PHOTOVOICE

The subresearch question for photovoice were

  • Why do immigrant women enjoy themselves in certain urban places?
  • Why do immigrant women not enjoy themselves in certain urban places?
  • Why should certain urban places be preserved according to immigrant women?
  • Why should certain urban places be changed according to immigrant women?

With photovoice I tried to gain reasoning for immigrant women’s viewpoints of Suvela. I also wanted to gain more detailed information about their viewpoints with a different kind of media. Because the informants were all new to me in this phase, I was able to check again, if the research data I had got in earlier phases of my case study was aligned with the new research data and vice versa. Therefore photovoice answered anew to the following subresearch questions:

  • Which urban places in Suvela should be preserved according to immigrant women?
  • Which urban places in Suvela should be changed according to immigrant women?
  • In which urban places do immigrant women enjoy themselves?
  • In which urban places do immigrant women not enjoy themselves?

Lastly, I still wanted to see, if there was something left to be discovered about my research subjects – participatory city planning methods and urban places – or if my case study had reached its saturation point according to the grounded theory.

Because I already knew how much work it was to reach the informants, I also knew how much work it would be to make complete strangers to function as a group. Therefore, I decided to utilize existing groups to ease my work. I took contact with Omnia, a workers’ institute, which offers Finnish language classes for immigrants. I thought these language classes would be a win-win solution for participation in my case study: Immigrant women would learn Finnish and I would get my research material. It also turned out that extra pair of hands, ears and eyes was indeed warmly welcomed.

The two groups that I chose, were meant especially for immigrant women who are taking care of their children at home. Both of these groups had their classes at the centre of Espoo twice a week: in the Entresse library on Mondays and Thursdays at 10-11:30 and in the open daycare centre Suviniitty on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30-11:15.

There were twelve immigrant women in each group. However, their amount varied from class to class enormously (see closer the participatory city planning methods in the learning process) and many either dropped out or came along during the semester. A little later on even two men were allowed to attend the Entresse group, because there were still vacant places in the class due to dropouts.

Even though the classes were held at the centre of Espoo, attendants of both classes came from different housing areas in Espoo. Only seven of them lived in Suvela, and during my fieldwork one of them moved to Tuomarila. I managed to get five of these to attend the photovoice fully. They represented the following nationalities:

  • 1 Estonian
  • 1 Egyptian
  • 1 Iraqi
  • 1 Kenyan and
  • 1 Nigerian.

I attended the groups during September, 3rd – December, 10th 2016 altogether 38 times, 20 in Entresse and 18 in Suviniitty. It was not my intention at all to follow the classes so intensely. The reason was that it was not that easy to get the disposable cameras back (find the explanations in the findings of the case study).

The photovoice procedure included the following steps in both groups:

  1. Presentation of myself (1 meeting)
  2. Getting tuned with the group (1 meeting)
  3. Presentation of the assignment and distribution of cameras (1 meeting)
  4. Waiting for the cameras, maintaining the contact with the attendants and getting to know them better (6/9 meetings)
  5. Receiving the cameras (5/6 meetings)
  6. Filling in the background information form (1 meeting)
  7. Distribution of the pictures and discussion about them (1 meeting)

After the class was over I still made an appointment with three women (one Estonian, one Egyptian and one Kenyan) to discuss about their pictures more accurately in personal interviews, because in group discussions there was time to handle only part of the pictures. I also attended the last meeting of both classes to deliver the paper photographs sized 10 cm x 15 cm to the attendants as a memory of their participation.

I presented the photovoice assignment (the step number 3) to both groups in the following way:

  • Presentation: I told about my background as an architect and a researcher.
  • Purpose: I told about my research in a general manner.
  • Assignment: I presented the content of the photovoice assignment with a note that the pictures should be taken outside.
  • Rules: I told that if the pictures include people at close quarters, they have to be asked for a permission.
  • Schedule: I told about the schedule of the assignment.
  • Discussion: I told that after receiving the disposable cameras back and having the pictures developed, we would discuss them together.
  • Deadline: I still told the date, by which the disposable cameras should be returned to me.

I presented the content of the photovoice assignment both orally and in a written form with the following instructions:

  1. ”Take five (5) pictures about nice and pleasant places in your housing area.
  2. Take five (5) pictures about tedious and unpleasant places in your housing area.
  3. Take five (5) pictures about frightening places in your housing area.
  4. Take five (5) pictures about your own favourite places in your housing area.
  5. What else would you like to photograph in your housing area?”

Distribution of the pictures and the discussion about them (the step number 7) happened according to the following structure:

  1. Organizing the pictures
    I distributed the paper pictures sized A4 to the attendants. They sorted the pictures to five bundles based on the questions of the photovoice assignment.
  2. Choice of pictures presented to others
    Every attendant chose from each bundle a picture, which was either the best or the most significant one in her opinion. If the attendant had not taken a picture concerning all the questions, the sample just became incomplete for this part.
  3. Discussion about the pictures
    There was one presentation round for each question. Everyone told to the group in her own turn, why she thought the place was

    • nice and pleasant
    • tedious and unpleasant
    • frightening or
    • her favourite place.
    • If the attendant had chosen a place based on some other criteria (the question number 5 in the photovoice assignment), she answered to the following questions:
      • What do you see in this picture?
      • What is happening in this picture?
      • Why have you taken this picture?
      • How is it related to your life?
  4. Summary
    I told finally that I would use the pictures as an illustration in my research report and possibly for creating a photograph exhibition about my research. I also told that I would give the real photographs to the attendants after I had transcribed my notes, however at latest before the class would end.

Finally, my research material consisted of 69 pictures as well as my notes about the two group discussions and three personal interviews.

I included in the sample all the pictures that were photographed in Suvela and at the centre of Espoo both outside and inside, even though the original assignment was to take pictures only outside. Pictures of the interiors had been taken either at the shopping mall of Entresse or Espoontori or at the photographer’s home, which may be have been hard to catch from the outside. Furthermore, I counted in all the pictures that had turned out clear enough to see what they represented, no matter if the photographer had taken more than one picture of the same place. The amount of pictures just showed, how important the spot was to the photographer.

I let the teachers of both classes comment my notes about the group discussions to ensure that I had got them right. I did not videotape or photograph the group discussions, because one of the participants had been frightened about how I could keep her identity in secrecy in my research. I presumed that this could be a wider problem in groups with many refugees. In addition, both groups included many Muslim women whose religion very often prohibits photographing and videotaping people.

I have divided the research data to objects and attributes: The objects are the urban places appearing in photographs and attributes are their qualities and features. Both the objects and their attributes are based mainly on my written notes about the group discussions and the personal interviews. In few unclear cases I have first compared the notes with the pictures they were connected to or with the research findings from the earlier phases in my case study, and then made interpretation based on them.

Needless to say that there were more mentioned objects in photographs than photographs themselves and even more described attributes of objects than objects themselves.

OBJECTS

The number of objects that attendants mentioned in discussions (86) was about 1,2 times bigger than the amount of pictures themselves (69).

1. Nice and pleasant urban places

Immigrant women photographed and mentioned most ordinary blocks of flats and streets as nice and pleasant urban places in photovoice. However, there was hardly any difference in frequency between them and the other urban places.

Nice and pleasant

2. Tedious and unpleasant urban places

The amount of different tedious and unpleasant urban places that immigrant women photographed and mentioned was bigger than the amount of different urban places in any other category. The most tedious and unpleasant urban places were thickets, woods or fields, which immigrant women considered as untidy and/or useless. Health centre environment meant here the one at the centre of Espoo unlike in structured interviews, where health centre meant the one in Suvela.

Tedious and unpleasant

3. Favourite urban places

Immigrant women photographed and mentioned streets most often as their favourite urban places. One attendant considered a bus stop as her favourite urban place and the other one her own car.

Favourite

4. Frightening urban places

The selection of different frightening urban places immigrant women photographed and mentioned was the smallest of all categories. The fear immigrant women felt in them was connected either to their own or their children’s safety.

Frightening

5. Other urban places

When immigrant women could photograph whatever urban places they wanted, the most popular objects were their own or their friends’ homes and yards of these blocks of flats.

Other urban places

Comparison with structured interviews

In addition to examining the objects per se, I compared the findings concerning them with the outcome from the structured interviews for the sake of triangulation of the research. This was possible, because both phases in the research posed very similar questions to the attendants. I parallelized the questions with each other in the following way:

GROUPINGQUESTIONS 
PHOTOVOICESTRUCTURED INTERVIEWS
NEGATIVETedious and unpleasant urban places &
Frightening urban places
The most unpleasant urban places
NEUTRALOther urban places-
POSITIVENice and pleasant urban places &
Favourite urban places
The most pleasant urban places

Attendants of the photovoice tended to bundle the questions in the same way: Some attendants either took pictures of the same spot for two different questions or they used the same picture for two questions. The question number 5 in photovoice (what else would you like to photograph) produced pictures that included both positive, negative or neutral places.

All in all, there were proportionally more different urban places that were considered positive by the attendants in photovoice, whereas in structured interviews the relation was vice versa as the following charts show:

Character of all pictures in photovoice and structured interviews

However, the difference is rather small.

When relating the amount of different urban places with the amount of attendants, the difference is much bigger: In photovoice the attendants found a clearly larger selection of different positive and negative urban places than in structured interviews.

Character of all pictures in relation to the amount of answerers

The biggest differences between the results from the structured interviews and the photovoice were, however, in the land use that the positive and negative urban places fell in.

While in structured interviews two thirds of the positive urban places were located in greenspace, in photovoice they were spread rather evenly over to five different land use categories. Furthermore, traffic areas that gained positive urban places most in photovoice, did not exist in structured interviews at all.

Land use_positive

The situation was the same with the negative urban places: Whereas in structured interviews one third of the negative urban places were located in residential areas, in photovoice they could be distributed even more evenly to five different land use categories.

Land use_negative

Whereas immigrant women who participated in photovoice considered home, blocks of flats and streets as their most nice and pleasant or favourite urban places, in structured interviews they were either at the end of the list (home) or missing totally (streets) and vice versa: The residents’ park of Suvela, which was clearly the most pleasant urban place for immigrant women in structured interviews, was photographed and mentioned only by one immigrant woman in photovoice. Entresse library and shopping centre, Suvela kindergarten and a lawn were mentioned or photographed both in photovoice and structured interviews.

Untidy or useless thickets, woods and fields, which immigrant women considered to be the most tedious and unpleasant urban places in photovoice, were mentioned only by one immigrant women in structured interviews. The situation was almost the same with shopping centres and shops which came right after the health centre environment in photovoice. At the same time surroundings of bars and restaurants that annoyed immigrant women in structured interviews, were totally missing in photovoice. However,  surroundings of the railway station, yards of blocks of flats and Kirstinharju pedestrian street existed on both lists. The health centre mentioned in photovoice meant the one at the centre of Espoo, while in structured interviews it meant the one in Suvela.

It is the method and the question that explain at least part of the described differences. I collected most of the sample in structured interviews at the residents’ park of Suvela, which may have biased the results concerning the most pleasant urban places. While in structured interviews the attendants only had to recall and tell the answers, in the photovoice they had to go to these places to photograph them at first and only then tell about them. When you are looking at your home environment through a camera lens, you tend to notice things that you have not either noticed before or just remembered. Consequently you end up with a larger variety of urban places in all assignment categories. The question in photovoice also guided towards multiple answers while in structured interviews it aimed at only one answer.

There was a lower percentage of all the different urban places that were located in central Suvela in photovoice (47 %) than in structured interviews (85 %). In photovoice the other half of all the urban places were located elsewhere at the centre of Espoo. This fact can tell about two things: Immigrant women move as much in central Suvela as in the centre of Espoo even with a camera and even with their small children along but they identify themselves strongly with Suvela itself rather than the centre of Espoo. However, the question in the photovoice and the structured interviews can explain some of the difference also here: In photovoice I used ’housing area’ instead of ’Suvela’, because the photographing task was performed in the Finnish classes also by many such women, who came from other housing areas of Espoo than Suvela. This small change in questions let the women themselves define the borders of their housing area.

ATTRIBUTES

I categorized the attributes of all the objects (different urban places) in photovoice by using … coding. I tried to find such categories that would resemble plan provision categories (written plan regulations) of city plans in order to ’translate’ immigrant women’s needs concerning urban places to the ’city planning language’.

I found altogether 12 following attribute categories (the first number shows how common the category is and the second number the amount of mentioned definitions in the category):

  1. Use – 35
  2. People – 21
  3. Colour – 19
  4. Structure – 15
  5. Dimensions (size & space) – 11
  6. Vegetation – 8
  7. Form – 4
  8. Lighting – 4
  9. Quality – 4
  10. Maintenance – 4
  11. Material – 1
  12. Guidance – 1

Even though the category ”people” does not fall directly in the plan provision categories used in conventional city planning, indirectly they do: The use of different areas is always targeted to certain people.

The emphasis of different attribute categories varied between different urban places as the chart below shows.

 

Attribute categories of urban places3

Nice and pleasant urban places have the most balanced ’cocktail’ of different attribute categories. It means that immigrant women experience these urban places as nice and pleasant in many different ways. Favourite urban places are defined almost as multidimensionally as the nice and pleasant urban places but it is the people that make these urban places special to immigrant women. On the other hand, the most general factor that makes urban places tedious and unpleasant, is simply colour. It is also noteworthy that people are not seen as a direct threat in frightening urban places, because this category is totally missing. Instead, it is mostly their physical dimensions – size and space – that make immigrant women feel fear in them.

There were altogether 63 different attributes mentioned 135 times. Immigrant women used twice as many different attributes to describe positively experienced urban places (nice and pleasant urban places, favourite and other urban places – 49 attributes) as for negatively experienced urban places (tedious and unpleasant urban places, frightening and other urban places – 25 attributes).

Attributes concerning positively experienced urban places were (both categories and attributes in the frequency order):

  1. use
    multipurpose use, playing, getting information, meeting people, borrowing books,  buying, having fun, going to church, waiting, sitting, drawing, useless
  2. people
    children, friends, acquaintances, staff, mother
  3. colour
    green, bright, happy, dark
  4. structure
    well structured environment/activity, safe, fence, gate
  5. vegetation
    street greenery, green lawn/field, woods, flowers
  6. character
    nice, cozy, pleasant
  7. dimensions (size & space)
    big, shallow, open
  8. form
    simple
  9. quality
    well built
  10. maintenance
    tidy
  11. material
    brick
  12. guidance
    signs

Attributes concerning negatively experienced urban places were:

  1. use
    useless, too little stimulation, unused, misuse, a humiliating situation
  2. colour
    boring, dull, colourless
  3. dimensions  (size & space)
    narrow, steep, high
  4. structure
    unstructured, unsafe, unsheltered
  5. lighting
    too little, dark
  6. quality
    old-fashioned, old, not beautiful
  7. maintenance
    uncared-for, wornout
  8. people
    children, strangers

All in all, immigrant women like such urban places, which

  • allow to conduct different kinds of activities, some of which also simultaneously and
  • meet different kinds of people, most of whom have a special role in relation to them;
  • have different green, bright, happy and even dark colours as a contrast to colourlessness,
  • a clear structure in the environment and/or activity,
  • a lot of street greenery, green lawns and other fields, woods as well as flowers,
  • a nice, cozy and pleasant overall character,
  • clear dimensions – big, shallow and open and
  • simple forms;
  • are well built,
  • kept tidy,
  • made of bricks and
  • include guiding signs.

CONCLUSIONS

Both streets and cars can be seen as means of moving out to different urban places from the home sphere for immigrant women who are taking care of their children at home. It is much more easy to move around with a car in comparison on foot with a trolley, for example.

It is the use and the people that define urban places most meaningful for immigrant women.

References:

Haque, Nasim and Rosas, Scott: “Concept Mapping of Photovoices: Sequencing and Integrating Methods to Understand Immigrants’ Perceptions of Neighborhood Influences on Health.” In: Family & Community Health, July/September 2010, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp. 193-206
Wang, Caroline C: “Photovoice: A Participatory Action Research Strategy Applied to Women’s Health.” In: Journal of Women’s Health, Volume 8, Number 2, pp. 185-192
Yan-chi Kwok, Jackie and Ku, Hok-Bu: ”Making habitable space together with female Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong. An interdisciplinary participatory action research project.” In: Action Research, September 2008, vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 261-283