What is it about?

Photovoice is a research method that has ballooned in popularity over the last twenty years, in part because it's one of a few creative ways to engage sensitive topics and vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, this very popularity can obscure some of the method's concerning limitations. It also highlights an ongoing lack of similarly creative, adaptive methods in health research. In response, this article seeks to learn from photovoice's popularity and its limitations. It provides an overview of the method's limitations, and discusses its untapped potential. It then offers recommendations for how researchers can build on photovoice to develop new (and more equitable) approaches to health research.

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Why is it important?

If health researchers assume that photovoice is uniquely useful as a research method, they might neglect some of the method's concerns and failures. They might also fail to build on photovoice’s strengths to develop new methods. This article points out that the successes of the photovoice method aren't strictly generated by the method itself. Instead, they have more to do with the fact that photovoice (for example): helps individuals and groups discuss difficult issues, increases participant interest/engagement, provides opportunities for self-representation, offers great dissemination potential, and is generally culturally adaptive. These are important benefits, but there's no reason to believe that this photograph-based strategy is uniquely capable of delivering them. Again, photovoice's popularity indicates that other arts-based strategies (creative writing, music, theatre, etc) must be considered. This article also urges health researchers to “Look for the art already being made.” It argues that researchers shouldn't assume that a new research question always warrants a new entry into a community, or that a new question requires a new arts project. Instead, health researchers can investigate whether existing art in the target population is already providing insight. Otherwise, we "risk minimizing existing community arts assets while…demanding additional labor.” This is not to suggest that all members of every community have equal access to artistic practices, and it doesn’t deny that sometimes, new studies ARE needed to address specific questions. However, equitable practice means that we must be more open to (and more capable of) recognizing, valuing, and supporting the existing ways populations communicate their experiences... And many of these are rooted in local arts and cultural practices.

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This page is a summary of: Reframing Photovoice: Building on the Method to Develop More Equitable and Responsive Research Practices, Qualitative Health Research, February 2020, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/1049732320905564.
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