Refiguring Techniques: technologies, possibilities, emergence and an ethics of responsibility in visual-digital research

Sarah Pink

In this talk propose and discuss a way of thinking about the contemporary context of digital and visual research confronted by the Refiguring Techniques symposium. Existing, imagined and emerging technologies are creating new possibilities for digital-visual research design and practice. These include new forms of mobility, perspective, engagement, sharing, collaboration and engagement. They are emerging in an environment where scholars and researchers are increasingly called on to, and in many cases wish to, create a more engaged, applied, public or activist way of doing and sharing research. This raises four key questions, which I will open up for exploration and discussion:

  1. What does the technological possible mean for digital-visual research? How do researchers refigure techniques with new and emerging technologies?
  2. What do refigured techniques mean for an ethics of responsibility in digital-visual research?
  3. How can we harness such refigured techniques to engage digital-visual technologies for making or ensuring better futures?
  4. How can this help us to work with other organisations to gain understandings that will enable us and them to better judge how we move on into our digital futures?

Drone Methodologies: Bodies, Senses and Verticality

Bradley Garrett

In recent urban research, scholars have turned their attention to vertical structures and infrastructures. However, where vertical architectures have become sites of discussion as a result, little has been written about how consumer and prosumer drone (unnamed aerial vehicle) technologies are altering structures of access, supply, knowledge and power, broadly conceived, despite the fact that according to the webzine Drone Life more than one million drones were sold worldwide in 2015 alone. This talk will focus on how new aerial sensing technologies are reconfiguring structures in experiential, legal, commercial, social and political demesnes. Through a post-phenomenological lens, I seek to better understand how architectures are systematised around a set of assumptions about what bodies are capable of and how drones, as extra-sensory appendages, destabilize those structures. Capacities to act through the drone are clearly outstripping our capacities to think about what they are capable of, creating improbable socio-technological turmoil, all of which remains undertheorized.

Ethnography through the digital eye: life in the 3D world

Adrian Dyer, Jair Garcia, Shanti Sumartojo and Edgar Gómez Cruz

Eye-tracking technology is opening up more and more detailed ways to study what people look at and for how long, particularly in complex and dynamic visual environments. However, while we might know where people’s eyes are directed, this does not tell us what they notice, how they make sense of what they see, or the surrounding spatial contexts in which this knowledge is constituted. In this paper, we present a series of recent experiments on combining mobile eye-tracking and visual ethnographic techniques, including photography and video. We ask what eye-tracking can tell us about what we see, with a particular focus on its use in combination with other ethnographic methodologies, including what it can reveal about decision-making, what it can reveal about ‘skilled vision’, and how visual and perceptual attention changes when people are performing visual tasks. Based on this, we suggest some possibilities for the uses of eye-tracking methodologies for social science and humanities disciplines.

Cut and paste synaesthetics

Jennifer Deger

Can a book hum? This question becomes a refrain in a presentation remixed from a manuscript-in-progress on Yolngu phone-made media. A cut-and-paste poetics adapted from the book’s digital subject matter claims the possibilities of not just collaboration, but synaesthetic co-creativity. Our design treats text as image, image as pattern, and pattern as worlding force. Through this shared experiment in form we seek an anthropology adequate to worlds that must open outwards and inwards in order to thrive: worlds of sensuous reach and inside meanings, worlds that far exceed the registers of what eye can see, the camera can capture, or what this anthropologist will ever know.

Thinking, Researching and Understanding the World: reflections on the use of i-docs as a tool for (ethnographic) scientific research.

Paolo Favero

Based on my own experience in teaching i-docs within a variety of different academic setting the present papers sets off with the idea of exploring the potentiality of this audio-visual form as a tool for thinking about, exploring and understanding the world that surrounds us. It proposes therefore a shift away from conventional reflections on the potentiality of i-docs as communication tools exploring instead the extent to which i-docs can be considered as proper tools for conducting qualitative scientific research. In my presentation I will pursue a set of different interrelated questions: To what extent can i-docs be used to instigate the production of original research data?; What sort of data can they actually generate?; To what extent can we look at i-docs as an avant-garde form of participatory research?;  How do i-docs dialogue with other forms of visual and non-visual empirical research?  Can i-docs constitute an opening to the senses, and hence  a phenomenological research technique? I will offer concrete examples on how to engage with i-docs based on three main teaching experiences in Portugal, Belgium and India (he diversity of examples will help me also to critically assess the transcultural potential of i-docs). I will also address the integration of other emerging technologies (wearables, etc.) in such practices.

Empathetic Visuality: Go-Pros and the video trace

Shanti Sumartojo and Sarah Pink

Body-mounted action cameras are increasingly used in social science research to account for and understand mobile experiences of the world. At the same time, this technology has prompted a range of new questions about the mobile digital video gaze, the technicalities of video production, the multi-sensory and immersive possibilities of such techniques and the possibility of empathetic co-creation of knowledge between researcher and research participants. In this presentation we discuss recent ethnographic projects that have rested on making and interpreting video footage from GoPro cameras, by both research participants and of our own movements in public environments.

We will discuss the unique perspective that GoPros can offer on understanding mobile, embodied and sensory experience and the empathetic connections between researchers, participants and audiences. We will argue that this requires us to acknowledge video not simply as a representational medium, but as a trace through the world that we move and learn with. Accordingly, we will also consider the empirical and conceptual potential offered by positioning the camera close to or on the bodies of participants (including ourselves) and the resulting intimate video trace that this creates.

Beyond decisive moments: time and sense in digital photography

Edgar Gómez Cruz

Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most influential photographers in history and one of the top urban “street photographers”, in his essay The Decisive Moment, elaborates on how his photographic practice relates to time, ways of seeing and framing. He reflects on the possibilities of the photographic camera to be used as a sketchbook. Revisiting Cartier-Bresson’s essay as an excuse, I build on his thoughts to discuss how technological affordances of digital photography have changed photographic practice. Using visual fieldwork in Japan carried out in June 2016, I discuss the opportunities of the digital to rethink what photography is and how can it be used to expand the horizons of time and senses in social science research.

Careful surveillance at play: human-animal relations and mobile media in the home

Ingrid Richardson, Larissa Hjorth and William Balmford

When we first entered homes to study mobile games in the domestic context, we envisaged our project would focus on humans and various modes of interaction and co-presence. Yet as our research progressed, it became clear that in many homes, humans and their pets are intimately entangled in various forms of digitally mediated kinship. In this talk we consider how this entanglement takes place within the dynamic space of the household, affecting the agencies and spatial organization of the home. First, we review some of the debates surrounding human-animal relations, and look at how the human use of pet wearables can generate non-Anthropocentric understandings of care and intimacy. Secondly, we explore some of the ways that pets become co-involved with humans in touchscreen games, highlighting the cross-species nature of play.

Visual documentation in hybrid spaces: ethics, publics, and transition

Alison Young

This presentation focuses upon research in two ‘hybrid spaces’, the museum and the street. Urban places are conventionally understood by means of a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces. Such a distinction has never been taken for granted by critical geographers, ethnographers, lawyers or cultural theorists, who have complicated the public/ private spatial divide by means of categories such as ‘privately owned public spaces’ or ‘privatised public spaces’. To speak of hybrid spaces takes up these complicated categories and extends them by considering places where the relations between public and private are unclear or shifting. Hybrid spaces usually present themselves as public or private, but combine aspects of both, either in their legal or commercial arrangements or through the mode of interactions and conduct permitted in their locations. In this paper, I will draw upon my research on the street as a hybrid space, and upon research done by me in conjunction with Dr Lachlan MacDowall, in studying modes of design and governance within the space of the museum. In each of these hybrid spaces, digital-visual technologies have been a crucial aspect of our research, prompting consideration of issues around the archiving of transient encounters, selectivity in the analytical process, the truth-values and claims of visual records, and our relation to the image.

In the company of images

Melinda Hinkson

This paper draws upon research with Warlpiri people of the central desert who are currently living in Adelaide 2000 kilometres south of their homelands. Exploring the traumas and pleasures of exile, it hones in on the vital role played by digital mediation in the creative work persons undertake to ground themselves and make home in foreign circumstances. While sharing affinities with the mediated experience of transnational diasporic communities, the Warlpiri context is distinctively characterised by intense mobility and dense communication with kin across distance. Digitised images, sounds and interactions enable forms of sociality and distinctive ways of relating to places to be stretched across an expanded field. In exploring these dynamic and unsettling circumstances the paper reflects upon the central and evolving place of the digital-visual in research that is adaptive and responsive to the transforming nature of human experience.