A real eye opener to practiced-based visual research methods, variety of approaches and innovative ideas – a 3-day workshop “Visual prompts and visual methods in multilingualism research”, organized by the MultiLing Research Center at the University of Oslo, Norway, that took place 17-19 June 2019 (and that I was lucky to participate in).
I must confess to my initial skepticism regarding the content and context of this event: visual research methods and language studies brought together… I know, of course, that visual methods are multidisciplinary. However, my initial encounter with VRM scholarship within the discipline of linguistics raised many questions and doubts. These mainly concerned an issue if the methods applied and referred to are, actually, visual research methods (in a way I used to know them). In this context, the Oslo workshop truly enriched my knowledge about VRM. It also demonstrated that VRM can be, indeed, applied across disciplines.
The paper that I found particularly interesting and “absolutely visual” in approach was a study of sign language in a form of auto-driven visual elicitation. Maartje De Meulder and Annelies Kusters used a well-known (in language studies) method of a language portrait (a method that I would have questioned the most, based on my initial readings). However, examples of data that they showed were very reach, with a variety of participants’ approach to the idea of “drawing the language”. In addition, and as a common practice in sign language research, they presented extracts from video interviews. Here, participants could really explain and present their relationship with language(s). I was truly surprised by how the language can be embodied – that was both showed in the drawings of language portrait and in the video interviews.
In addition to many interesting papers, I was also positively surprised by a new format of a material session. It can be understood as a more relaxed and even more engaging variation of a traditional poster session. In this case, presenters were introducing their cases, or actually the methods they applied, in a form of a variety of materials they could have brought to the table (so there was no actual posters, but table-spots with a scholar you could approach for further explanation of her/his research).
In addition to the regular paper, I was also presenting my auto-driven elicitation method of an interactive collage in the material session. A method of an interactive collage, I have recently applied in the fieldwork with Polish-speaking families living in Finland (as part of the ‘WhatsInApp’ project). And again – I was positively surprised by a high interest in both the method and my project. I came to this workshop as a sort of “outsider”, visual scholar with a background in communication studies. I thought I will not be able to find a common language (sic!) with language scholars. And it turned out to be the opposite – actually, here, I finally talked to researchers who are very practice-oriented. They also really kept the focus on visual methods, which I could not always observe with my visual cultures/studies colleagues on some other occasions. At the “Visual prompts” workshop there were, of course, some papers and discussions that I was not able to follow and engage in, having no background in linguistics. Nevertheless, these three days were very refreshing and particularly important in bringing new ideas and motivation for my further fieldwork in the ‘WhatsInApp’ project.