Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Caroline B’ Category

Participatory Video, Community & Learning Disabilities

November 4, 2011


Using steady wings Sarah films Eddie and Malcolm in the kitchen of Cana House

The use of visual research methods is often celebrated as a useful method in participatory research.  But what happens when the research centres on vulnerable people, including people with quite profound learning disabilities?  How can you conduct participatory research in these communities?  Are visual methods appropriate?

During the research for my MA dissertation I had to confront all of these issues.  I spent the summer of 2011 with the community of L’Arche Kent as part of the research for my MA thesis.  My research explored concepts of home and community, and how it is within these structures that the community enables an environment of acceptance and equality for people with learning disabilities that is so rarely achieved in the wider society.  The final product of my research was a dissertation in two parts: the film Living Together (above) and a written thesis (read it here).

Filming with Sarah at Cana House

Who are L’Arche Kent?

Part of the wider L’Arche International community (5,000 people in over 130 different countries), L’Arche Kent is a community of over 100 people with and without learning disabilities living in six houses across Kent.  The severity of disability in the community varies from mild with only minimal support needs to profound with intensive one-to-one, or sometimes two-to-one 24-hour support needs.  The ages in the community range from 0 – 60 something, and right now there are people from 17 different countries in the community.

Evidently, if I wanted to conduct inclusive research in such a community I had to use a method which not only cut across age barriers, but which was also understandable to people from different countries as well as accessible to people of many differing abilities.  Which meant I needed a very accessible research methodology, something that would enable participation by even the most disabled people.  And so I decided upon video.

Why Video?

Video lent itself to this research because of its flexibility and the number of ways it encourages participation between the researcher and the people they are collaborating with.  It also meant I could produce a final version of the research which was accessible to the community.  Video really lets people take part in a way that more traditional research methods do not.  This is especially true with people who are non-literate and / or non-verbal, or with learning disabilities of varying degrees, who may not be able to undergo long conversations or interviews.

Video still from ‘Living Together’ – Geoffrey cooking

Cameras, video and TV are a part of everyday life here in the UK, and as such are understood and understandable to the majority of people.  Add to this the flexibility that filming provides  and we start to see some of the advantages of using this method: I had people filming me, filming themselves, filming each other, putting on plays for the camera (alone and in groups), directing me and each other, interviewing me and each other, helping in the editing, taking part just by being in the room and occasionally shouting suggestions.  People borrowed cameras to film their own lives; some people simply enjoyed watching what was going on.  The beauty of a camera (both still and moving) is the number of people who want to take part.  And because people were having fun it made my research really easy  – I had no issues with access, no problems with getting people to take part and most importantly no issues of people feeling disconnected and therefore exploited by the research.  This also meant that the community  had equal ownership of the project.  All of these meant that most people within the community wanted the project to succeed as much as I did, which made a huge difference, and helped balance the ethnographer – informant relationship in their favour.

Using Steady Wings to improve accessibility

Using steady wings Sarah films Eddie and Malcolm in the kitchen of Cana House

Using Steady Wings, Sarah films Eddie and Malcolm in the kitchen of Cana House

One of the major factors helping make video accessible in my research was the use of Steady Wings.  Designed by filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, Steady Wings are an amazing piece of equipment which offer a range of filming possibilities outside of the traditional norms.  You can see them in use during Sarah’s portions of Living Together – nearly all of her filming was done using this equipment.  In my research they helped make a camera easy to use for less mobile people, and less intimidating for many others – having the camera mounted on a set of Steady Wings allowed people to easily hold and move with the camera, pass it amongst themselves, or simply explore different angles and views – offering different views of the world, smoother movements, and the freedom to play without worry.  They took the worry out of handling unfamiliar equipment and made it fun, and ultimately led to a much greater involvement by some of the disabled members of the community than I originally imagined possible.

Video still from ‘Living Together’ – Caroline showing me her room

Of course as with any research there are some aspects of using film that need care and consideration: informed consent was a concern; ensuring people understood what was happening was sometimes challenging, although not as challenging as managing the expectations of some members of the community who thought they were going to become famous Hollywood stars following my time in the community, and the one problem that I did not forsee was the difficulty in getting back some of the borrowed cameras at the end of the research period!  Whilst some have argued that any research with vulnerable people is exploitative, I personally believe that so long as proper care and consideration is taken, these issues are no more complex in conducting research with people with learning disabilities than with any other group, and in fact film offers quite the reverse, allowing people to speak for themselves, rather than have others speak for them.

I really enjoyed my time with L’Arche Kent.  As well as being integral for my MA thesis, the filmed work has enabled me to produce a number of shorts which L’Arche Kent are using on their website, and I continue to be involved in the community.  My findings on home and community made a contribution to the literature, but in the end the learning I will take away from this was that research in difficult circumstances becomes, if not easy, then at least possible, if you use a method that allows people to be involved as much as possible and to feel really involved.  I’m not sure there is a better method than video for this, but that point remains open to debate.

Rehearsing Reality: Land Rights and Culture amongst the Landless in Brazil – Nina Simoes

April 10, 2011


In her film Rehearsing Reality, Nina Simoes explores the lives and faces of Brazil’s Landless Movement and their struggle for land at the point of interaction with Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, a technique that breaks with the conventions of traditional theatre by transforming passive beings into active participants of a theatrical scene. As part of the Film & Advocacy Series, Nina Simoes participated in a Q&A on the 2nd of February 2011 concerning the above issues.

Arctic Advocacy: A Hugh Brody Retrospective

March 25, 2011


A retrospective examination of Hugh Brody’s life in Film and advocacy. Presented as part of the Film and Advocacy series, hosted by Visual Anthropology at the University of Kent, 26 January 2011.

AV articles in AV journals. It’s about time.

February 20, 2011


A new online journal using audio-visual material has recently been launched by Harvard University called Sensate. It’s worth taking a look at. This is one of a couple of peer-reviewed audio-visual journals appearing (for example Journal of Visual Experiments is a peer-reviewed video journal from which the video articles can be viewed and referenced as a normal academic text), and hopefully will be a trend that continues; for academia to remain stuck in text when the world around us is evolving and changing means not only that we risk being old fashioned by not keeping up, but more importantly, that we risk continuing elitism and exclusion of people outside academia. Maybe some disciplines like this, but for anthropology, which grounds itself so centrally in the lives of people, and especially for visual anthropology, which offers outstanding opportunities for public engagement in anthropology, it seems detrimental. I hope this trend continues and we see an expansion of the kind of work not only valued by academia, but also made public and engaging.

Playing with Light

February 3, 2011


Vodpod videos no longer available.

1st collector for Playing with Light
Follow my videos on vodpod

Film and Advocacy – Hugh Brody – Jan 26 2011

February 1, 2011


Kicking off the Film and Advocacy series for 2011 was Hugh Brody, with a retrospective look at his career and his work in filmmaking and visual anthropology.  Below are some photos from the evening.  At some later point, there will be a podcast to download and a film of the event, but this has yet to be edited!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Advocacy & Film Screening – Hugh Brody, posted with vodpod

‘Seeing is deceiving’? Interesting article on sound in rock engravings

November 8, 2010


I fell upon an article earlier which looks at the way rock engravings, far from being simple visual representations, have a far more sensual aspect to them, in which sound and feeling is as important as vision, at least within the San of Southern Africa.  It’s very interesting, and well worth a look:

Ouzman, S. (2001) ‘Seeing is deceiving: Rock Art and the Non Visual’  World Archaeology Vol 43(2) – Archaeology and Aesthetics (october 2001).  Pp 237 – 256.

Collaboration in photography

November 5, 2010


Diagram exploring the relationship between the photographer and the subject
Diagram exploring the relationship between the photographer and the subject

Photographer - subject relationship

Can a photo ever be the material realisation of the relationship between photographer and subject? This diagram explores the relationship between the subject and the photographer, and whether it can ever meet in the middle and become a true collaboration, or whether some vestige of power always still remains with the photographer?  I’m just not sure…

Practice media upload

October 27, 2010


Enjoy the photo of Canterbury Cathedral while I learn to upload media into the blog:

Canterbury Cathedral

Caroline B

October 27, 2010


Photo of Caroline B

Caroline B

MA Visual Anthropology – University of Kent 2010 – 2011

MSc Forensic Anthropology – Bradford University 2005 – 2006

BSc Anthropology – UCL 1997 – 2000

Well – how do I introduce myself?  It’s almost impossible, except to say that I am continually curious about the world and how people live in it.

Having worked in the past as a forensic anthropologist in Iraq, Bosnia and the US, I have become aware of a disengagement (perhaps only in myself, but who knows where else) with communities.  I want to re-engage, hence my return to academia. Studying visual anthropology seems to offer me an opportunity to push anthropolgical boundaries, try new technologies, and offer an engagment with public anthropology that I think can only be a positive thing.

My research interests are wide and varied, but some in particular are; forensic anthropology, mass grave investigation; ethics of forensic anthropology, local effects of international intervention, mental health, the body and movement, subversions of the body, death, dying and the memorialisation of death, children and their cognitive development, gender, new technologies, and subversive dissent.