Keynote: Chrissie Rogers, Professor of Sociology, University of Bradford
Necessary connections: “Feelings photographs” and doing care-full criminal justice research
Prisons and their inmates are commonly reported in the news media with stories about riots, squalor, drugs, self-harm and suicide hitting the headlines. Prisoners’ families are left to worry about the implications of such events on their kin, while those less able to understand social cues, norms and rules are left vulnerable to deteriorating mental health at best, to die at worst. As part of the life story interview method in my research with offenders and prisoner mothers I asked participants to take photographs between interviews to help us think about and articulate feelings. As it is, seeing (and imagining) is often how we make an immediate connection to something or someone, such that images in fiction, news stories, drama, art works, film and social media can shape the way people think and behave – indeed feel about things. Notably, John Berger, in the 1970s, commented:
'…image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance […] every image embodies a way of seeing' (Berger, 1972: 2).
Moreover, I agree with Jo Aldridge (2007: 13-14), when she says about eliciting photographs from people with LD, the 'photographs command viewers’ attention and, as the photographs have been taken by the participants themselves, they are also absorbing in a personal sense in that they provide direct insight into the experiences of those participants who have taken the picture in the first place'. Images and representations ought to be taken seriously in researching social life, as 'the social conditions and effects of visual objects need to be considered' (Allan 2012: 78) and 'researchers need to account for their own particular ways of looking at images' (Allan 2012: 78). Critically:
'visual criminology brings the possibility of a new rigour and new life not simply to the discipline of criminology but to the key social issues of our past, present and future in its commitment to understanding the power of the image in perpetually mediated worlds of harm, violence, control and resistance in which we exist’ (Brown and Carrabine, 2017: 8).
How we interpret photographs, paintings, stories and television shows is always based on our own imaginings, biography, culture and history (Mills 1959). Therefore, we look at and process an image, a story, an icon, before words escape, by seeing and imagining. How my participants and I make meaning of the photographs taken in storying their feelings, is both unique and insightful and we sometimes have different readings. As it is I want to enable my participants to make and create their own stories via these pictures rather than have their lives completely interpreted via me, although there is that too. Therefore, as we interact with images and stories, we imagine, at the very least. We then make a judgement, or an interpretation. I hope to add the layer of the participant to that interpretation in every photo, every interaction, and every story told. Moreover, I propose that via a care ethics model (Rogers, 2016), if we understand caring relations, while carrying out research, we will aid a deeper understanding of doing care-full research by clarifying different ways of producing knowledge and grasping how the socio-political, as well as practical and emotional spheres merge and facilitate one another. In doing so, we might incite changes that remove oppressive barriers and enable a deeper understanding about ‘hidden’ lives.