Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Through Their Lens: The Potential of Photovice for Documentation of Environmental Perspectives among Kenyan Teachers

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Through Their Lens: The Potential of Photovice for Documentation of Environmental Perspectives among Kenyan Teachers

Article excerpt


"Photovoice is a method by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique."

--Wang and Burris (1997, p. 369)

This study explores the potential of a digital photo-elicitation method, photovoice (Wang & Burris, 1994), for understanding environmental sustainability perspectives of teachers in the Narok District of Kenya. The objective of this paper is to share this photomethodology with environmental educators so they may use it as an innovative methodological tool to understand the construction of environmental perspectives.

For years, teachers, scientists, and sociologists have utilized photographs as prompts for learning and understanding their surroundings. However, with the use of this photomethodology, participants take the photographs and use the pictures to describe their understanding of science concepts, which empowers them to make changes in their community (Cook & Quigley, 2013). Developed by Wang and Burris (1994), photovoice is a method by which researchers provide cameras for participants, whose voices are often marginalized, so they may document issues important to them through the use of photography. This technique also offers participants new and reflective ways to perceive their own world and the environment around them. The purpose of this paper is to describe how photovoice was adapted as an ongoing and dialogical methodological tool to encourage teachers in Kenya to document their environment. This methodological tool serves to make environmental perspectives more evident by providing a visual backdrop to the conversation, thus revealing participant development as it occurs.

Attempts to protect and preserve the environment in marginalized or disregarded locales often involve a one-way transfer of both knowledge and materials from a source in a more developed location (Na, Okada, & Fang, 2009). This situation often deteriorates into a short-term donor project, which runs the risk of little or no impact on local the environment. One of the main reasons for this risk is that the 'solution' to the environmental issue is not created or co-created with local knowledge and, because these solutions are necessarily entrenched in perspectives outside to local contexts, there are real and practical confines to the effectiveness. In other words, the process of creating solutions for issues faced in significantly different geopolitical and social contexts is often itself unsustainable. Significant and relevant engagement on the part of local communities in addressing local environmental difficulties is critical in the process of arriving at long-term resolutions of those issues.

Certain communities are often at risk for this subjugation. Often marginalized communities are much more likely to be exposed to a variety of environmental health hazards and environmental degradation (Bullard, 2000). Science, government, and other formal institutions play a critical role in constructing what we know and do not know about environmental situations. These formal institutions create the "knowns" and "unknowns" which eventually become part of public discourse, scientific knowledge, and political views surrounding environmental issues. Scholars (Apple, 1986; Harding, 2005; Lather, 2007) have shown that such institutionally derived discourses fail to acknowledge inequities and cultural contexts, and consequently, render entire communities invisible (Harding, 1991). This can lead to a public distrust for science (Wynne, 2001). Thus, as we embarked on a research project in Narok, Kenya surrounding environmental perspectives of teachers, we sought to employ a research methodology that positioned the participants as co-constructors of the data and knowledge.

Accordingly, we choose a methodology called photovoice, wherein participants take pictures of their surroundings and then write about those pictures to "give voice" to the photographs. …

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