Visual methods and voice in disabled childhoods research: troubling narrative authenticity

Janice McLaughlin*, Edmund Coleman-Fountain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual methods are a popular way of engaging children and young people in research. Their growth comes out of a desire to make research practice more appropriate and meaningful to them. The auteur approach emphasises the need to explore with young participants why they produce the images they do, so that adult researchers do not impose their own readings. This article, while recognising the value of such visual techniques, argues that their benefit is not that they are more age appropriate, or that they are more authentic. Instead it lies in their capacity to display the social influences on how participants, of any age, represent themselves. The article does so through discussion of an Economic and Social Research Council research project, which made use of visual and other creative methods, undertaken in the UK with disabled young people. The research involved narrative and photo elicitation interviews, the production of photo journals, and creative practice workshops aimed at making representational artefacts. Through analysing the photography, the journals and interviews the article examines what it was research participants sought to capture and also what influenced the types of photographs they gathered and the type of person they wanted to represent. We argue that they aimed to counter negative representations of disability by presenting themselves as happy, active and independent, in doing so they drew from broader visual iconography that values certain kinds of disabled subject, while disvaluing others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-381
Number of pages19
JournalQualitative Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The details are: ESRC Grant ‘Embodied Selves in Transition: Disabled Young Bodies’, the full team: Professor Janice Mclaughlin, Dr Edmund-Coleman Fountain. Professor Allan Colver, and Professor Patrick Olivier RES-062-23-2886.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • disability
  • embodiment
  • identity
  • visual methods
  • visual narrative
  • young people

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