Skip to Main Content

Arts Based Research

Visual Arts


If you cannot access the above video, you can watch it here:


Sponsored by UC Berkeley's Center for Ethnographic Research


Researchers can use a number of visual methods, in conjunction with other qualitative methods, to yield fruitful data and findings about human rights violations under dictatorship. This paper employs a case study to demonstrate how this may be done, focusing on research that formed the basis of two books on shantytown mothers’ experiences of state violence, exacerbated poverty, human rights activism, and collective, income-earning strategies during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology, Routledge, 2012, and Art against Dictatorship, University of Texas Press, 2013). 

The methods discussed include the analysis of drawings and text in ephemera produced by shantytown inhabitants (flyers dropped in the street, posters advertising resistance-oriented cultural events, and the bulletins produced by groups formed to cope with poverty); the collection and analysis of photographs from human rights organization bulletins, exile organization newsletters, left-leaning magazines, memoirs, and academic books and articles; the photographing and analysis of dissident art works produced by shantytown women, relatives of the disappeared, political prisoners, and Chilean exiles; photo elicitation (interviews based on photographs); and “art elicitation” (asking research subjects to talk about art works). These five visual methods, together with semi-structured interviews and participant observation, produced rich data about shantytown experiences of state violence, impoverishment, human rights activism, and collective income-earning, as well as about transnational activism involving refugees and sympathizers abroad.