visual sociology

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Although modern sociology and photography appeared almost simultaneously at the start of the 19th century, their lives have for the most part been quite separate. A few early texts—such as Frederic Thrasher 's The Gang (1927)—used photographs to illustrate the research, but in the main sociologists tended to ignore visual images. This was not true of all other social scientists; for example, many anthropologists worked with visual images and film to great effect, as in Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson 's Balinese Culture (1942), while the documentary film has proved invaluable to social historians.

More recently, however, a branch of sociology known as visual sociology has flourished. Visual sociology usually has one of two major concerns. Much of it uses photography (and increasingly video and film) as a research tool to facilitate the gathering of data. Alternatively, visual images may be used as data in their own right, usually as part of a sociological study of culture, in which film and other artefacts may be examined, often with the aid of semiotics. The recent work of the American interactionist Howard Becker illustrates both developments, pioneering the role of photography in sociology (discussed in his book Doing Things Together, 1986), and observing the nature of art work (in his Art Worlds, 1980). Good overviews of these blossoming interests are to be found in Jon Wagner(ed.), Images of Information (1979), and Douglas Harper's essay on ‘Visual Sociology’, in Grant Blank et al. (eds.), New Technology in Sociology (1989).

Subjects: Sociology.

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