Visual Data and Visual Methods in the Social Sciences

Jeanne Mengis is Associate Professor of Organizational Communication at the UniversitÓ della Svizzera italiana (USI) where she directs the Institute of Marketing and Communication Management (IMCA). She is also an associate fellow at Warwick Business School (UK) where she collaborates with IKON, the research unit on Knowledge, Innovation and Organizational Networks. Jeanne's work aims to foreground how communication constitutes organizing and how material actors, such as objects and space, mediate this process. She focuses mainly on cross-disciplinary collaboration, innovation and knowledge work with her more recent projects adding to the understanding of how coordination and identity translation are achieved in situations of temporariness and when organizations have a limited spatial extension.

While the research contexts of Jeanne's studies vary (e.g. cultural organizations, healthcare, biomed), her methodological approach is mostly ethnographic, building not only on classical observation, but also on visual methods such as video-based methods and photo-ethnography. Jeanne published her work in journals such as Organization Science, Organization Studies, Organizational Research Methods, Organization, or Social Science & Medicine. Prior to her current engagement, she was a post-doctoral visiting fellow at Warwick Business School and Boston University, School of Management and a visiting fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Katharina Lobinger is Assistant Professor for Online Communication at the Institute for Communication Technologies (ITC) at the UniversitÓ della Svizzera italiana. Her main research interests include networked photography, digital culture, ethics for the digital age and creative research methods. She is chair of the section "Visual Communication" of the German Communication Association (DGPuK) and editor of the forthcoming "Handbuch Visuelle Kommunikationsforschung" [Handbook of Visual Communication Research] published with Springer.

Katharina obtained her Ph.D. in Journalism and Communication at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna in 2010. She was awarded the Doctoral Dissertation Award "Media - Culture - Communication" for her doctoral thesis "Visual Communication Research" published in 2012 with Springer. Before moving to Lugano, she was Post-doctoral Researcher at the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI) at the University of Bremen (2011-2016), Associated Junior Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies (HWK), Delmenhorst (2014-2016) and doctoral researcher at the University of Vienna (2006-2010).

Workshop contents and objectives

The pervasiveness of visuals in everyday life (e.g., visual forms of communication in digital and social media, in advertising and corporate communication, in video games) not only makes it necessary for social scientists to be able to handle and analyze visual data adequately. The readily availability and the ease of use of visual technologies - e.g. of smartphones and thus of taking pictures and making videos ("ubiquitous photography" and "ubiquitous computing") - also provides 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 focuses on the use of different kinds of visuals in the whole 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 approaches will be discussed and a particular emphasis is put on the combination and integration of quantitative and qualitative approaches. Further topical issues such as ethical challenges related to visual data and the effective use of visuals in the presentation of research results will also be discussed. Generally, the course aims to invite to a critical reflection on when to draw on what types of visual methods. It also aims to provide students the possibility to experiment with specific quantitative and qualitative visual methods first hand (e.g. visual or photo elicitation in interviews, video-ethnography and reflection, card sorting, quantitative image type analysis) and to enhance their skills in visual methods.



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.

Background Reading