Visual methods for protest movement research
Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology Leibniz University Hannover Hannover, Germany
Social scientists work with a widely elaborated "set of tools" analysing protest events or movements. Very common are interviews, questionnaires, content analysis of documents, case studies, observations etc. All these methods have strengths and limits.
Hardly unrecognized are visual methods in protest (movement) research. There are only few studies focusing on visual protest material (i.e. posters, banners, logos) or other visual aspects of protest events. However, there are good reasons to introduce visual methods for analysing protest material in order to recognize the research potentials they offer:
1) Especially if "triangulation" (Uwe Flick) is seen as an improvement of research quality, visual methods will contribute to an advanced methodological analysis. Visual protest material offers a sensitive and fertile access to comprehend protest events or movements.
2) Visual methods also provide a more direct access to protest discourses because the protesters often visualize their topics and arguments in banners, posters, logos etc. Mass media texts or reports, in contrast, are mainly produced by observers of the protests.
Visual methods allow two approaches to protest material:
The former implies the interpretation of the meaning of visual protest materials which is close to text interpretation. Thus visual signs or symbols are interpreted like texts.
The latter focuses on the arrangement of visual protest material which goes one step further than the first one. Whilst the first approach questions what is the meaning of the visual protest material the second asks how they are produced.
The concept of this visual method was introduced by Erwin Panovsky, an art historian who discovered homologies within a sample of diverse paintings of the same time period. Panovskys concept has been transferred into sociology in order to study visual material produced in everyday life (i.e. Bourdieu 1990, Bohnsack 2008).
The presentation starts discussing the visual methods of these studies, and how to implement them in protest (movement) research. The research potentials of this method, and how they are to be applied to visual protest material will be demonstrated by two examples: a) comparing political stencils and posters, and b) protest material conducted during Anti-Hartz IV protests in Germany.