European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry edition:1 location:Leuven date:7-10 February 2017
In this paper we present research methods usable in the absence of sight with the objective of exploring techniques that can allow spatial knowledge beyond vision.
There is a visual dominance in contemporary built spaces neglecting invisibility, i.e. the multisensory integration of non-visual modalities
An example of this ocularcentrism can be found in the visible/invisible duality. Visibility is often thought of as a quality of the visible whereas invisibility is often neglected.
By contrast we propose to re-think invisibility as a quality, arguing that its multi-sensory integration is of main importance given that visibility is temporary, which contrasts with the persistence of invisibility in human perception.
Therefore, we explore invisibility based on qualitative research methods of participant observation, in-person interview and participatory design, developed by the first author in the condition of full blindness.
We identified three useful tools to explore the space of invisibility: photo-ethnography to organise data collection in participant observation, the portable physical model to provide spatial orientation in in-person interviews, and the adaptable modular model to provide flexibility in participatory design studies.
Participant observation is extremely useful for collecting multisensory data from the space under analysis, mainly haptic and olfactory qualities that are difficult to register
The use of photo-ethnography through pictures of the researcher’s hand, selecting through touch a detail of the space, can be useful to create a spacial reference of field observations (see Fig.1). The space’s materiality is conditioned by different physical factors, e.g. the same detail can have a different texture trough its exposure to direct sun light. Therefore it is important to document the exact location of the participant observer’s field observations.
In-person interviews are extremely important to obtain a holistic understanding between the interviewer and the interviewee. Often, the trust given by an in-person interview is essential to gain access to the interviewee’s deeper spatial perception.
The spatial reference provided by a physical model is important as an inclusive tool useful to avoid mistakes regarding the exact locations in both the interviewer and interviewee’s discourses. Moreover the portable model’s dimensions allow a simultaneous exploration by the user’s both hands, it can be more usable for visually impaired people.
In spatial qualitative research, participatory design can be extremely interesting for the researcher’s self-observation during the design process, exploring pertinent questions and feedback from diverse research participants. Therefore an important inclusive tool can be the flexible physical model system (“Lego” modular pieces) providing adaptability and reuse with ecological advantages. In order to facilitate the perception of scale and dimension in our research we developed a new adaptable model system with modular pieces that have a deeper connection with architecture.
The presented qualitative research tools can be useful to researchers in the conditions of blindness and low vision. Moreover they can be used by fully sighted researchers to explore multisensory research methods as deeper qualitative approaches to the space of invisibility.