There’s an old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but often in ethnographic research pictures can be forgotten, especially when it comes to methodology. Dr. Robert Smith at the Aberdeen Business School is changing that. Using photographs from a family run butcher shop in Scotland, Dr. Smith adapted the images to explore the lived narrative of the family business in his new paper “Seeing the Light: Using Visual Ethnography in Family Business Settings,” published in Family Business Review. He took some time to speak with Management INK about his findings and said:
Over the past ten years as a qualitative entrepreneurship scholar, and active researcher, I have developed a passionate interest in the semiotics and aesthetics of how entrepreneurs, small businesses, and family businesses in general seek to portray themselves and present themselves to their publics. My doctoral thesis was on the social construction of entrepreneurship, so I am attuned to the visual elements of narrative and stories and to the use of visual ethnography. During the course of several longitudinal studies in rural small businesses I came to appreciate what I refer to as the ‘lived narrative’ of a family business in which the shop premises and the actors in the unfolding business drama present themselves in an unfinished story which emerges in real life. It was during this period that I came to interview Mr Hebbie Fowlie of the family business ‘Bert Fowlie Butchers’, 26 High Street, Strichen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. I conducted a conventional face-to-face ethnographic interview with Hebbie who provided me with several photographs of the business. These later formed the basis of the article – ‘Seeing the Light: Using Visual Ethnography In Family Business Settings’ in Family Business Review. These photographs inspired me to write the article, particularly when I realised to the best of my knowledge that visual ethnography had never been used as a methodology in Management Journals. What surprised me was how difficult it was to write about visuallity when the photographs themselves conveyed the message more simply. I applaud the anonymous reviewers in the journal who helped me develop the article into its published format. I believe that the article is important because there is a growing interest in the visual elements of entrepreneurial and business identities. However, in such research it is common for one to write about the images instead of presenting them. I hope that this short article will lead to an increase in the publication of other studies which present the photographic evidence upon which the academic claims are made and that visual ethnographies become more common.