Exploring Ethical Issues When Using Visual Tools in Educational Research

  • Doria Daniels
Part of the Social Indicators Research Series book series (SINS, volume 34)


In the visual as well as word-orientated world that the qualitative researcher increasingly finds herself in, a critical stance about ethics and its relation to qualitative data-gathering methods is long overdue. The growing popularity of technology and the user-friendliness of cameras and videos have led to an increase in the use of visual-oriented tools. Consequentially, critical reflection by the researcher about what is ethical, and what is right in the behaviour of researchers when collecting and using visual images in educational research, is needed. Due to qualitative research not being associated with physical manipulation or intrusive measures, an assumption could be perpetuated that its processes pose no or minimal risks to participants. However, witnessing how identifiable visuals of vulnerable populations are being shown during dissemination of findings in the public domain, has led me to question the ethics of such practices. In a world of litigation, defamation of character and misrepresentation, educational researchers have to be knowledgeable about ethical concerns that are raised about trust within the research relationship and the rights of those who are depicted in the photographs. This chapter provides an overview of the merits of visual-oriented tools in research contexts where the researcher has to cross into an unfamiliar culture, ethnicity and language. It follows with the ethics concerns that should guide the decisions of using visual data methods in research. Lastly, the author reflects on the ethical challenges that researchers face when analysing visual data.

Ethical issue and practice Visual research method Educational research Critical reflection Risk to participant Right of participant Informed consent Participatory photography 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arvay, M. (1998). Struggling with re-presentation, voice and self in narrative research. . Cited on 10 April 2002.
  2. Babbie, E., & Mouton, J. (2001). The practice of social research . Cape Town, South Africa: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Banning, J. H. (1997). Assessing the campus' ethical climate: A multidimensional approach. New Directions for student services,77, 95 - 105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berg, B. (2004). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences,5th edition. Toronto, Canada: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  5. Beyers, P. (1964). Still photography in the systematic recording and analysis of behavioral data. Human Organization, 23, 78-84.Google Scholar
  6. Bogdan, R. C., & Biklen, S. K. (1992). Qualitative research in education . Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  7. Brems, C. (2002). A comprehensive guide to child psychotherapy . Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Google Scholar
  8. Case, C., & Dalley, T. (1990). Working with children in art therapy . London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Chomsky, N. (1969). Should traditional grammar be ended or mended? Educational Review, 22 (1), 5 -17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collier, J., & Collier, M. (1986). Visual anthropology: Photography as a research method. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  11. Daniels, D. (2003). Learning about community leadership: Fusing methodology and pedagogy to learn about the lives of settlement women. Adult Education Quarterly, 53(3), 189 -206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daniels, D. (2006a). Who will be the shade of our tree when you leave? Collaborating as women to advance community emancipation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 37(3-4), 257-265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Daniels, D. (2006b). Using visual methods to bring marginalized people to the center. In S. B. Merriam, B. C. Courtenay & R. M. Cervero (Eds.), Global issues and adult education: Perspectives from Latin America, Southern Africa and the United States, (pp. 129-142). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  14. Douglas, K. B. (1998). Impressions: African American first-year students' perceptions of a predominantly white university. Journal of Negro Education, 67(4), 416 -431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ellis, J. B., & Earley, M. A. (2006). Reciprocity and constructions of informed consent with indigenous populations. International journal of Qualitative Methodology, 5 (4), Article1. . Cited on 20 October 2006.
  16. Finley, S. (2005). Arts-based inquiry: Performing revolutionary pedagogy. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research, 3rd edition (pp. 681 -694). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  17. Fowler, M., & Fry, S. (1988). Ethical enquiry. In B. Sartor (Ed.), Paths to knowledge innovative research methods in nursing (pp. 145 - 163). New York: National League for Nursing.Google Scholar
  18. Goodwin, C. (2002). Practices of seeing visual analysis: An ethnomethodological approach. In T. Van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.), Handbook of visual analysis (pp. 157 - 182). London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  19. Guantlett, D. (2004). Using new creative visual research methods to understand the place of popu-lar media in people's lives . Paper for IAMCR 2004, Audience and reception studies section. Cited on 24 August 2006.
  20. Harper, D. (2000). Reimagining visual methods: Galileo to Neuromancer. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd edition (pp. 717 - 732). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  21. Hood, C. A., Hope, T., & Dove, P. (1998). Videos, photographs, and patient consent, British Medical Journal, 316(7136), 1009-1011.Google Scholar
  22. Israel, M., & Hay, I. (2006). Research ethics for social scientists: Between ethical conduct and regulatory compliance . London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  23. Klopper, L. (2007). Mediating adolescents' insights into shared traumatic experiences through drawings . Unpublished dissertation. University of Stellenbosch.Google Scholar
  24. Knafo, D. (2004). Living with terror, working with trauma: A clinician handbook . Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  25. Liamputtong, P. (2007). Researching the vulnerable: A guide to sensitive research methods. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  26. Lykes, M. B. (1997). Activist participatory research among the Maya of Guatemala: Constructing meanings from situated knowledge. Journal of Social Issues, 53(4), 725-746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lynn, N., & Lea, S. J. (2005). Through the looking glass: Considering the challenges visual methodologies raise for qualitative research. Qualitative research in Psychology, 2, 213-225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Nagar, R. (2002). Footloose researchers, ‘traveling ’ theories, and the politics of transnational feminist praxis. Gender, Place and Culture, 9(2), 179 -186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pauwels, L. (2000). Taking the visual turn in research and scholarly communication. Visual Sociology, 15, 7-14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Peacock, J. L. (2001). The anthropological lens . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Pink, S. (2006) Doing visual ethnography: Images, media and representation in research, 2nd edition. London: Sage Publications. Google Scholar
  32. Piquemal, N. (2001). Free and informed consent in research involving Native American Communities. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 25, 65-79.Google Scholar
  33. Preskill, H. (1995). The use of photography in evaluating school culture. Qualitative Studies in Education, 8(2), 183-193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Prosser, J. (1992). Personal reflections on the use of photography in an ethnographic case study. British Educational Research Journal, 18(4), 397 -41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Prosser, J. (1998). Image based research: A sourcebook for qualitative researchers . London and-Philadelphia: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  36. Riessmann, C. K. (1993). Narrative analysis . Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  37. Schwartz, D. (1989). Visual ethnography: Using photography in qualitative research. Qualitative Sociology, 12(2), 119 -154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sekula, A. (1975). On the invention of photographic meaning. Artforum, 13(5), 36 -45.Google Scholar
  39. Taylor, L. (2002). The ethnographer's eye: Ways of seeing in modern anthropology. Review article. American Anthropologist, 104(2), 653-655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wang, C., & Burris, M. (1994). Empowerment through the photo novella: Portraits of participa-tion. Health Education Quarterly, 21(2), 171 -186.Google Scholar
  41. Weaver, K. (2007). Ethical sensitivity: State of knowledge and needs for further research. Nursing ethics,14(2), 141 -155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ziller, R. C.(1990). Photographing the self: Methods for observing personal orientations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Doria Daniels
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology, Faculty of EducationUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations