Digital, Visual and Multimodal Methods

Author: Carey Jewitt

MODE recently held a one-day event to explore and map current visual and multimodal methodologies for researching digital data and environments and to identify some key challenges, interdisciplinary synergies, and directions for the future development of this methodological area.

The day brought together academics working with and researching the digital, visual and multimodal from across a range of disciplinary contexts within the arts, and social sciences with a focus on art and design practice, architectural practice, branding and consumer culture, business management and accounting, childhood, health and well being, learning, performance, and work-place interaction.

A series of short 5 minute presentations by participants on methods captured the diversity of methods, perspectives and ideas across disciplinary boundaries within this area, including: Symbolic Interactionism, Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis; Feminist and cultural theory; sociology of culture; social informatics; textual analysis (drawing on arts); critical visual and discursive methods; digital curation; experimental methods in performance and design; visual ethnography; multimodal sensory methods; semiotics and so on.

Working in small interdisciplinary groups and then collectively we built a collaborative map of this methodological terrain, mapping concepts, influences and methods, and emergent themes.  We discussed many common themes and issues: ethics and the visual, gains and losses of different approaches, the value and possibilities of observation as a method in a digital multimodal environment, the use of video as a research tool and issues of distancing and removal of the researcher (the ‘absent digital ethnographer’) and using video as ‘video interaction guidance’ (e.g. moments of attunement); the mess of methods; the place of culture and how to explore it; and the continued theorising of the place of the material in the digital multimodal research method and process. As an interdisciplinary team we also explored the place of theory in the research process, making, visualising and designing as research itself, and the embodied character of meaning and research as a process. Three themes were highlighted as a focus for further work in the area of Digital, Visual and Multimodal Methods:

  1. More work to better understand how to manage and exploit the connections across concepts of communication, action and experience and the possibilities for bringing together methods from perception and interaction
  2. The need to look beyond the visual and multimodal to sensory methodologies for capturing the sensory character of interaction in digital contexts (sound, smell, touch and so on)
  3. A renewed focus on methods to get at affect and emotion from a visual and multimodal approach.
  4. The need to identify and showcase, push and develop visual and multimodal methods of dissemination and publication.
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