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This online seminar series centres on innovations in research methods and methodologies and is open to scholars with novel approaches to researching narrative, time, and everyday experiences.

Wednesday 28th February 2024
13:00 - 14:00
Online event
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The Woods Metaphor, Photography, and Self-Expression in the Digital World

Organised by Dr Brian McDonough, Solent University

Headshot of India Lawton

How can photography, inspired by traditional fairy tales, serve as an artistic form of inquiry to understand the continued suppression of female voices and self-expression in the digital world?

Fairy tales frequently feature women on solitary journeys in the woods, encountering dangers that serve as metaphors for the challenges of life. These woods symbolise an experiential realm, ‘cautioning young women against straying from societal expectations’ (Brownmiller, 1976: 343-44). Zipes (1986) interprets the woods in Little Red Riding Hood as a space for self-discovery, where encounters with the big bad wolf signify self-identification within male desire, reflecting traditional gender dynamics.

The digital world, like the mythical woods of experience, provides liberation whilst also pressurising users to conform to societal expectations. Both realms (woods and online world) exhibit persistent themes of self-objectification and silencing women, with online harassment disproportionately affecting women, making them 27 times more likely to be targeted than men. Beard (2017) traces the historical roots of silencing women, highlighting its endurance online. Women adhering to societal norms reinforce the expectation to remain “seen and not heard,” and those who express opinions online are singled out by internet trolls, exacerbating the silencing effect.

Practice-based research uses artistic practice to generate new knowledge and insights. This approach presents diverse ways of knowing, and since artistic results can be viewed as engaging and emotionally impactful, it fosters empathetic participation in the experiences of others (Phillips et al. 2022: 2). Bell (2014) underscores photography's transformative potential, revealing aspects of the world beyond words and evoking emotions, memories, critiques, and new politics.

In my artistic works, I convey that the "woods of experience" have transformed into the digital realm. While the online world offers liberation for self-discovery, it has become the contemporary equivalent of symbolic “woods of experience”. This transformation echoes the traditional anxieties, dark recesses, and modern-day “trolls” reminiscent of fairy tales. These digital spaces, like their mythical counterparts, continue to suppress the female voice and perpetuate objectification, reflecting enduring societal challenges.

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Call for contributors

This online seminar series centres on innovations in research methods and methodologies and is open to scholars with novel approaches to researching narrative, time, and everyday experiences.

Drawing on how we can best understand peoples’ experiences and the places and organisations people encounter, this interdisciplinary seminar series brings together scholars from social and human sciences who have developed or adapted new methodologies for understanding everyday life, with a particular focus on making sense of narratives and time.

Contributors who have a novel method or approach to doing research are particularly welcome, as well as those with unique approaches to unravelling the stories of peoples’ lives, by showcasing the rhythms or flow of human activity, or even its measurement, such as the ordering, sequencing, or close examination of everyday life.

If you are interested in contributing to the series, please email

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