Using video in research, arts practice and everyday life

I use video, and other visual methods, a lot in my research because they often seem to work really well in the context of researching the experiences and perspectives of very young children. Certainly in my doctorate, which looked at the experiences of two and three year old children in museums, expecting the children to tell me what they thought about the museum rarely worked, but letting them show me what was interesting to them, through actions, was a much better approach.

One of the most interesting things about using video and other visual methods in social science research is the way in which video can mean different things to different people. This was something I had a chance to explore further through Community Arts Zone, an international project looking at the intersection between arts practice, literacy and community. I have recently written a paper with colleagues from this project, in which we discuss the ways in which video making meant different things to the different researchers, families, children and artists involved in the project. Hadfield and Haw (2012) discuss varying “video modalities” researchers use to capture different types of knowledge exhibited in a research study. The idea of a video modality is helpful because there is a continuum of approaches to the use of video in research from technical transcription that is granular and detailed and amore comprehensive, perhaps more holistic approach which depicts senses in-play, material features and social interactions. Certainly “using video in research” means a lot of different things to different people, and video / film is also differently positioned and understood within arts practice compared to research. We discuss these differences and give an overview of some of this literature in the paper.

My strand of the research project involved a series of family den building events in a local community, in collaboration with artist Steve Pool. Steve built the dens with the children, and I was a participant observer during the sessions. Steve and I also both recorded lots of the action on hand held video cameras. One of the things that really struck us when doing this fieldwork, was the everyday nature of handheld digital recording devices (particularly on mobile phones). Here are some examples:

  • At one point, I looked up during the den building activity and noticed the number of cameras pointed at the den. Steve and I were using the video cameras, staff from the community organisation were taking photos for their own publicity, and most of the parents were also taking still photographs or video of their children playing in the den.
  • At another point, my hand held video camera got taken off me by a baby, who wanted to hold it to her ear and say “hello”. To this baby, the camera was a phone. Certainly partly this was because the two things are a similar shape, but also from the babies’ point of view, they fulfil an identical function – collecting still and moving visual images of everyday life.

Riviere (2005) has argued that photography on mobile phones is a “new photographic practice” (p.165) with different social qualities, compared to traditional photography. Separated from the camera (a rarefied object with a dedicated purpose), photography and video on mobile phones are seen as more immediate, spontaneous, affective and temporary. I think it is fascinating to think about the implications of this for visual methods, particularly with children and in communities. On the one hand, being filmed and photographed is a more familiar experience for children than it once was. On the other, if video acquires this new social meaning with a spontaneous “in-the-moment” quality, rather than a record for posterity, what are the ethical implications for visual research?


Here is the reference to the full paper we wrote on these issues. If you have trouble accessing this paper, please do contact me and I can send you a copy.

Abigail Hackett Steve Pool Jennifer Rowsell Barsin Aghajan , (2015),”Seen and unseen: using video data in ethnographic fieldwork”, Qualitative Research Journal, 15 (4), 430 – 444



Hadfield, M. and Haw, K. (2012), “Video: modalities and methodologies”, International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 35 (3), 311-324.

Riviere, C. (2005), “Mobile camera phones: a new form of ‘being together’ in daily interpersonal communication”, in Ling, R. and Pederson, P.E. (Eds), Mobile Communications: Re-Negotiation of the Social Sphere, Springer, London, pp. 167-186.

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