MA Visual Sociology: The First Year So Far by Rebecca Coleman



The MA in Visual Sociology was launched at last year’s IVSA conference with a plenary session with Bernd Kraeftner, chaired by Michael Guggenheim and Nina Wakeford (listen to the podcast here:, and with a blogpost by Michael Guggenheim titled ‘What was visual sociology?’ (read here:

Positing visual sociology in the past tense (what was it?), Guggenheim argues that ‘we need to get rid of the “visual” as a denominator of the sub-discipline’ in order for sociologists to be able to ‘use whatever media they want – such as writing, audio taping, drawing, or photography – for whatever research question they need to answer’. That is, the ‘visual’ in visual sociology denominates both that this sub-discipline works through visual media and that sociology proper does not, preferring the textual media of writing. Visual sociology should be relegated to the past because sociology should not be confined – because of tradition, caution, and/or audit culture – to texts.

The launch of a new MA in Visual Sociology within this context is, as Guggenheim acknowledges, a rather perverse endeavour. The first cohort of the programme is taking up this task nevertheless, thinking through the visual – and also pushing it into other sensory modes where appropriate. Working with a range of media – photography, film, sound, text, food – and sensory engagements – affects, atmospheres, encounters – they are experimenting with sociological theories, methodologies and practices. These experimentations are developed via their own research interests in areas such as affect, trauma and memory, migration and identity, health and medicine, space, gender and violence, manufacturing, craft, and recycling, and music and public space. They are also developed in terms of course themes, this year on the topics of social mobility (term 1) and austerity and the body (term 2).

What, for example, would be involved in both studying and representing class mobility/immobility through food and cooking? Baking and eating a ‘class pie’, one group answered. ‘A genealogy of a family documented in bread’, responded another. Another group contemplated classroom session tasting food often seen as working class and therefore abject, while another used cooking together as a means of getting to know each other’s routes to the course.

Or, for instance, how could social mobility be documented, sociologically, via visual or inventive methods? Projects addressed this question in a number of ways: a sensory ethnography of cycling in a city; a photographic project on homelessness; a film from the top deck of a bus; a visual and audio project interviewing a building about its own social mobility.

These projects indicate some of the ways in which a sociological imagination can be fostered and extended via methodological experimentation. An exhibition of work around the theme of austerity and the body will be held from Friday 28th March, coinciding with the Sociology Department’s 50 anniversary celebrations (, and connecting with the ESRC Seminar Series on Austerity Futures? Imagining and Materialising the Future in an ‘Age of Austerity’ ( All are welcome.


For more details on the exhibition or on the MA please see the website: or contact Rebecca Coleman (MA Visual Sociology convenor):


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