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Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials.

GILLIAN ROSE, Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 3rd ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd., 2012, 408 p.

Sociology has gradually taken "the visual" more seriously, as there is growing recognition of the need to come to terms with the importance of images and a wide diversity of visual practices. Yet, there remains little agreement on how we should study these topics, and how the visual relates to more traditional sociological concerns. The International Visual Sociology Association has been active since the 1980s, and we now have a variety of works that can be considered within the field of visual sociology, but methodological and teaching resources have remained limited for those in need of a guide for this terrain. While the coherence of visual sociology as a project or discipline remains questionable, its interdisciplinarity and heterogeneity means that resources from the better developed (but still somewhat nebulous) field of visual culture are often applicable. From among these, Gillian Rose's Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials has proven to be a valuable introductory guide to visual research for over a decade. This third edition has, despite its limitations, much to offer as an introductory text for those approaching the visual from a sociological background.

Visual Methodologies is intended primarily for undergraduate students interested in guidance for a particular visual research topic or for working with a particular set of visual materials. The text can also serve as an introduction for those interested in the broader literature on visual culture. Rose intends the book to be useful both to readers approaching the book as a comprehensive work, and those using it selectively to address particular concerns. For students of sociology, Rose's contribution has limited value in its comprehensive sense, and this is hardly an appropriate textbook for a course on visual sociology. Instead, its primary value is as a resource to inform particular aspects of visual research methodology, and as a starting point for students and researchers unfamiliar with the literature relevant to visual research. Some sections of this book may therefore prove valuable as readings in qualitative research methods or a course more specifically focused on visual theory and visual media. As a whole, Visual Methodologies is most useful for students who are interested in pursuing visual research but are unsure of where to start theoretically and methodologically.

Read comprehensively, Rose provides a cursory overview of many key works in visual culture studies, as well as the keywords commonly associated with them. In addition to covering theoretical approaches, the book includes notable empirical studies from the twentieth century, as well as examples of work on contemporary topics such as digital media and computer graphics. Rose's survey of theoretical classics including Barthes, Lacan, and Foucault remains quite superficial, but can be helpful in identifying which theorists the reader may wish to engage with more deeply. Visual Methodologies does give the reader a sense of the prominent theories and approaches used in visual research, but Rose does not aim for a comprehensive survey, and emphasizes what she finds particularly valuable while also omitting much that another author might include. Rose assesses a variety of theories and methodologies based on the standards she has established for a "critical visual methodology," but this remains more of an evaluative standard than a methodology in its own right. Readers interested in a more focused methodological approach as well as a detailed exemplar of a particular kind of visual research would be better served by Rose's (2010) Doing Family Photography: The Domestic, the Public and the Politics of Sentiment, and those in search of a comprehensive overview of works relevant to visual sociology would still benefit from the coverage provided in Chaplin's (1994) Sociology and Visual Representation.

Read selectively, Visual Methodologies has a number of strengths that can be useful from a sociological perspective. Rose offers a clear guide for narrowing methodological and theoretical choices based on the "site" of interpretation that is of primary interest (differentiated as either the production of the image, the image itself, or its interaction with an audience), as well as the aspects or "modalities" specific to each (technological, compositional, and social). While the chapters on psychoanalytic and compositional interpretation might be of interest primarily to readers in need of a broader overview of the visual studies literature, Rose also discusses semiology, audience studies, and the use of photography in research. Additionally, this edition includes a helpful new chapter addressing ethics in visual research, and is accompanied by a website that features some valuable supplemental links and resources. Readers interested in a Foucauldian approach to studying images or in pursuing visual research as discourse analysis might also want to engage with Rose's chapters on these topics.

The predominant limitation of Visual Methodologies is that none of its particularly valuable sections are sufficient in and of themselves as a guide to the aspects of visual research that they seek to address. The guidance that Rose provides is patchy, frequently sketchy, and should be supplemented with other methodological readings and close attention to theoretical texts. While formalized instructions and directives for qualitative research design are often inappropriate, I find it difficult to imagine how a student could pursue any of the methodologies discussed in Visual Methodologies without consulting additional sources. Therefore, the value of this book is as a starting point for students interested in visual research, and as an introductory overview for anyone interested in visual culture more generally. It is commendable primarily for the breadth of the methodological and theoretical survey that Rose provides, the ideas it is likely to stimulate for students in the planning stages of their research, and the connections it provides to further readings.

It is perhaps unfortunate that no book equivalent in style and purpose exists for a more sociological approach to visual research, but such a book would also have to be selective in its coverage, and would likely still include much of the literature and key concepts surveyed in Visual Methodologies. Instead, sociology instructors searching for teaching materials and students in need of methodological guidance must choose from an array of possible sources on visual research, of which Visual Methodologies remains a particularly prominent example. Thankfully, Harper's recently published Visual Sociology (2012) has addressed this lack more directly, and will doubtless become a valued resource for researchers and instructors. However, with much exciting visual research being published as journal articles and monographs, there are now many exemplars of different sorts of visual research, which can be used as a supplement to, or instead of, a book devoted to research methodology. New media developments also supply us with a constant stream of possible topics for discussion and study, from the implications of the latest graphical interface to the political consequences of recent viral videos.

Rose's Visual Methodologies is not an ideal text for visual sociology, but it is one of many resources that can help students come to terms with what the visual means, and what a sociology that takes the visual seriously looks like. Visual Methodologies is addressed principally to the discipline of visual culture, and maintains some limited relevance to art history. Portions of it will be valuable to students of sociology, but those interested in visual anthropology may also find some overlap with Rose's concerns.

MIKE ZAJKO, University of Alberta


Chaplin, E. 1994. Sociology and Visual Representation. Milton Park: Routledge.

Harper, D. 2012. Visual Sociology. New York: Routledge.

Rose, G. 2010. Doing Family Photography: The Domestic, the Public and the Politics of Sentiment. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
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Author:Zajko, Mike
Publication:Canadian Review of Sociology
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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