Seeing Through Machines: Visual Methods for Digital Research

***Sadly, we have had to postpone this symposium due to ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19. We will let you know as soon as we are able to reschedule***

The last decade has been transformational in the use, prominence and importance of images on digital platforms and the web. Image-centric social networks such as Pinterest and Instagram have become culturally influential, Twitter and Facebook have fully integrated images into user timelines, and Google Images is estimated to receive 1 billion page views per day. Iconic photos, scientific charts and memes are now shared at an unprecedented speed and scale, impacting upon public debates about migration, climate change, politics and more. The importance of the digital image in representing, witnessing and interpreting the world around us is unquestionable. Yet, visual methods for digital research remain challenging. Recent years have seen emerging approaches such as visual vernaculars, Instagrammatics, and cross-platform analysis, while the machine-learning field of computer vision presents opportunities for large-scale analysis but also challenges in understanding how images are being categorised and circulated online. In sum, there is an urgent need to map out the state of the art in visual digital methods, identifying the promise and pitfalls of researching with, through and against machines.

This research symposium will bring together leading scholars, early career researchers and doctoral students to discuss this exciting new methodological field; sharing ideas, reflecting on practical challenges, and assess how working with images fits within the broader digital methods landscape. To set the scene, the symposium will begin at 5pm on June 17th with keynote presentations from two world-leading researchers in visual digital methods:

Prof. Sabine Niederer (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences)

Dr. Tim Highfield (University of Sheffield)

Call for Papers

Submission deadline: 11.59pm GMT, April 17th, 2020

Issues for discussion can include, but are not restricted to:

  • Theorising the content and use of digital images
  • Ethical considerations in researching social media images
  • Computer vision as a tool for researching large datasets of images
  • Data visualisation techniques for analysing images
  • Digital methods for countering AI injustices
  • Methods for researching multimodal communication (eg image/text combinations)
  • Platform barriers to data collection
  • Applying traditional digital methods to digital contexts
  • Researching affect in visual digital methods

Submission formats: Please submit no more than one in each category as places in the symposium are very limited.

1. Papers (15 minutes + Q&A). Please submit an abstract of less than 500 words, including your Name, Institution and Email Address. We intend to include some of the papers presented as part of a journal Special Issue. Information about submitting your work for consideration will be announced after speakers receive their notifications of acceptance.

2. Lightning talks (5 minutes). Please submit an abstract of less than 100 words, including your Name, Institution and Email Address. Looking for feedback on concepts, proposals or ideas you are at an early stage with? This is for you.


We encourage proposals from researchers in the early stages of their careers. Up to ten accommodation grants are available to be awarded to successful proposals. Please apply here when submitting your abstract.