Video data sensing

ashton roaming cam

by Lucy Caton

In another blog post, Abigail Hackett and I have discussed the challenge of dealing with large sets of video data produced with small, portable and wearable video cameras in research with young children (see Rethinking visual ontologies when dealing with large video data sets). In this post, I will describe an approach ‘video data sensing’ I have experimented with in response to this challenge.

As part of my doctoral research, I used GoPro cameras with young people in a school based computer club. This resulted in around 40 hours of footage accrued from the chest-mounted, head-mounted, static and roaming camera (Caton, forthcoming; Caton and Hackett, accepted).  How to deal with this quantity of footage was a challenge, particularly considering I was working within a post-qualitative paradigm, wanting to take the challenge by de Freitas (2016) – discussed in another post – to rethink the body beyond the motor mechanical but to explore what more a body might become in mutual entanglement with digital technology. There has been much experimentation with children and video/visual imagery in post-qualitative research (Hultman and Lenz Taguchi, 2010; de Freitas, 2016; Lenz Taguchi, Palmer and Gustaffson, 2016) but there is still little guidance for how to engage with large quantities of video footage within a post-qualitative framework.

Considering the video footage as performative rather than representational, it no longer made sense to note specific time sequences or subdivide fragments of video into categories that relate to its usefulness or not. Instead, the ‘process’ of watching the video became the key tenet for interrogating the broader question; what are we ‘doing’ when we were ‘doing’ the videoing or ‘analysing’ the content and not what does the resultant video mean?

I propose ‘video data sensing’, as a new, pragmatic approach to the ‘gathering’, ‘selection’ and ‘analysis’ of video data that provokes an alternative manner of engagement with the video (Caton, forthcoming). I experimented with a new manner of engaging with the video by looping the film in the background of my home office. This indirect engagement with the video allowed it to function as a performative entity that drew on a broad range of other bodily senses. What I wanted to avoid doing was keep producing questions but to “step to the side of the question” by “focusing on the process instead of form” (Manning, 2016:14). Through a deliberate ontological shift to ‘sense’ rather than ‘make sense’ of hours of video footage, I aimed to avoid writing ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz, 1973) of the activities to re-produce the children as knowing and coherent subjects that were grounded in humanist perceptions.  I looked to the video footage for potential, for how it could ultimately take me elsewhere.

As discussed, I avoided direct observation with hours of video, yet I was aware of the various flickers, sounds and movements emanating from the recordings that caught my attention throughout the day. This felt slightly uncomfortable and odd, as I busied myself with other activities, such as reading, writing and skype conversations. However, as the weeks progressed, I began to recognise the patterns, sounds, colours, objects and various bodies that dominated the screen, often the children’s articulations into the camera would draw my attention. Building on MacLure’s (2010) original theorisations of ‘data’ that ‘glow’, the fragments worked beyond the specific content of the image, instead making connections, ‘re-animating’ my experiences of filming with the children on the day. In this sense, I was unable to pre-plan how the video footage would work on me in these strange and surprising ways.

For example, I found amusement in the children’s care-free attitudes, which ultimately resonated as I too became more ‘care free’ about the ‘data selection’ and the subsequent ‘analysis’ process.  The focus was on the ‘doing’ of the video, rather than what the video ‘meant’ and this opened up a way of understanding how the video fragments selected me just as much as I selected the video fragments.   


Caton, L (forthcoming) Rethinking visual methodologies in child participatory research: A study involving wearable action cameras in an after-school club, PhD thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK.

Caton, L. and Hackett, A. (accepted) ‘Head mounted, chest mounted, tripod or roaming? Ontological possibilities for doing visual research with children and GoPro cameras.’ In Kucirkova, N., Rowsell, J. and Fallon, G. (eds.) The Routledge International Handbook of Playing and Learning with Technology in Early Childhood. Oxon: Routledge

de Freitas, E. (2016) ‘The moving image in education research: Reassembling the body in classroom video data.’ International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(4): 553-572.  

Geertz, C. (1973). Thick description. The interpretation of cultures, 3-30.

Hultman, K. and Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010) ‘Challenging anthropocentric analysis of visual data: a relational materialist methodological approach to educational research.’ International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(5) pp. 525-542.

Lenz Taguchi, H., Palmer, A. and Gustaffson, L. (2016) ‘Individuating ‘sparks’ and ‘flickers’ of ‘a life’ in dance practices with preschoolers: the ‘monstrous child’ of Colebrook’s Queer Vitalism.’ Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37(5) pp. 705-716

MacLure, M. (2010) ‘The offence of theory.’ Journal of Education Policy, 25(2): 277-286.

Manning, E. (2016) The Minor Gesture. Durham: Duke University Press.


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