Imagery and Association in a Group Based Method: The Visual Matrix

Froggett, Lynn orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8406-6231 (2020) Imagery and Association in a Group Based Method: The Visual Matrix. In: A Handbook of Visual Methods in Psychology Using and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research. Routledge, London, pp. 277-300. ISBN 9781138491809

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The visual matrix is a qualitative, group-based method that was originally designed for researching experience of artistic production or reception and the psychosocial impact of aesthetic objects, processes or events on audiences, groups or communities1. Its applications have since broadened insofar as it offers an empirical method with which to research the psychosocial and symbolic aspects of cultural imaginaries. Following Charles Taylor (2004) a cultural imaginary can be thought of as the expression or representation, in the form of images or stories, of a common background understanding that makes possible communication and social practices – it thus underlies how a group forms its ideas about interaction with other people, the natural and man-made word, and the moral order.
A psychosocial account of a cultural imaginary includes a consideration of the identifications and projections through which members of a group or community reproduce and relate to the world in which they imagine themselves to live. An unarticulated and partly unconscious cultural imaginary finds localised expression in a visual matrix and acquires symbolic form through the image presentations and figurative language of the participants. The symbolisation is ‘presentational’ rather than discursive (Langer (1948 [1942]) – its function is to find imagistic forms for the affect that circulates in the group.
The visual matrix involves a carefully designed facilitation process which is set in motion by a visual or sensory stimulus that bears on the research problem. The aim is to discover what the stimulus produces in the participants and the use they make of presented imagery, rather than what they think about it.
In this chapter I describe the visual matrix method, briefly highlighting its applications and some of the theoretical resources that have informed its development 2. However my focus will be on the conduct of the visual matrix and the nature of symbolisation within it, illustrated with an extended example of its use in an arts and community setting. The interpretive protocol that follows a visual matrix session will be explained before concluding with an observation on the relationship between imagery and the language in which it is expressed. The case example has been chosen to highlight the fact that in this method the group is the primary unit of analysis, and the focus of interest is on shared rather than individual experience. The reader is also advised to view a short demonstration matrix in relation to a photography exhibition on You Tube 3. This conveys the nature of the ‘snowflake‘ seating arrangement and the thinking that takes place within it.

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