A simple record or a whole new ball game? The use of film and video in research

Dominic Scott-Malden and Peter Totman
Jigsaw Research, UK


Researchers have failed to address the issues raised by their increasing reliance on the use of film/video. If used to simply to record people's answers to qualitative questions, then it is no more than raw data; lacking narrative, interpretation and insight. If, on the other hand film/video becomes an integral part of the research process, and the 'edit' is seen as a way of interpreting and presenting the findings, then it is a valuable part of almost any project, and may even be more influential than the debrief itself.

Introduction: Commercial ethnography

Commercial ethnography has been around at least since the 1980s, though with its roots going further back, to the academic discipline of anthropology. It is a subject widely covered at conferences and familiar to most qualitative researchers. Ethnographers believe that to conduct observational research in situ is a superior method of research. They believe that to understand people you need to observe them in their natural habitat rather than invite them to research groups, and that this kind of research is therefore more authentic than research conducted out of situ. It would be theoretically possible to conduct ethnographic in situ interviews with just a notebook but in practice many rely on film/video to gather their evidence and present it. A key aspect of ethnography is that it is observational or 'fly on the wall' as a film maker would say. The idea is that the ethnographer minimises his or her presence and simply observes what transpires naturally.