Comprised of doctoral dissertations written by students Eric Magolis chaired or served on their committee

This section of “visualistas” is comprised of doctoral dissertations written by students I chaired or served on their committee. They range from empirical and quantitative studies to extremely personal story telling. The disciplines represented include Architecture, Design, and Education. Disciplines where the visual is growing in importance both as a set of methodological “tools” and as an object of analysis.

Navajo Education in and out of the Classroom: A photographic case study of Rough Rock Community School


The Rough Rock school in Chinle, Arizona, opened in 1966 and was the first school for Native Americans to be bi-cultural and bilingual. It was started by Monty’s parents and at age five was in the first class enrolled there. At the time he wrote his dissertation he was the Executive Director. His research question was is the mission statement still true and what does it mean to current students: (it) “was written when the organization was established over 40 years ago: ‘To focus on the Dine’ fundamental beliefs of knowledge, planning, harmony and hope. We will walk in beauty.’ This dissertation and the many photographs included and discussed are intended to be part of that walk.”

In his dissertation, Monty used almost all extant visual methods. He is a professional photographer and made his own photographs. He did historical research unearthing many images depicting the 40-year history of the school. He gave students cameras and asked them to document the way they saw the Rough Rock’s mission, he used all those photographs in photo-elicitation interviews. He created a panel of “experts” to look at the images from the perspective of education researchers and Navajo people. And he tied it all together with deep analysis and lyrical prose.

The Interactive Watershed: Mapping Place-Based Cultural Practices Using Geographic Information Tools (2009)

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“This study uses computer-based geographic information tools to map the cultural practices of individuals living in the San Miguel River basin. Building upon an existing Geographic Information System (GIS) hosted by the San Miguel County planning department, a new cultural layer developed by the author is correlated with existing digital maps of demographic, built, and natural features. The study is driven by the following question: Can geographic information tools aid in the identification and encouragement of place-based cultural practices and, by extension, provide a platform for the representation of individual and community aspirational goals? The research methodology employed was a ‗mixed methods‘ approach following the principles of participatory action research (PAR) and grounded theory. Outcomes include a website detailing the creative, expressive, and personal perspectives on life in the San Miguel river watershed and a ‗cultural layer‘ (a GIS map layer with hyperlinked markers to participant websites) hosted by the San Miguel County planning office. The project—intended as a cultural intervention—is a strategic supplement to the existing San Miguel County GIS and a template for future cultural mapping in the region. Additionally, the method holds promise as an advocacy tool for individuals and cultural practices in a variety of settings.”

Identity, Culture and Artistic Expression (2013)


Nishta’s dissertation is unique, at least in my experience. She wrote a structural and autoethnographic dissertation and the images are all drawings and paintings that she made. She interrogates her journey from the island of Mauritius to Australia with writing and visual images. A/r/tography is her main analytic tool. Her art works have been shown in many galleries.
Art emerges through “lived and embodied experiences – leading to art creation, representation and appreciation” (Heidegger, 1977b, p. 1). Research on the concept of ‘identity’ so far is highlighted through critique, deconstruction, paradoxes and subjectivities (Hall & Du Gay, 1996), which leaves it to the limits and intervals of thinking in terms of questions and politics about agency. Identification is among the least understood concepts as it is “constructed on the back of recognition” and Stuart Hall defines “identity as a construction, a process never completed – always ‘ in process’”(Hall & Du Gay, 1996, p. 2).
In this research, I use the visual and artistic expression as a means to represent how I understand and negotiate my cultures and gendered identities as I transit through different sites. My journey transits through the ‘ontic’ to map my cultural inheritances from ancestry and postcolonial influences from home country, my childhood memories, life experiences and migration transitions when moving to Australia and I represent these through an artistic expression. I use a series of my own artworks to represent cultural markers, a sense of belonging to patria, childhood memories, nostalgia and challenges through migration transitions and how these artworks represent how I am currently understanding and negotiating my cultures and gendered identities.
A/r/tography as framework merges my professional roles as an artist/researcher/teacher and highlights ‘the researcher as subject’ in depicting my perspectives through my own narratives and artworks and my analysis in using ‘reflexive iteration’ and a ‘phenomenological’ approach. I define my engagement in art making as a ‘generative’ process and I use a self-reflexive standpoint to annotate my artworks and to deconstruct the visual signs, semiotics, messages and meanings in them. The ‘interplay between text and image’, art as representation, and ‘the interface between interpretation and analysis’ (Leavy, 2009), I suggest involves metaphors. I refer to the use of art and the visual that surpasses the limits of ‘space’, and how it reinforces a sense of ‘place’, as I use the visual as an interface to give ‘voice’ to my experiences and to unveil often silenced issues about migration and gender. I refer to feminist perspectives and concepts around affect theory to support my artistic expression and discussion. My analysis departs onto rhetoric of intersubjectivity situated in and through a dialogue. I refer to an ‘interpretivist approach’ that supports negotiation of meanings and a “rhizomatic thinking” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 21) that highlights ambivalence and hybridity about my cultures and gendered identities.
In my discussion I describe how I negotiate my identities as I make reference to culturally inherited and socially constituted traits and my new experiences in making new sense of belongings, spaces, places and time along with the changes and pressures of globalisation. I define how I transit from the real, imaginary to the symbolic and metaphoric as I try to situate the ‘self’. I argue that my research goes beyond representing ancestry, history, and the ontic to demonstrate symbolic and semiotic orders and changes that inform my identities. While my artworks give a ‘voice’ to salient issues, I suggest it highlights artistic expression as a powerful means that can enhance understanding of diversity and differences in regards to social identities. In representing identities through the visual I argue can contribute to extending innovative research methods and practices. I further suggest expression within such paradigms can have implications for Art Education, curriculum and teaching practices that can change misconceptions about diversity, differences and representation within global cities.

Visually Understanding School Grounds: Schooling At Its Intersections With Community And Social Status. (2014)


Joyce used current, historic, and global earth photographs to look at schools as loci of social class.
Human experience exists within space; it is the studio for the stories of our lives. Bounded by time, location and personal experience we assign our own meanings and feelings to them, and they become personal, symbolic places: some are unique to us, imagined places where we act out stories or dreams; most are part of the natural world.
Most spaces, though, are built or controlled by others; these constructed environments can become places where we may, or may not, like to be. This research examined spaces and places of children’s lives through the material
worlds of their neighborhoods and schools, focusing on the visible environment outside of the school building. The intersection of school and community, it is a material embodiment of, and evidence toward, how a community’s resources are apportioned to important aspects of children’s developmental years. These visible representations speak of that society’s values and goals for the children for whom they (we we) are responsible.
This examination used multiple research tools, primarily using visual approaches such as current photographs, archival images and data, descriptive census materials and maps. Historical documents, (many of which are now digitized), as well as other academic literature, local journalistic efforts and school district publications added important materials for analysis. Findings lead to deeper understanding of ways that visible, material worlds of schools and neighborhoods — past and present – can reflect, and direct the experiences of childhood today, and often mirror those of children past. These visual and narrative approaches contributed to understanding the importance of material evidence in revealing inequity and class differences in ways that children, then, must “do school”

Architectural Street Credibility: Reframing Contemporary Architecture to Sidewalk Level with Images from Google Street View. (2014)

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John compared “fancy” architectural photographs of important buildings with Google street-views. “The purpose of this research was to assess the condition of the human/building interface at sidewalk level by reframing our view of contemporary architecture using Google Street View images. In particular, the goal was to find a means by which aesthetic engagement in the urban cultural ecology could be measured.”
Photo-elicitation, semantic differential, and visual assessment methods were adapted and combined to develop a photo-semantic assessment survey instrument for this study aimed at evaluating respondent preference for building images. Architectural adjective usage amongst 14 graduate students was surveyed, and the resulting 175-word list was synthesized down to seven positive and seven negative adjectives. Eleven representative buildings were selected from the Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture, and photographic Street Views were created.
The photo-semantic assessment survey instrument was administered to 62 graduate students given their demographic is reasonably similar to the urban walker stakeholder in the outcome. Respondent preference for the building images was then ranked ordered and correlations were run against various image factors including facade complexity, transparency, and streetscape quality. Moderate to strong correlations between preference and several image factors were observed indicating that certain building design factors, particularly façade complexity, may play a predictable role.
Several avenues for future research are suggested including the comparison of lab versus on-site respondents; the comparison of user types including targeted, passerby and tourist; the effect of skyline on user preference for Street Views; and the effect of participation in the building making process on short and long term respondent preference.

From Ritual to Spectacle: A Narrative Journey into the Communal Heart of Public Art at the Burning Man Festival.


Karen’s dissertation is special because it was accepted by ASU and by Dissertation’s Online in book form rather than the usual Times Roman 12. She also did not provide captions with the images so viewers could make their own decision on how to understand the image.
Part one is a personal narrative based on my aesthetic and communal experiences at the event. This narrative combines photographs and lyrical vignettes into a layered account (Ronai, 1995; Tracy, 2004), written with the intention of providing the reader with an evocative telling (Ellis, 2004) of Burning Man. The format of this story is methodologically modeled on the concept of writing as a method of inquiry (Richardson, 2000; Goodall, 2000; Goodall, 2008; Ellis, 2004), particularly the practices of creative non-fiction writing, where outward analysis and inward reflection, or what Gutkind (2008) refers to as parallel public and private storytelling, are combined to produce a cultural investigation in the form of a literary text.
Part two is a theoretical and methodological discussion about using Narrative Inquiry as a research method for this study. Specifically, I argue bricolaging story-based research practices with rhetorical methods for analyzing material texts (Blair, 1999; Blair & Michel, 1999; Blair & Michel, 2000; Blair, 2001), where special emphasis is placed on critiquing the physical qualities of public art and the affects of this materiality on the viewing audience, and problem-based ethnographic inquiry (Tracy, 2007; Flyvbjerg, 2001), where the researcher practices situated immersion in the field in order to investigate communication issues in situ, creates an especially eff ective methodological approach for practicing relationally active cultural analysis in a manner consistent with the overall objectives of Narrative Inquiry.
Ultimately, my goal with this project is to use story to gain better insight into the ways Burning Man uses public art to bring its community members together, and to reveal what other communities could learn about visual communication practices from Burning Man’s successes and failures with public art. And with these thoughts, my story about Burning Man begins…

A Public Education: The Lived Experiences of One Educator (2016)


Similar in some ways to the dissertation by Karen Stewart, Bonnie’s dissertation is narrative research. She used family photographs and photography to illuminate her experiences as a student and teacher in US public schools. Many “autoethnographic” accounts end up being too much about the author and too little ethnography. Bonnie’s work is both structural and reflective. It is also important for using “art” as well as photography.
This dissertation is a visual and narrative-based autoethnography that narrates the lived educational experiences of the author from preschool through doctoral studies. The text portrays a story that explores issues of power, identity, and pedagogy in education. Told in narrative form, this project utilizes visual data, thematic coding, layering, and writing as a method of inquiry to investigate and more fully understand injustices found in the American education system. Findings show how the author’s identities of student, teacher, and researcher influence and impact one another, and lead to the development of a future vision of self.
By examining the author’s roles as a student, teacher, and researcher this study centers on conflicts and inconsistencies that arise at the intersections of self, community, institutions, and society. Included in the narrative’s analysis are issues related to positionality, visions of success, empowerment, resistance, neoliberalism, colonialism, psychological distance, and ideological purpose in teaching. The narrative concludes with the development of a personal vision of purposeful, empowering, liberating, and transformative pedagogy.
This study contributes its voice to conversations about inequity and inequality in education by asking the reader to examine conflicts, ask new questions, and critically engage with the dialogic text.

Schooled into Place: A Mixed Methods Social Semiotic Analysis of School Marketing Materials

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Trevor knew about the literature showing how “all” schools attracted the “right” students with advertising images. However, he felt the differences between schools must surely have some impact on how they would set about marketing themselves. Since all schools are located within a field and each stands in some relation to all others in that field, it seemed unlikely that such differences would
play no part at all in how schools marketed themselves. Jean Anyon’s research provided a key structuring framework in that she found that the form and content of the educational experience that children received at school varied according to the social class the school served. Research has also shown that the educational experiences of boys and girls are often very different from each other . Furthermore, Australian research has also considered the nature of white flight from schools deemed to have too many non-Anglo-Saxon background children (. That school marketing might not take any of this issues and concerns into consideration while trying to attract students – given their own student populations – seemed improbable.
As such the research question at the heart of this research is: Do all schools provide identical marketing materials regardless of the social class, gender or ethnicity of their students?
The answers involved examining advertising images used by Australian schools to attract students (via parents). He grounded the research by collecting data from texts themselves to build a critical discourse analysis of the socially situated genre that is school marketing. Social semiotics, content analysis, critical discourse analysis and mixed quantitative and qualitative methods were employed in an exhaustive analysis.

Visual rhetoric of US Agricultural Films: Auteurs, Actors and Assimilation 

Agriculture’s role in the expansion of the United States economy is examined through the analysis of five films and their role in presenting societal issues germane to agricultural production. Early in film’s history, the ability to motivate others to understand the need for changes in policy, through the use of persuasive visual, aural, and textual techniques was understood to be important to filmmakers—including those representing government agencies and civic groups. The production and distribution of non-fiction films focused on topics relevant to food and fiber production has kept pace with evolving motion picture production technologies since the first films were released in the early twentieth century. This research project analyzes the context in which these films were produced, how and if production objectives and goals were aligned with societal issues, and whether the expected outcomes were obtained.

Research methods include: institutional ethnography/case studies/ethnographic content analysis (including video forensics and hermeneutic data analysis), to identify genre, voice and associated societal issues; in-depth interviews of those involved in the filmmaking where available; historic document analysis using structure of in-depth interviews to interrogate archival materials.

The films analyzed here were produced and presented as an aid for agricultural producers, policy makers and agricultural educators to come together to create a shared understanding on what it would take to produce food, fiber and prosperity for their communities, and the nation. These all create not only a sense of accomplishment, but the accumulation of wealth and status for a nation that could not only provide for itself, but have an elevated status as the provider for the global community.