Re/formulating ethical issues for visual research methods

Jenny Waycott, Marilys Guillemin, Deborah Warr, Susan Cox, Sarah Drew, Catherine Howell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper presents six categories of key ethical issues that are important for
researchers to consider when using visual methods in social research. The
categories were identified during workshop discussions with researchers
working across a range of disciplines and using various forms of visual methods.
The categories encompass both familiar and emerging ethical challenges,
including widely accepted strategies for meeting ethical obligations to ensure
participants’ informed consent, to maintain confidentiality, and to design and
conduct research that minimizes harm. Three further categories represent
more novel ethical issues that are particularly prominent in visual methods:
managing fuzzy boundaries around the multiple purposes that visual research
may serve, addressing questions of authorship and ownership of visual products
generated during research, and dealing with representation and audiences
when disseminating research findings. In this paper we reflect on the tensions
these issues raise for visual researchers and consider potential strategies
to address these challenges. By providing practical, grounded examples of
issues that researchers have grappled with when using various visual research
techniques we contribute to a growing discourse regarding ethics in the practice
of visual research. This differs from the top-down approach that often drives the
development of ethical guidelines. While many existing debates focus on specific
methods, projects, or research disciplines, this paper adopts a broad lens to
identify and critically assess ethical challenges that confront visual researchers
working across disciplinary boundaries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-15
Number of pages17
JournalVisual Methodologies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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