« What you can’t say, you can show »: the benefits of photo-elicitation interviews

In our contemporary society, image is omnipresent and constitutes a way of communication sufficient unto itself. Therefore it seems logical to ask how can we use visual material when collecting data from consumers. Fortunately, visual anthropology hasn’t waited for Instagram or any other visual applications to do so and offers us many methodological considerations since the 60s. Louis César N’Dione and Eric Rémy remind it to us in an article published in the Recherche et Application Marketing review.

In their paper, the two researchers invite us to learn how to place visual material (in that case photography) in the center of the elicitation process of discourses and verbal exchanges between researchers and interviewees. The objective is to collect a quality material that is anchored in the sharing and the co-construction of personal, rich and mutual thoughts.

Establishing a flexible social relationship and embracing the interviewee’s view on the world

The authors explain the theoretical background of the method by tracing its founding works and invite us then to discover its characteristics. The first essential one lies in the triangular dimension of the photo-elicitation method. The researcher and the interviewee gather around a photo. In doing so, they break the dominant position of the researcher and establish a more flexible relationship, more collaborative in nature. Another characteristic is the personal construction of a world view that the interviewee can share through photography.

Learning to select photographs and to stimulate elicitation

The execution of the method takes up a large part of the article that allows us to be rapidly initiated into the method, more particularly to the photo-essay phase, i.e., the selection of photographs that will support conversation.

There are three types of visual production:

  • The interviewee decides on the selection of photographs
  • The researcher decides on the selection and classification of photographs with the intention of producing a discourse
  • The researcher and the interviewees co-produce the corpus in an iterative process in order to explore social phenomena through individual interpretations; this intermediary type is more flexible and is called photo-voice

Then the authors explain how to implement the conversational process during the interview phase and help us to discover the vast range of applications in consumer research, particularly in the interpretative paradigm. They use the case of the construction of identity of Senegalese immigrants in France to illustrate the method. They dissect how the photo-elicitation method makes the interviewees produce rich though nuanced discourses to explain their identity and social construction. The authors show us in a didactic way the resources and advantages of the method.

This article helps us realize that the photo-elicitation method encourages the researcher to adopt a more reflexive position. It prevents from a distanced position and privileges the support of the interviewee in co-producing an introspective and interpretive work. César N’Dione and Eric Rémy explain that the phenomenological nature of the method makes it particularly interesting in cultural approaches of consumption like Consumer Culture Theory or  Transformative Consumer Research. Even though we agree on that, this article appears to be of great interest for researchers attached to any paradigm.

N’Dione L.L. & Rémy E. (2018), Combining images and words in order to understand the cultural meaning of practices: What photo-elicitation reveals, Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English Edition), vol. 33, 3: pp. 61-84.

This blog post is adapted from Maud Herbert.

About Julie Leroy

J'adore les méthodologies qualitatives, les recherches en CCT et m'interroge sur le rôle des consommateurs dans les phénomènes de consommation en général..
This entry was posted in Consumption, Market study and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s