Lecture 6

Understanding Contemporary Society
Lecture and Seminar Programme
Lecture 6 Researching Visual and Material Culture: Images and Objects
as Data
The previous lecture illustrated the importance of numbers and words as data
used by social researchers to describe human life. In recent decades two new
approaches have broadened the range of materials researchers work with to
make sense of social and cultural life. Visual culture studies highlight the
importance of images, material culture studies focus on the objects through
which humans relate to each other and to the wider world. The lecture will outline
these approaches and underline the importance for social research of noticing the
everyday, the commonplace and the taken for granted.
Seminar Reading and Preparation
Extracts from:
Rose, G. (2007) Visual Methodologies, 2nd ed. London: Sage.
Woodward, I. (2007) Understanding Material Culture, London: Sage.
In addition, your seminar leader may ask you to read one of the papers by
Knowles or Hurdley listed below.
As guided by your seminar leader, bring to the class either:
- An image you have taken with a camera/found in the media
- An object from your everyday life
Drawing on the seminar readings, analyse the image or object’s social and
cultural significance.
- How does the object or image tell a story about contemporary social life?
- Does the object or image represent social categories and emphasise cultural
- What is the usual context in which the image or object operates? How does that
context influence the meanings it produces?
Further reading on Visual Cultural Analysis
Knowles, C. (2006) “Seeing race through the lens”, Ethnic and Racial
Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 512-529
Back, L. (2007) “Listening with the Eye” in The Art of Listening, Oxford: Berg (Ch.
Banks, M. (2001) Visual Methods in Social Research, London: Sage.
Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin
Emmison, P. and Smith, P. (2000) Researching the Visual, London: Sage.
Edensor, T. and Millington, S. (2009) “Illuminations, Class Identities and the
Contested Landscapes of Christmas”, Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 1, pp. 103-121
Evans, J. and Hall, S. (1999) Visual Culture: the reader, London: Sage.
Howells, R. and Matson, R. (eds.) (2009) Using Visual Evidence, Maidenhead:
Open University Press
Knowles, C. and Sweetman, P. (eds.) (2004) Picturing the Social Landscape:
Visual Methods and the Sociological Imagination, London: Routledge.
Mirzoeff, N. (2009) An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed. Abingdon:
Pink, S. (2006) Doing Visual Ethnography, 2nd ed. London: Sage.
Schirato, T and Webb, J. (2004) Understanding the Visual, London: Sage.
Stanczak, G. (Ed.) (2007) Visual Research Methods, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2001) Practices of Looking, Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Twine, F. (2006) “Visual Ethnography and social theory: Family photos as
archives of interracial intimacies”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3,
pp. 487-511
See also the special issue section, ‘Working Visually’, in the online journal
Sociological Research Online (2005), Volume 10, Issue 1 available at:
Further reading on Material Culture Studies
Hurdley, R. (2006) ‘Dismantling Mantelpieces: Narrating Identities and
Materialising Culture in the Home’, Sociology, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 717733.
Appadurai, A. (1986) The Social Life of Things, Cambridge: Cambridge University
Benzecri, C. (2008) “Azul y Oro: The Many Social Lives of a Football Jersey”,
Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 49-76
Berger, A. (2009) What Objects Mean: An Introduction to Material Culture,
Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press
Buchli, V. (2003) The Material Culture Reader, Oxford: Berg.
Candlin, F. and Guins, R. (eds.) (2009) The Object Reader, Abingdon: Routledge
Dant, T. (1999) Material Culture in the Social World, Maidenhead: Open
University Press.
Dant, T. (2004) Materiality and Society, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Miller, D. (1997) Material Cultures: why some things matter, London: UCL Press.
Miller, D (2001) Home Possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors,
Oxford: Berg.
Miller, D. (2008) The Comfort of Things, Cambridge: Polity Press
Tilley, C. et al. (eds.) (2006) Handbook of Material Culture, London: Sage.
Tolia Kelly, D. (2004) ‘Locating processes of identification: studying the
precipitates of re-memory through artefacts in the British Asian home’,
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 314329.
Turkle, S. (2007) Evocative Objects, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press