual methods and fast ethnographies of specific events, we could discuss the possibilities of something that I call “Vignetthnographies”. These ethnographic vignettes could be helpful to illustrate a specific point focusing on certain aspect of it, to introduce our informants in conference presentations or to think about new ways of presenting our ethnographic work. I’m obviously aware that this is what visual anthropology and documentary film-making have been doing forever. My main point is that these visual vignettes have two particular characteristics: they are not intended to give holistic explanations but rather a single important element in our ethnographic inquiries. And the second is that they can be done using a different speed, production resources and technical expertise (I did this one with my phone). These “Vignetthnographies” could be easily shared and could also be part of a different strategy for ethnographic data collection or relationships in the field. Becoming ethnographic filmmakers may require some things that are probably out of reach for a number of social scientists but doing “vignetthnographies” seems to be within the possibilities of many of us having a mobile phone.

One thought on “Vignetthnographies. A DIY visual technique for fast ethnographies

  1. Pingback: A Vignetthnography of artists (in the wild) | Imagenaciones

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