Duffy, Kevin P. (2021, December). Using photovoice to navigate social-ecological change in coastal Maine: A case study on visibility, visuality, and visual literacy. Doctoral dissertation (Communication), University of Maine. (Open Access: https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/3495)

Abstract: Media representations of the environment support specific cultures of viewing that can create expectations about how to observe social-ecological interactions in everyday life. While public perceptions may appear, in some cases, to reflect these normative representations, more critical and participatory approaches to environmental research and management have begun to complicate these representations as they are negotiated through intrapersonal, interpersonal, and group communication. Working from a visual cultural approach that interrogates issues of visibility, visuality, and visual literacy, this dissertation theorizes how coastal residents represent their own observations and experiences of environmental change through photography and what impact their views have on the perceived availability, desirability, and feasibility of community responses to change. For this project, I designed and facilitated a multi-stage photovoice project and a Q method evaluation that engaged a small group of residents from the communities surrounding the Bagaduce and Damariscotta Rivers in Maine. Across the three main chapters, I critically and collaboratively analyze the affordances of photography as a research methodology, visual communication practice, and social-ecological assessment tool. In the second chapter, I document the social-ecological changes residents perceived to impact their community and how related interactions were framed as inevitable, manageable, and deconstructive. In the third chapter, I explore how residents used photographs in individual interviews and group discussions and through material and dialogic exchanges to broaden, focus, and shift their meaning-making. In the fourth chapter, I evaluate how the photovoice methodology influenced participants’ perceived development of visual learning and communication skills and discuss implications for photovoice goal attainment. Together, this research indicates that environmental applications of photovoice may inspire resilience thinking through group negotiation of visual meaning and critical reflection on self-other-environment relationships. In turn, this research offers new possibilities for understanding and engaging visual representations of social-ecological change that constitute community experience and influence environmental adaptation.

Kevin P Duffy <kevin.duffy1@maine.edu> is a graduate of the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Maine, Orono, ME (USA).

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