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Capturing Organizational Compassion Through Photographic Methods

Advancing Methodological Thought and Practice

ISBN: 978-1-80043-080-8, eISBN: 978-1-80043-079-2

ISSN: 1479-8387

Publication date: 8 October 2020


This chapter highlights the value offered by photographic research methods to the study of organizational compassion. We demonstrate this potential by first briefly reviewing the history and usage of photographic research methods in the social sciences and the state of compassion research. We then describe how compassion emerged as a key theme in a field study that utilized photographic methods. From this, we identify four approaches that photographic research methods can be used to extend our understanding of compassion in organizations. Specifically, we clarify how this stream of research can be enhanced by the inclusion of photographic methods. We highlight critical research decisions and possible concerns in implementing photographic methods. The chapter concludes with additional organizational phenomena that would benefit from using a photographic methods approach.

The various methods gathered under the umbrella label of qualitative (Guba & Lincoln, 1994), defined as the study of “things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 3), offer many benefits through their ability to access, explore, and experience real organizational people and problems in rich detail (Van Maanen, 1979). As an example, photographic research methods—primarily qualitative methods through which researchers use photographs to elicit information during interviews and focus groups—often result in deep and nuanced data (Collier & Collier, 1986; Harper, 2005; Vince & Warren, 2012). Photographic methodologies are well-suited to the exploration of new phenomena because they allow researchers to get close to the lived experience and organizational processes (Dion, 2007), attend simultaneously to the social and material world in organizations (Shortt & Warren, 2012), and offer the potential to “mine deeper shafts into a different part of human consciousness than do words-alone interviews” (Harper, 2002, p. 23). Organizational research has traditionally been dominated by a positivistic paradigm that focuses on theory evaluation through the use of quantitative methodologies (Lin, 1998; Sutton, 1997), whereas qualitative research offers the potential to build theory by illuminating underlying processes and causal mechanisms in specific contexts (Lee, 1999). Researchers developing theory may be particularly interested in the richness of the data gathered with qualitative methods (Edmondson & McManus, 2007) such as photographic methods. Qualitative research is thus well-matched to nascent literatures that require inductive study about a phenomenon to generate foundational knowledge (Edmondson & McManus, 2007).

One such nascent research stream that could benefit from photographic methodologies is organizational compassion (Rynes, Bartunek, Dutton, & Margolis, 2012). In its current state, compassion research within the organizational literature has generated many narratives of experiences of compassion in response to a specific tragedy (Dutton, Worline, Frost, & Lilius, 2006), as an organizational capability (Lilius et al., 2011b), or as an organizational capacity that an organization can develop (Madden, Duchon, Madden, & Plowman, 2012). These stories demonstrate that the common elements of the compassion process are the noticing of someone else's pain, empathizing with that person, and then responding in a way designed to lessen that pain (Kanov et al., 2004); however, because this process is so individualized, photographic methodologies offer researchers a chance to capture valuable new information about this process and the experience of compassion within organizations. In this chapter, we describe many potential benefits of designing organizational compassion research based on photographic methodologies.

In doing so, we offer several contributions. First, we show how photographic methodologies can create deeper responses during interviews and observations that may lead to surprising insights for theory. Second, by suggesting some of the insights that have been generated about compassion through photographic methodologies, we offer novel research ideas for this growing body of literature. The following sections provide background on the development and history of photographic methodologies and review the studies and methodologies that have contributed to our understanding of compassion within organizations. Subsequently, we describe some of the ways in which compassion has surfaced during our own field study using photograph elicitation. Finally, we describe possible studies that could benefit from the use of four forms of photographic methodologies to explore more targeted research questions related to organizational compassion and also offer a range of other organizational phenomena that could benefit from a photographic methods approach.



Madden, T.M., Madden, L.T. and Smith, A.D. (2020), "Capturing Organizational Compassion Through Photographic Methods", Crook, T.R., Lê, J. and Smith, A.D. (Ed.) Advancing Methodological Thought and Practice (Research Methodology in Strategy and Management, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 55-71.



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