Accepted Paper:

Classroom Pictures: Eliciting attributions of cultural difference with primary school pupils  


Susan Guerber (Zurich University of Teacher Education)

Paper short abstract:

Photographic representations of classrooms worldwide by Julian Germain serve as a visual foil against which Swiss pupils articulate their notions of what constitutes cultural difference in the classroom. Constructions of normalcy can be analysed on the basis of their comments on the photographs.

Paper long abstract:

This study of primary school childrens' perceptions of normalcy and deviation, cultural otherness and sameness within the everyday school setting of the classroom takes a novel approach on photography as a research method within the research field of educational anthropology, using photography as an art form in collaboration with the social sciences.

Applying the photo elicitation method (Douglas Harper, 2002) in an adapted form, the reception of the classroom photographs by the English photographer Julian Germain by primary school students in Zurich, Switzerland is of central importance to this approach. In Germain's photographs the real space of the classroom and the image space overlap. Due to the two-dimensional nature of the photographic representation the constructedness of the spatial and social setting of the classroom becomes ever more evident. An in-depth look at these visual representations of children of the same age in their classrooms in different countries allows the pupils to gain a de-familiarised access to the everyday setting of the classroom. This, I assume, sharpens or alters the perception of their own, presumably familiar classroom environment. While looking at the photographs and discussing them with their peers, the children are being filmed. On the basis of their comments constructions of normalcy can be analysed. How do they relate the photographs to their own everyday school experience? What looks foreign and strange to them, and why? What attributions of cultural difference can be identified?

I will discuss methodological issues and analytical findings on the basis of filmed sequences.

Panel P28
Photography as a research method