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Innovative Digital Technologies and Visual Methods for Social Research

Pre-congress event on 17th and 18th August

Organisers: Lee-Ann Sutherland, Dominic Duckett, Katrina Brown and Petra Lackova of the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group of the James Hutton Institute

Sponsored by the Macaulay Development Trust

Digital technologies and visual research methods are transforming social research and opening up possibilities for new ways of imagining and engaging with the social world. Innovation in both the collection and analysis of data is enabling the unprecedented exploration of multidimensional forms of social life. Computational advances have led to increases in scale with ‘big' and real-time data and making them more available at ever decreasing cost. By crossing the boundaries between disciplines and qualitative and quantitative methodologies, visual methods and digital technologies are contributing to developments in theoretical thinking and practice in social sciences. The deployment of creative methodologies is further shaping new forms of engagement between social scientists and participants, redefining the roles of ‘researcher' and ‘researched'. Against this backdrop, there is a need for social research perspectives to understand how to ground innovative technologies and computer-aided approaches in robust methodologies and sound social theories.

This interactive event will bring together researchers who use visual methods and digital technologies to capture and engage with social life. The workshop will combine speed presentations with posters and provide a unique opportunity to practice using state of the art technologies through demonstrations and practical sessions. 

During the event there will be posters and lightning talks are sought from participants on the following topics:

  • The potential and methodological challenges of visual methods and digital technologies for studying contemporary issues and practising critical analysis in social research.
  • Deploying visual and digitalised methods (e.g. photo elicitation, eye tracking, touchtables, headcams, participatory video, virtual reality headsets) and their effect on the ways in which the environment is experienced and interpreted.
  • The ethics of visual and digital methods (e.g. who consents? whose data?)
  • The uses of digital public engagement and collaborative tools (e.g. participatory GIS mapping) in providing shared platforms for local knowledge exchanges or facilitating discussions around cultural values in decision making.
  • Human and non-human participants as effective co-constructers of research (e.g. through digital or mobile ethnography; livestock electronic identification (EID)).
  • Big data, real-time data, computational content analysis: using new the latest techniques to respond to pressing issues in social research.
  • GIS for participatory mapping; GPS; apps; ipads; drones; games based software; mobile or participatory video; mobile physiology and eye-tracking devices; monitoring tools.

Presentations are optional for participants.  Abstracts will be included the programme for the ESRS congress, and two page papers submitted by 1 May 2015 will be included in the congress proceedings. 

Logistics: The event will run on Monday August 17 and Tuesday August 18 at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. Transport will be provided to and from the James Hutton Institute (to central Aberdeen and the conference accomodation) on both days.  In addition, transport will be provided to the ESRS congress opening ceremonies on August 18.  As a precongress workshop, an additional charge of £20 for academics and £10 for students will be payable through the ESRS registration system. 

Aims and outputs:

  • To position ourselves within existing networks of researchers using visual technologies.
  • To bring together researchers from the James Hutton Institute and from around the world.
  • Explore the current state of the art, methodological opportunities and challenges of using visual technologies in social rural research.
  • A report summing up the discussions and presentations from the event that could serve as a working document for future collaborations will be written.
  • A journal article or special issue utilising the links with the visiting journal editors – collaboration opportunities will be encouraged after the event.
  • Develop ideas for future collaborative research and find areas of potential funding
  • To develop research proposals/applications for collaborative research.

Questions and topic areas

State of the art/cutting edge of the visual technologies field

  • What social theories do practitioners explore/use with the use of visual technologies?
  • What is the mismatch between theory and execution?

​​Methodology and visual technologies

  • What are the methodological opportunities and challenges of using visual technologies to explore social issues in rural environments?
  • What do visual technologies help us reveal about the real world issues that we could not grasp otherwise?
  • What role does participation play in research using visual technologies? How participatory is this research?
  • What is the use and potential for using visual technologies for inter/transdisciplinary research?
  • What are the ethical considerations of using different visual technologies?

Application of visual technologies

The presentations within this precongress event are listed at the beginning of the main working group programme contained here.

Useful literature: