A lot of research on human behaviour is based entirely on words: researchers read, ask questions, send out questionnaires and write reports. But this means they miss a lot of elements concerning sound, sights and people’s interaction with their physical surroundings.
“This can be tackled with video ethnography – filming people in their daily lives. In my case, it is consumers in the area around Södergatan in Helsingborg. I follow them round while they explain what they think of the shops along the street and what they like and dislike in the street environment”, says Devrim Umut Aslan.
As a doctoral student employed by Helsingborg Municipality, he works both on consumption issues for the municipality and on a thesis at the Department of Service Management at Campus Helsingborg.
The theme of his thesis work is consumers’ attitudes to Södergatan, an untrendy street in the more ‘downmarket’ southern part of the city centre. A few years ago, in order to raise the status of the area, Helsingborg Municipality tried to pedestrianise Södergatan. However, the experiment failed, and today there are several empty shops along the street because of strong competition from Väla shopping centre.
Devrim Umut Aslan is pleased if his research findings can be used to help Södergatan, but that is not his main aim. He sees his work as basic research on how consumers and their shopping behaviour interact with the physical environment on a shopping street in an area with low status. There has not been a lot of research on such shopping areas, and especially not with the methods that the Lund University researcher intends to use.
“First I do an interview in the person’s home, where they show me their latest purchases. Then we go into town and I film him or her as we walk around the area around Södergatan. Finally, the interviewee is asked to draw a map showing the shops and other services that are important to them, as well as what could be altered to make the area more attractive”, explains Devrim Umut Aslan.
Francesco, a student from Italy studying at Campus Helsingborg, is one of the research subjects. On the video of Francesco, he shows a new denim jacket and talks about the purchase. Then he and Devrim Umut Aslan go for a walk along Södergatan, the latter equipped with a video camera, while Francesco comments on what he sees: “That tea shop looks nice, I’ll probably go in there sometime”, and “I like shopping at markets, but not when other customers have handled all the fruit; then I don’t want to buy anything!”
The third step takes place back at home, where Francesco draws a map of the things he considers important in the area. The tea shop is on there, as well as the market, and he also gets to put in his wishes, such as a park and a few buildings that are more attractive than the 1960s blocks in the area.
From all this material, Devrim Umut Aslan edits a short film that he shows to his interviewee a week later. Francesco then has the opportunity to comment on the film, and his comments are also filmed and added to the final results.
”When you use filming as a research method, the interviewees cannot have anonymity. Letting them see the film is a way to guarantee that research ethics are upheld and they do not consider themselves to have been misrepresented”, says Devrim Umut Aslan.
A possible disadvantage of filming might be that the presence of the camera inhibits the interviewee too much. However, this has not been the case so far.
“Young people are so used to taking photos and filming each other that they are not bothered at all by the camera, and I have mostly had young interviewees so far. However, I hope it will work well even with older people”, says Devrim Umut Aslan.
He sees several benefits of video ethnography. The researcher doing the filming can address questions that arise in a certain situation in a natural manner, without being bound to a pre-determined questionnaire. Compared with an in-depth interview, where the interviewer and interviewee sit enclosed in one room, a conversation outdoors can also be more fruitful because the environment provides inspiration. A further advantage is that films are easy to view in a group.
“For example, we can sit and discuss them in my research group, which is led by Professor Cecilia Fredriksson. I can also show them to representatives of the municipality and retail sector. They often find it easier to absorb research results through film than in the form of a printed report”, says Devrim Umut Aslan.
Text & Photo: Ingela Björck