Module 3: Digital visual and sensory ethnography approaches- working with research participants

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At the heart of any ethnographic research is the attempt to reach new understandings about people and their lifeworlds. This necessarily includes and draws on many different technologies and diverse examples of design, together with feelings, thoughts, memories and forms of anticipating possible futures. The complex and dynamic nature of the experiential world means that ways of investigating it must be able to attend to its emergent qualities, and also be alert to the insights that complicate the initial research questions. Moreover, there are many practical challenges of working with research participants, including the recent hurdle of researching in conditions of physical isolation.

Positioned in the middle of the week-long program, this Module builds on the previous sessions to consolidate a distinctive methodology based on digital, visual, sensory and design approaches. The characteristics of this methodology have been foreshadowed in the previous Modules: a focus on ethics, the importance of collaboration, the creation of new research materials that can open new routes to understanding, and the ongoing emergence of analytical themes that often reach beyond what research questions can fully anticipate. It also links to subsequent Modules, foreshadowing the discussion of methods that support research through explicit intervention, and remaining mindful of the diverse applications and audiences for research processes.

In addition to considering the principles of methodology of design ethnography, students will learn about a range of techniques, their benefits and challenges, and the analytical insights they can support. The videos cover a wide range of methodological concepts coupled with practical examples.

  • Presented by Sarah Pink, several of the videos reflect her own development of visual, digital and design ethnography in the context of ongoing collaborative research activities.
  • This includes material on remote ethnography, particularly relevant to the current challenges of a global health pandemic, as well as methodologies that can account for the unknown in ethnographies of the future.
  • Kari Dahlgren details her use of ‘comic book scenarios’ that invite participants to imagine possible futures and thereby help develop technologies appropriate to their needs.

Learning outcomes

  • How working with research participants demands a research methodology that is ethical, collaborative, flexible and open.
  • A range of different techniques for digital, visual and sensory approaches to design ethnography.
  • Ways of accounting for uncertain futures as part of ethnographic research, and how this links to a similar future orientation in design research.

Digital ethnography

Visual ethnography

Digital design ethnography

Remote ethnographies

Futures Ethnography: Practice, responsibility and ethics in encountering the unknown

Accessing Ethnographic Futures Through Comic Strip Scenarios

Reading list