Main content area

Unseen potential: photovoice methods in hazard and disaster science

Schumann, Ronald L., III, Binder, Sherri Brokopp, Greer, Alex
GeoJournal 2019 v.84 no.1 pp. 273-289
disasters, focus groups, interviews, risk reduction, roots, social sciences, surveys
While still a nascent field, disaster science is surprisingly methodologically stagnant, often relying solely on traditional surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gather qualitative data. Social science disciplines that have long contributed to disaster research and the practice of emergency management, however, have begun to explore the value of alternative, participatory methodologies and their potential contributions to knowledge generation. In this paper, we discuss one such participatory method, photovoice, and its potential contribution to disaster research. We explore the epistemological roots of the method, lay out the steps involved in conducting a photovoice study, and briefly review previous applications of the method. We then enumerate what we see as topics ripe for exploration using photovoice in hazard and disaster contexts. We suggest that photovoice is an innovative method for capturing understandings of hazards and disasters and for providing rich theoretical insights related to extreme events, which are intrinsically geographical and place-based. Photovoice not only offers policymakers a valuable window into the public’s understanding of issues related to extreme events, it also empowers individuals to consider their own capabilities to reduce risk in their communities and contribute to broader resilience building efforts.