Failure as Learning: Photovoice as Methodology in Research with Marginalised Young People

Karolina Gombert, Flora Douglas, Karen McArdle, Sandra Carlisle


An unpublished pilot study at a charitable youth organisation in the North East of Scotland found that young people (aged 16 to 25) accommodated by the organisation consumed a diet high in sugar and low in levels of foods such as meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables (Perry, 2013). The Foodways and Futures project (2013-2016), combining ethnographic and action research methodology, set out to explore why the diet of young people was sub-optimal, despite the organisation having a number of support services in place that would—it was perceived—encourage better eating habits amongst the young people housed within the organisation. Photovoice (PV) was identified as a participatory research method that was suitable, and that would encourage young people to participate as co-researchers in the investigation. However, despite young people getting involved in other research methods that were employed in the study, PV was generally not taken up as anticipated. This article explores how the method was employed, and argues that what could be deemed the ‘failure’ of PV instead may be interpreted as evidence of young people’s awareness and sensitivity about the potential judgements of others on personal food choices. In this sense, poor uptake of PV actually reveals much more about young people’s lived experiences than the data that it generates. The use of PV as a research method is therefore powerful, in that it allows participants to indicate, through inactivity, their sensitivity to ‘discourses of blame’.

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