Visual data in qualitative research: The contribution of photography to understanding the mental health hospital environment

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Byrne, E.
  • Subject:
    mesheuropmc: eye diseases | genetic structures

This thesis presents an in-depth investigation of the use of participatory photography in qualitative research in a mental health setting in one regional area of England, UK. Whilst the field of visual methods has been growing for several years, there are few in-depth explorations of the ways in which photographs taken by research participants are reviewed and analysed. In particular, very few studies have used participant-generated photography with inpatients and staff at mental health hospitals. This study aimed to address these gaps in knowledge. \ud A methodological review of international studies where research participants took photographs as part of the research process was conducted. This included data extraction on 53 papers (52 individual studies) interrogating how photographs were used in processes of data collection, data analysis and dissemination. Several phases of visual data collection with participants from a mental health hospital followed. \ud Following ethical approval, staff and service users [n=17] took photographs of the hospital environment. Focus group, photo-elicitation and mobile photo-interview data were collected between March 2007 and June 2011. Several participants were not interviewed, leaving some sets of photographs with no supporting text. Photographs [n=5] which could not be anonymised, or which had not been developed properly, were removed. All remaining photographs were analysed using a method of thematic visual analysis. This resulted in a thematic visual ‘thin description’ of the hospital environment. Focus group, photo-elicitation and mobile photo-interview data were coded thematically alongside the visual data and interpreted in terms of the discourses they constructed or reflected.\ud Findings centred upon what these visual methods and forms of visual data contribute to qualitative research in the context of mental health hospital environments. It was found that whilst it is possible to construct a ‘thin description’ of the hospital environment using images alone, the addition of third party speculations, interview data and observational notes served to ‘thicken’ this description significantly. In particular, the sensorial nature of mobile photo-interviews enriched the interpretive process by submerging me in the lived experience of the participant, if only for a very short time.
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