Participatory photography: A tool for empowerment or surveillance?

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Based on a case study of a participatory photography project with a Salvadoran adult literacy program, this article explores some of the challenges and risks that arise when people use cameras to document their lives. The article examines the unanticipated problems the author and participants encountered (i.e. suspicion, timidity, and ridicule), and elucidates how historical and sociocultural factors structured learners' and community residents' responses to photography. Additionally, the article identifies how participants benefited from the project and discusses implications for the use of participatory photography. Drawing on Foucault's analysis of surveillance and power, the author argues that photography is a technology with contradictory potential for social control and surveillance, and for the recovery of marginalized groups' subjugated knowledge. Although participatory photography has many potential benefits, researchers and educators must also anticipate its unintended consequences, attend to ethical considerations, and recognize how this tool is mediated by the sociocultural setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-443
Number of pages18
JournalAction Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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