Social Context

In order to easily address the social context of the studied object, many photographic explorations will be contextualized with some secondary data.

Before exploring the notion of identity in a multicultural environment using visual ethnography tools, I would like to remark the importance of one single question: can we really consider that the context in which we are going to start this study is a heterogeneous society?

Most of the initial field research will take place in the city of Greensboro (North Carolina), a city with enough racial and ethnical diversity to be considered a multicultural environment (see Table 1 and Table 2). Because of that, we can remark that it is a place that can provide enough resources to study the previously mentioned issues .

Table 1. Race
Subject Number Percent
Total population 269,666 100.0
A. One race 262,586 97.4
A.1. White 130,396 48.4
A.2. Black or African American 109,586 40.6
A.3. American Indian and Alaska Native 1,385 0.5
A.4 Asian 10,772 4.0
A.5. Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 157 0.1
A.6. Some Other Race 10,290 3.8
B. Two or More Races 7,080 2.6
B.1. Two races with Some Other Race 1,353 0.5
B.2. Two races without Some Other Race 4,972 1.8
B.3. Three or more races with Some Other Race 133 0.0
Table 2. Hispanic or Latino
Subject Number Percent
Total population 269,666 100.0
A.Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 20,336 7.5
A.1 Mexican 12,293 4.6
A.2. Puerto Rican 1,872 0.7
A.3. Cuban 520 0.2
A.4. Other Hispanic or Latino 5,651 2.1
B.Not Hispanic or Latino 249,330 92.5
Observer context

Moreover, it is crucial to consider that this project, whereas it follows an ethnographic approach, it is intrinsically interwoven with the author’s background and subjective biases, preferences and perceptions. So I would not pretend to isolate my self from this research, but rather to take advantage of my position as an active agent in the process. Something more than just a participant observer .

Then I shall consider that my personal views and cognitive biases are an important part of the context on this project. Indeed, this is also a personal self-ethnography, or autoethnography , an introspective and reflexive experience. So rather than just relying on sociological data, I will offer a personal point of view, literally. I will use my photographic field work as my main source of data and as a tool for reflection.  I also may provide notes to understand phenomenologically my personal process of adaptation as an agent, as a self-organizing system with consciousness and adaptive behavior -for more information about the common points of Cognitive Science, Complex Adaptive Systems and Social Agents you can read the third chapter of my doctoral thesis -.

Phenomenology can be a complementary approach to explore deeply something as amazing as a real intercultural experience. That is, explore my own identity formation, my own process of acculturation and self-reflection. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy :

“phenomenology” is often restricted to the characterization of sensory qualities of seeing, hearing, etc.: what it is like to have sensations of various kinds. However, our experience is normally much richer in content than mere sensation. Accordingly, in the phenomenological tradition, phenomenology is given a much wider range, addressing the meaning things have in our experience, notably, the significance of objects, events, tools, the flow of time, the self, and others, as these things arise and are experienced in our “life-world”. […]

Basically, phenomenology studies the structure of various types of experience ranging from perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activity, including linguistic activity.

According to this statement, phenomenological research may involve the subjective experience of the author. In the case of this project, the research process itself is an open reflection regarding my personal path, the point of view of an outsider in a new land who tries to learn about the aforementioned issues, studying and adapting through face-to-face exchanges. We can talk about a living research conducted by an agent who is living immersed in a multicultural environment, using a foreign language, learning new habits and social rules.

Besides that, phenomenology can also be a philosophical perspective to interpret reality through the eyes of other individuals.  It may be considered an invitation to empathize with other peers and learn about their subjective perceptions, a way to understand the real world without considering objectivity as a requirement. According to Trochim :

Phenomenology is a school of thought that emphasizes a focus on people’s subjective experiences and interpretations of the world. That is, the phenomenologist wants to understand how the world appears to others.


I seldom exposed a personal opinion in my peer-reviewed papers. I will totally express myself in a different way in this space though.

So, in order to feel completely free during the course of this project, I shall remark that my personal engagement with this research does not imply any fixed preference for a specific research method or criteria. As it has been said before , this project will follow both an ethnographic and phenomenological approach, without the methodological and analytical constraints of my former research. It will be usually guided by a non-linear process of bibliographic research, field work and photographic processing, in conjunction with a learning period guided by peer-to-peer interactions, reading and self-reflection.

I will assume as a theoretical framework most of what was already contextualized in the antecedents and the theoretical chapters of my doctoral dissertation , in conjunction with some theses from social constructivism and multiculturalism.

Basically, I will explore different methods through the process. This freedom will enable me to explore the experience with creativity and openness. Therefore, the evolution of this research will be guided by my interaction with the social and physical environment, sometimes directly and sometimes through the lenses of my camera.

Considering the individual as a product of the social environment in which it is immersed, and assuming the personal point of view of the observer, I would like to apply visual ethnography tools and data visualization technologies. So don’t be surprised if some of the sections of this live document have more pictures, videos, maps or graphs than words. The idea is to display both raw data and context-dependent information visually. The idea is to offer a visual ethnography within a hypermedia platform.

Just try to read behind the scenes and draw your own conclusion.