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What is a Visual Vignette?

The issue of representation in research is crucial when considering the form, normativity and power of written words. The role of visuals and graphics ‘illustrating’ such words has received equal attention across various disciplines. This practiced dialectic is also evident in the growing trend to make academic research more accessible and comprehensive beyond the university. From science communication to public anthropology / sociology to public engagement in science and technology, there is a wide range of approaches and opportunities to convey a research topics to a wider audience. It is an opportunity to critically engage in, and rethink the dialectic between visuals and text, and also how it circulates, communicates, and eventually transforms the nature of scholarship.

In a visual vignette workshop, we invite participants to engage with an experimental research dissemination format that combines two genres – the vignette, and visuals (photographs, graphics, etc.). A visual vignette integrates text and image to create short, evocative descriptions of a particular phenomenon, conveyed quickly while providing substantive content. Other than photo essays, this format challenges the order and ‘division of labour’ between words – often as descriptor – and images – as illustrator. Instead, the image may provide the frame with(in) which words are placed: up to 10 frames (image, graph) and 700-900 words.

Here are two dimensions we aim to explore in the workshop, a technical and conceptual: First, how can we reconfigure (already conducted) research into a novel genre of research dissemination by rethinking the role of text and visuals? For instance, in what ways may images be a structuring guidance for our written narrative, rather than the other way around? Second, looking beyond mere dissemination, our longterm goal is to inquire how research production and its very dissemination interlink.

So, rather than separating the research phase from demonstration / communication of its ‘end product’ – in more conventional terms an essay or thesis – we propose that creating the ‘end product’ may itself be an integral part of doing research. As a format that “implicates the relationship between [social scientists] and networked publics formed through dissemination, as well as the discussions and debates that media engender”, visual vignettes can thus be seen as multimodal method, following Collins et al.’s invitation to practice multimodal anthropology (2017, 142). We elaborate on Visual Vignettes (Gugganig and Douglas-Jones 2021) in a chapter and through three curated visual vignettes in the edited volume “Sensing In/Security” (Mattering Press).

Visual vignettes are thus useful in three main stages of research, helping to (1) organize, (2) analyze, and (3) communicate research. As multimodal endeavour, we recognize that these phases are not necessarily linear and neatly separable, but overlap, coevolve, and circle back and forth between different stages. For instance, a viewer of your visual vignette may spark new insights bringing you ‘back’ to organizing, analyzing or communicating your research differently.

Preparation: Workshop participants will bring a short text and related images on a topic they are currently working on, or previously worked on. This can be a shorter version (700-900 words) of an MA thesis, seminar essay, dissertation or other form of writing, as well as  images (photographs, graphics, etc.) that correspond with the topic.

Visual vignettes can be posted on department websites, posted on blogs like this one, hung on department hallways, galleries or cafes, or – why not – turn into street art. A visual vignette can also be printed in a more handy format, as a string of connected postcards that researchers may share with their research participants and interested folks.

In the workshop, we will discuss the visual vignette format, the relationship between the texts and the selected images, and the story participants would like to tell through this format by re-adapting a regular presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint). The resulting visual vignettes will be curated on this website to exemplify and inspire other visual vignettes as innovative form of visual ethnography, creative teaching tool, and/or form of research and research dissemination.



Collins, S. G., Durington, M., & Gill, H. (2017). Multimodality: An invitation: Multimodal anthropologies. American Anthropologist, 119(1), 142-146.

Gugganig, M., & Douglas-Jones, R. (2021). Visual Vignettes. Sensing In/Security. N. Witjes-Klimburg, N. Pöchhacker, & G. Bowker, pp. 215-236. Manchester: Mattering Press.

The Visual Vignette project is kindly supported by: