Picture this: Exploring photovoice as a method to understand lived experiences in marginal neighbourhoods.

Authors: Juliet Carpenter*, Oxford Brookes University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Qualitative Methods, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: community, photovoice, arts-based methods, creative practice, urban planning
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Scholars in the social sciences are increasingly turning to research questions that explore everyday lived experiences, using participatory visual methodologies to promote critical reflections on urban challenges (Mitchell et al, 2017). In contrast with traditional research approaches, participatory visual methods engage directly with community participants, foregrounding their daily realities, and working towards collaborative knowledge production of participants’ situated experiences. This participatory turn in research intersects with growing interests in urban planning around community participation in collaborative planning and effective ways of engaging ‘unheard voices’ in a planning context, particularly in marginalized neighbourhoods, using arts-based methods.

This paper aims to critically examine the potential of participatory visual methodologies, exploring how the method of photovoice (Wang and Burris, 1997) can reveal otherwise obscured perspectives from communities in marginalised neighbourhoods. Based on a case study in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver, Canada, the research considers whether and how creative participatory approaches can contribute to giving a voice to communities, and if so, to what degree these methods can impact on a city’s ability to build more socially-sustainable futures.

The research shows that photovoice can potentially provide a means of communicating community perspectives, reimagining place within the framework of participatory planning processes to those who make decisions on the future of the neighbourhood. However, the research also demonstrates that there are limitations to the approach, bringing into sharp focus the ethical dimensions and challenges of participatory visual methodologies as a tool for engaging with local communities, in an urban planning context.

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