Research showcase celebrates social sciences

This photo, called Outlook of Shimshal, depicts the recent construction boom in Shimshal, Pakistan.

This photo, called Outlook of Shimshal, depicts the recent construction boom in Shimshal, Pakistan.

When geography professor David Butz wanted to ask residents of a Pakistani village how they felt about a new road being constructed in their community, he brought along a vital piece of research equipment.

A camera.

“We’re distributing cameras, people are taking pictures, we’re downloading them and then we’re interviewing people about their pictures,” Butz said.

Butz and his research partner, Nancy Cook, are using a methodology called autophotography that’s gaining popularity with ethnographic researchers. Autophotography allows research participants to speak for themselves by selecting what they choose to focus on as they take their pictures.

In Butz’s and Cook’s case, residents took lots of pictures of different construction sites and styles, leading to discussions on changing lifestyles, new materials being imported into the community, hygiene and how people relate to one another, among other topics.

“A frequent problem with interviewing is that, while you may be asking open-ended questions, you’re only asking the questions that occur to you,” Butz explained. “There’s always some doubt whether you’re actually getting at the things that are most important to the people who you’re talking to.

“When people bring these pictures, they’ve already mapped out to some extent what the conversation is going to be like, so you’re getting a conversation that’s driven much more by your participants.”

Butz and Cook are now entering the next phase in their project “An Ethnography of the Shimshal Road: Autophotographic Representations of Mobility.” They will now mount an exhibition of the photographs in the northern Pakistani village.

Funding the exhibition is Brock University’s Council for Research in the Social Sciences, or CRISS. The council awards research grants to faculty members through a peer-reviewed process adjudicated by a committee of faculty members.

Ingrid Makus, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, currently chairs the CRISS adjudication committee.

CRISS just celebrated its first birthday by hosting its Research Showcase 2012 on Sept. 27. Butz’s and Cook’s work was one of many highlighted at the reception.

“We hope that this will be an annual event where we not only highlight and congratulate the winners of CRISS awards for the Faculty of Social Sciences, but also celebrate and highlight research in the faculty that is being done,” Makus said.

In the past year, social sciences faculty members reported more than 80 new and ongoing research grants totaling more than $4 million in funding.

Almost 400 books and articles were published or edited by faculty members in social sciences, while faculty delivered more than 450 presentations and talks given at conferences, 200 of which were outside Canada, Makus said.

“This work is interesting, it’s exciting, it’s relevant to the community, and I think we often, as academics, don’t do a good job of telling people what we’re about and telling people the end results of all the hard work we did,” she said.

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