De-centering the text: Exploring the potential for visual methods in the sociology of food

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Power, Elaine
sociology of food , visual methods
In our culture, the image has become more powerful than the word, and perhaps more than ever, both social agents and social researchers “know more than we can say” in words. Yet sociological knowledge production and representation remain firmly rooted in text. In this paper, I argue that visual methods, such as film, photography and video, can expand knowledge production in the study of food and society, and represent that knowledge more richly and forcefully. In their capacities to evoke the sensual, non-rational, and material aspects of life, visual methods are well suited to the study of a subject such as food, which encompasses social processes from the embodied and tacit experiences of preparing and consuming food, to complex global configurations of power. I begin with the limitations of logo-centric sociology. Concentrating on photography, I move to a brief history of this method in sociology and discuss epistemological issues related to the contemporary post-foundationalist practice of visual sociology. Finally, I turn to a discussion of three main types of visual research activities: producing visual images; collaborating with research participants to produce visual images; and examining pre-existing images.
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