Visual storytelling and socioenvironmental change: Images, photographic encounters and knowledge construction in resource frontiers

Samuel J. Spiegel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Practices of visually representing places of resource extraction and land degradation can be deeply contentious, embedded in a wide variety of values, ethics, goals and relations. Photographs are pervasively used to generate narratives about environmental change, particular social groups and places. Yet, the socio-cultural processes and power relations at play in producing ‘visual knowledge’ and interpreting images often remain under-explored, with limited attention to how photographs and visual storytelling are engaged to (re)orient discussions about change. Challenging ways of seeing, this article discusses relational practices around photography and the narrating, experiencing and circulating of images. It explores experiences with photovoice – a methodology aimed at re-aligning the dynamics of who decides what photos matter, how, why and with what implications, sometimes pitched as a way to ‘decolonize’ research. The study examines interactions in a village in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, where women shared visual stories to express challenges they face in relation to deforestation and other landscape changes, depleted gold deposits, limited livelihood options and other themes, conveying place histories and ideas about home, identity, governance and community. Reflecting on intergenerational dialogues and anxieties about the future, the analysis considers photovoice processes in refracting everyday struggles, arguing for feminist epistemologies that carefully attend to the situated ethics and contingent performative powers of visual storytelling where multiple forms of resource extraction powerfully shape community life. The article calls for greater focus on women’s place-based storytelling and its communicative power, highlighting the significance of positionality when studying socio-ecological visualization, affect and change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-144
Number of pages25
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • participatory visual methods
  • feminist visualization
  • photovoice
  • resource extraction
  • Indonesia


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