Visualising children’s credibility: the role of the visual in psychological research and child witness practice

Motzkau, Johanna (2011). Visualising children’s credibility: the role of the visual in psychological research and child witness practice. In: Reavey, Paula ed. Visual Methods in Psychology: Using and Interpreting Images in Qualitative Research. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge.



This chapter explores the role of the visual in legal practice and psychological research, focussing on issues of children’s memory and testimony in the context of child abuse investigations. Reporting experiences and findings from a research project that compared child witness practice in England/Wales and Germany (Motzkau, 2006), the chapter illustrates how the visual asserted itself throughout the research process, emerging as an important and often equivocal arbiter within practices negotiating children’s memory and credibility. It is outlined how the effect of the visual ambiguously shapes children’s experience of giving evidence and the conditions under which the credibility of their statements are assessed. The chapter focuses in particular on the role of video technology introduced in the UK, as part of special measures to provide better access to justice for children and vulnerable witnesses. Drawing on courtroom observations and data from interviews with legal professionals it is illustrated how in practice the video asserted itself as a participant, an autonomous proxy witness with a gaze and an ambiguous voice of its own.
The chapter underlines the importance of considering visual alongside textual data; it highlights the need to reflect about the direction and efficacy of the gaze as mediated through visual technologies; it points to the problem of invisible spaces produced as a result of the use of visual data; discusses how the visual raises questions about the integrity of the date and researchers’ own integrity; and examines the way time influences how data is collected, interpreted and viewed. In the context of the analysis, the chapter reveals a constant slippage between what is visible and what can be said about the visible, a disjunction between seeing and speaking (Deleuze 1986). In this context it is suggested that the work of Deleuze (1986) about Foucault could play an important role for consolidating the theoretical framework of visual research in psychology.

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