Newsletter of ISA (International sociological association) – Research Committee on sociology of migration, Spring 2011.
We live in a world of images and sounds. We are all confronted directly in our daily life with lots of images and sounds produced and mediated and distributed by various channels such as the internet, radio, television, cinema, newspapers, exhibitions, DVD, etc. There is a huge literature coming from the sociology of communication and media that explains and analyses the process of production, diffusion and reception of those images and sounds and how they can affect our social behaviour. It seems obvious that all the images dealing with migration have to be related with the attitudes of the general public towards migration and migrants. Remember the clusters of Albanians on a boat on their way to Italy on the front page of Time in 1991. It really affected opinion and encouraged the fear of invasion that developed not only in Italy but elsewhere in Europe and in the world. More recently, images of the exodus provoked by the changes of regimes in the Arab world have also fuelled the same fear of invasion of Europe at least.
Since we live in a world of images and sounds, it is surprising that so few of us use images (photographs, films, videos, drawings) in the process of constructing academic knowledge about migration, integration and ethnic relations. Of course, some of us select carefully the cover picture of our books. Some of us even use photographs and maps to illustrate our arguments. But generally, very few of us use images (still or moving) in the process of research itself. A visual sociology of migration barely exists. My point here is not to say that we should stop writing articles and books to engage in the production of sociological films (not simple documentaries!). What I would like to convey is that it would be useful to discuss what we could gain from different uses of images in the process of research and also beyond, in making our results public.
Provided that we have a solid theoretical framework and clear research hypotheses (what filmmakers usually don’t have!), I see at least two advantages of producing images, especially films, in the process of research. First, producing images with research subjects can be a fruitful methodological device in order to produce detailed qualitative data on the migration process seen from their subjective point of view but also common analysis involving the researcher and the researched. Second, besides our usual academic publication tasks, presenting the results of our research in film form can make them more attractive to a wider public and even to policy makers.
Obviously, my argument goes beyond the field of the sociology of migration and ethnic relations, but I am convinced that for us a deep reflection on it would be welcome, in collaboration with our colleagues from visual anthropology.