The Development of Visual Sociology: A view from the inside

Douglas Harper


This paper is a reflection by one of the founding members of the IVSA (International Visual Sociology Association) about the events, ideas, social trends and revolutions within sociology that contributed to development of visual sociology. In 2016 the IVSA entered its 34th year and the author has been a participant in the organization for its full duration. The paper details the importance of documentary photography in the early era of visual sociology. During this era key papers by Howard Becker contributed to the intellectual movement’s original intellectual definition and created a pedagogical model that has served as a model for teaching visual sociology to this day. Moving from visual sociology as a method based on black and white photography, the discipline embraced and developed collaborative methods including photo elicitation and photovoice. A parallel track of visual sociology focused on the analysis of the visual dimension of society, drawing on semiotics and cultural studies. More recently visual sociology has begun to explore the rapidly changing meaning and social function of photographic imagery, as cameras and images have become ubiquitous in the cell phone era.

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