Photography, sociology & anthropology

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Janet M. Chernela

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

William E. Maguire

Third Advisor's Name

Manuel Torres

Fourth Advisor's Name

William T. Vickers

Date of Defense



An analysis of the social research done to date using photographs shows that photography, although used both in anthropology and sociology for data collection, as visual evidence and illustration, in photoelicitation or in time-studies, has not been fully exploited as an aid to see further and deeper in the social arena. Most social researchers still perceive photography as being simultaneously too complicated as a research aid and too creative and therefore unscientific to use as a research method.

This project is exploratory and argumentative and not directed towards the formulation of a model. I propose that the camera is the proper tool to obtain more precise, detailed, and complete date, to uncover and clarify meaning, to investigate and clarify the research question, and to help in the presentation of the results of social investigation. Therefore the camera should become more accepted as a tool for the modern social researcher notwithstanding its creative component and even because of it. Indeed, as any individual in a culture oversaturated with images, although trained to observe precisely and record objectively, the social scientist has learned to see only a few v things while editing and blocking out the rest. The camera, because of its ability to record the world with richness of detail, is the proper tool to obtain a more precise and more complete visual documentation, which is essential for an accurate reconstruction of meaning.

Lastly, I propose that the sociologist-anthropologist who accepts the challenge of integrating photography in his work should become also a skilled photographer, cultivating with practice the ability to intuitively perceive potential opportunities that may escape direct observation and developing a visual and emotional acuity that bridges the gap between intuition and the physical limitations of human perception. This new skill seems to be the result of an inner propensity to visual investigation combined with photographic practice and systematic studying of the history of photography and represents a jump of sophistication in the use of photography in more creative ways in social research, both conceptually and technically.

In looking at the body of work produced in visual social research as well as in photographic social analysis, it seems that the most successful and compelling outcomes have been produced by authors who explored the unique opportunities of in depth analysis offered by the synergy of images and text to conduct a social, autoethnographic or psychological discourse. This appears to me a most promising area of development for the immediate future of visual social research.



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