ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Exploring domestic kitchen practices using visual methods

Wendy Wills

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 9 - Law Building, Room 102
Date: 2012-07-12 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-05-28


Many domestic kitchen practices which might contribute to food safety are tacitly enacted therefore exploring them requires making the familiar strange and looking at phenomenon that may otherwise be unremarkable or remain undetected. Such practices might include the opening of a fridge door, the turning of a tap and the touching of utensils, appliances and other objects. This paper reports on how visual data are being collected alongside verbal and written data, in a UK Food Standards Agency funded project which aims to gain a better understanding of the relationship between practices, technology and design. Whilst others have focused on the ‘sayings’ produced through everyday practices this study also emphasises the ‘doings’ of kitchen life through its use of observational and visual methods and its analytical gaze. This addresses the epistemological issue of solely using what could be called ‘proxy’ measures (like interview data) to draw conclusions about what people do on the basis of what they say they do, without also actually observing what happens. This is important in terms of developing a more nuanced understanding, grounded in participants’ experiences, about the breadth of what constitutes kitchen practices
The ‘go along’ ethnographic method was chosen as it involves a mixture of participant experience, observation and talk between researchers and participants. The researcher and members of participating households created a spatial map of each kitchen which showed the position of key technologies, eating areas etc. The researcher and the participating households also took photographs of the kitchen which raised issues about data ownership and privacy between household members and the researcher.
We also filmed video footage to further explore the kitchen story of each household which was a co-production between participants and the researcher. In the paper we describe the decisions which were made prior to and in light of our pilot fieldwork experience to ensure that the recording, documenting and analysis of video data met a range of ethical requirements to do with ‘who consents to what’ in a study where the whole household is involved.