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Graphic Ethnography in Japan (2018)

Digitised paintings, drawings and sketches in various media on paper; digital images of field materials

"Drawing can be powerful as both a research method and a way to engage broad audiences through  dissemination. I have found that sharing my drawings on Instagram is a good way to let people know how my research is going, without compromising the privacy of my informants by showing their faces in photographs.

"Visual media is important for effective digital communication, so drawing is actually a big part of how I communicate my research online. During my fieldwork I have been trying the learn how to do digital drawing using an iPad. I have also been playing around with narrative style, for example in the drawing of the spring festival activities that I participated in, and in the comic-strip style drawing of an experience of gift giving. The comic-style post was one of the most poplar that I shared on Instagram, attracting quite a few comments, with people sharing their own experiences with gift giving, and with people adding their insights about gift giving in Japan. By making and sharing these experiments as I go along I can learn what sort of styles of dissemination are most popular in terms of conveying the research to a general audience.

"Drawing on location—such as with the reportage drawings from a health check that I volunteered at in my rural fieldsite—focuses my attention on people’s body language and helps me to look closer at non-verbal forms of communication. 


laura haapio-kirk


Haapio-Kirk is a PhD candidate in Anthropology, University College London, and Visiting Researcher at the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University. Haapio-Kirk is a digital and visual anthropologist who works on ageing and technology in Japan. She is currently conducting fieldwork in Kyoto and rural Kochi prefecture, as part of the ERC-funded Smartphones and Smart Ageing project at UCL Anthropology. She has a masters degree in Visual Anthropology from the University of Oxford and is exploring the practice of drawing as both a research method and tool for dissemination. She regularly posts her fieldwork drawings on social media. 


Instagram: @lauralhk.



"Of course it was difficult to complete detailed drawing in the rush of the health check, so I tended to do rough sketches which I then later finished in the evening. This allowed me time to reflect on the day as I was finishing the drawing —a visual aid to writing up fieldnotes.

"I also found that drawing gave me good reason to just hang out; for example, I spent several hours drawing my street in Kyoto and that gave me a reason to stand on street corners and also observe the flows of people.

"Drawing is an un-threatening activity, perhaps provoking less anxiety than standing taking notes. I also found that drawings made good gifts for people in the field, especially in a culture where gift giving is very important. So, for instance,  I gave my hosts paintings of their house in which I stayed for two months, and I have recently been giving paintings of local mountains to people in my rural site. I think this sense of giving back relates to how I approach anthropological dissemination—our research is largely publicly funded, and so there is a duty to return anthropological insights to the public domain, especially if doing so might lead to increased understanding and tolerance in today’s uncertain world.


"Today headlines are full of evidence of fear of 'the other' and anxiety also around technological development. But anthropology offers perhaps the best way to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity by presenting people with the culturally-constructed nature of very familiar topics."

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