Bareham, Alison, Locke, Abigail and Yeadon-Lee, Tracey (2013) Empowering identities: Using photo-elicitation interviews to explore identities in women’s hostels. In: 8th Biennial Conference of the International Society of Critical Health Psychology (ISCHP), 22nd - 24th July 2013, Bradford, UK. (Unpublished)

This research reflects on the merits of using of photo-elicitation methodology to explore the identities of women living and working in homeless hostels. Homeless women are often marginalised as ‘vulnerable victims’ or ‘social deviants’, characterised by social and personal issues such as mental health, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol use, financial issues, forced marriage or family breakdown. There is little research on women’s hostel worker identities beyond how they address the support needs of residents. The identities of hostel residents and support workers are therefore often positioned in terms of problems and supporting people to overcome problems in ‘total institution’ and ‘charity work’ roles. Photo-elicitation enables participants to purposefully visually represent and verbalise aspects of their identities. It will be argued that the method therefore offers active participation and choice in self-representation, and may contribute a greater understanding of identities and dynamics in women’s homeless hostels.Photo-elicitation methodology involves semi-structured interviews using photographs as a discussion tool. It has a number of advantages in that it has been shown to give personal control and is therefore legitimising, empowering and participatory, and can engage hard to reach participants. In this study, photo-elicitation interviews were embedded into an ethnographic study of women’s hostels in the UK. Participants were given disposable cameras and asked to take photographs that show something about themselves, which were then discussed in interviews. This paper will discuss the merits of using the photo-elicitation method in the context of research with women in homeless hostels. It will highlight how photo- elicitation interviews reduced the inherent power imbalance between the psychology researcher and participants by empowering the participant gaze and discuss personal reflections on the visual data they produced. It will be argued that this method contributed to gaining richer and more personal constructions of identity than may have emerged through more traditional research approaches.

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