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Design Research


Photovoice :

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is a well-known saying. Or in other words: a photo can be more expressive than an elaborate story someone conveys to you. Photovoice is a method to collect images/pictures/photo’s together with their underlying stories. This is a workable method to give voice to the so-called ‘silent voices’ or ‘tacit voices’ in a given social context.

Photovoice can be used as an intervention instrument to empower people in marginal positions. For instance Wang & Burris (1997) used it to get information of the daily life of illiterate women living in the countryside of Yunan (China) for the development of a regional health project. The researchers provided a number of women with camera’s, an instruction on how to take pictures and an assignment to capture their daily life in images. In the next stage the women were asked to select some of the photo’s they made and to share the underlying story. In the follow-up phase an exposition of photo’s and accompanying captures was arranged and politicians, policy makers and other stakeholders were invited to gain knowledge of the outcomes of the project and start a collective dialogue on potential improvements related to the health project. 

From the example it becomes clear that the concept of ‘silent voices’ is associated with the repressed and/or marginal groups of people in a given society (f.i. women, ethnic minorities, seniors, disabled people). However this phenomenon can be broadened as to include people, or groups of people, whose voice is not heard simply because the members of these groups are not the ones that hold the power (f.i. consumers or kids). In this sense Photovoice, or an adapted version of it, can be interesting for research in the hospitality industry. Of course the notion of empowerment and emancipation is toned down in this context and one could discuss whether it is legitimate to still use the label Photovoice.

Note: within Photovoice it is crucial that it is the respondent who takes the pictures. Research in which the researcher selects the photo’s/images himself and asks the respondent for a reaction on these photo’s usually is called ‘photo elicitation technique’.