Visual Data and Visual Methods in Social Sciences

Lecturers: K. Lobinger & J. Mengis

Modality: In presence

Week 2: 19-23 August 2024


Workshop contents and objectives

The prevalence of visual elements in our daily lives, such as visual communication in digital and social media, advertising, corporate communication, and video games, underscores the importance for social scientists to handle and analyze visual data proficiently and adequately. Additionally, the widespread availability and user-friendly nature of visual technologies, such as smartphones that enable ubiquitous photography and computing, present promising opportunities for using visual methods when conducting research on social phenomena. In other words, the visual approaches in the social sciences are not only concerned with the analysis of visual data and of visual material. Visuals can also be fruitfully used for research purposes. Both aspects will be covered in this workshop.

The workshop provides an introduction to visual data and visual methods and illustrates the use of different kinds of visuals in the research process, discussing: A) the collection and production of various forms of visual data, B) the analysis and interpretation of visual data, and C) the use of visual methods in research designs. Both quantitative and qualitative as well as mixed-method approaches will be discussed. Throughout the workshop, we will focus on the ethical challenges associated with visual research.


Workshop design

The objective of the course is to encourage critical reflection on the appropriate application of various forms of visual research. The instructional approach integrates both theoretical insights and practical experimentation, offering students the chance to engage in hands-on exploration of specific quantitative and qualitative visual methods, including visual or photo elicitation in interviews, video-ethnography and reflection, visual card sorting, and both quantitative and qualitative visual analysis. Students will be invited to produce and work with own visual data before and during the workshop session.


Detailed lecture plan (daily schedule)

Day 1. Introduction
- Critical introduction to visual research: Why is it useful to apply visual methods and to use visual data in the social sciences? What kind of knowledge regarding the visual mode is required to adequately analyze and interpret visual data?
- Overview of different kinds of visual data in research processes: What are the main differences between researcher-produced and participant-produced visual data? And what are the respective implications for the research process and the relationship between researcher and participant?

Day 2. Ethnographic approaches: photo- & video observation
- Producing visual data for research: What different video- and image- recording practices do we have at hand? How do the ways we conduct the recordings matter for how the object of study manifests itself?

Day 3. Participatory approaches and “creative” visual techniques: Photo/ Video elicitation and card sorting
- How can respondents become active partners in visual research and be engaged in the production (e.g. network-cards, drawing-based exercises) and in the discussion or analysis of video and photographic material (e.g. visual or photo elicitation)?

Day 4. Analyzing visual data: Quantitative and qualitative visual content analysis
- How can we make sense of images and visual data? What can social scientific approaches learn from other analytical traditions?
- From coding to interpretation: How can large and small sets of visual material be analyzed? How to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches of visual content analysis to tackle the large amounts of visual data we encounter in basically all spheres of social life?

Day 5. Video analysis & Conclusion
- Analyzing video data: how can we transcribe video material and how can we make sense of it? What are the most important traditions in analyzing video (e.g., multimodal sequential analysis)?
- Visual analysis and context sensitivity: How to acknowledge for contexts during analysis?
- Conclusion and take-aways related to the students’ own research projects.

This is a tentative schedule. Minor changes might occur, depending on the learning pace of the students and any unforeseen contingencies.


Class materials

Prior to the workshop, students will be asked to perform small visual exercises. The instructions and all the relevant reading materials will be circulated before the start of the workshop.



Students should be familiar with general notions of qualitative and quantitative research and be aware of their different orientations. Students should be interested in research that involving, among others, visual data and visual methods. The indicated readings serve as further references but are not mandatory preparatory readings.


Recommended readings or preliminary material

  • Awan, F., & Gauntlett, D. (2011). Creative and visual methods in audience research. V. Nightingale (Ed.), The Handbook of Media Audiences (pp. 360-379). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Buckingham, D. (2009). “Creative” visual methods in media research: possibilities, problems and proposals. Media, Culture & Society, 31(4), 633-652. doi:10.1177/0163443709335280
  • Heath, C., Hindmarsh, J. & Luff, P. (2010) Video in qualitative research. Analysing social interaction in everyday life. Sage.
  • Knoblauch, H. (2006) Video analysis: Methodology and methods. Qualitative audiovisual data analysis in sociology, Lang
  • Lobinger K. (2017) Visual Research Methods (Online First). In J. Matthes (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods (pp.1-10). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Lobinger, K. (2016). “Creative” and participatory approaches in audience research. S. Kubitschko & A. Kaun (Eds.), Innovative Methods in Media and Communication Research (pp. 293-309). Palgrave McMillan.
  • Mengis, J., Nicolini, D., & Gorli, M. (2018). The video production of space. How different recording practices matter. Organizational Research Methods, 21(2), 288-315
  • Pauwels, L., & Mannay, D. (Eds.) (2020). The Sage handbook of visual research methods. Sage
  • Pink, S. (2013). Doing visual ethnography. Sage.
  • Rose, G. (2023). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. Sage.