3D Interviewing with Researcher POV Video: Bodies and Knowledge in the Making

Contributor: Ann Shivers-McNair
Affiliation: University of Washington
Email: asmcnair at uw.edu
Released: 4 January 2017
Published: Spring 2017 (Issue 21.2)


This piece describes how a small handheld or body-worn digital video camera can help us study rhetoric and writing in relation to other forms of (meaning)-making. First, I contextualize 3D interviewing, the method I offer, in ongoing conversations in rhetoric and writing studies, as well as my own research. From there, I contextualize my method in qualitative research traditions in and beyond rhetoric and writing studies, offering examples and technical specifications and considerations. I conclude by suggesting ways in which this method could be adapted for a variety of research sites and questions.

3D Research

As a researcher and as a teacher, I am interested in the boundary marking practices by which some practices count as “writing,” “rhetoric,” or “making,” and others do not, and the practices by which some bodies count as “writers,” “rhetors,” or “makers,” and others do not. Such boundary marking processes have long been the concern of scholars in decolonial rhetorics (Haas, 2007; Powell, 2012) and feminist rhetorics (Crowley, 1999; Hallenbeck, 2011), and questions of what counts as writing and who counts as writer are also central to work in multimodal composition (Selfe, 2009; Sheridan, 2010; Wysocki, 2012) and in technical communication (Mara & Hawk, 2009; McNely, Spinuzzi, & Teston, 2015; Slattery, 2005).

Boundary marks are not static; they are dynamic and contested, which is precisely what makes them a rhetorical concern. The ongoing marking and re-marking of the boundaries of what and who count is a central concern in my research on a Seattle makerspace.1 How do we account for boundary-marking practices in a space where objects, machines, and makers are continually being made and re-made; where (at least for most of my fieldwork) most of the regular makers are men, despite the group's commitment to being an inclusive space; and where much of the rhetorical work is not confined to written or spoken words or even to humans?

A man with fair skin and shoulder-length dark hair sits at a large table. He is hunched over small pieces of plastic, and the table is covered in plastic objects in a variety of shapes and colors. Along the wall behind him are large metal racks that hold 3D printers and computers.
Figure 1: The 3D printing station at the makerspace I studied. Photo by Daniel McNair.

Clearly, focusing only on words would not give us the whole picture of the dynamic making and boundary-marking processes. Often, when people were talking to me or to each other, they were also engaged in various forms of 3D making, like 3D printing, laser cutting, sewing, or soldering. Inspired by the XYZ-axis movements of many of the machines in the space (including 3D printers), I began using the term "3D interviewing" to help me describe my work to account for bodies, movements, spatial relations, and spoken and written words.2 But my initial focus on mostly human movements changed as I got to know the people and processes in the space; I eventually grew attuned as well to the movements and diffraction patterns of machines at work, the movements of constantly rearranged furniture, and the movements of rhetoric and ideas through networks beyond the space. And I quickly came to realize that for all the bodies, machines, goals, and rhetorics that seemed to be moving and becoming in the space, there were also bodies, machines, goals, and rhetorics that were not moving or becoming, or even present. Furthermore, there were times when a story I was tracing seemed to be not moving, or moving backward relative to other movements and marks in the space. However, when I zoom out to the view from a year's time, I can see that movement differently. And, crucially, the tracing of these stories and movements is not a linear process: my own understandings changed, so with every change in my own understanding and the understandings I shared with my participants, new past, present and future stories emerged. In other words, I needed to account not only for the marking of boundaries in the makerspace, but also for the changing research apparatus that accounts for and participates in those boundary marks.

Therefore, attending to these boundary marking processes demands a three-dimensional account of rhetorical work—in words, objects, movements, bodies, and images. By “three-dimensional,” I mean several things:

  • XYZ coordinates in Euclidean space.
  • Triangulation, particularly in the sense described by Norman Denzin (1970), which, as Paul Atkinson and Sara Delamont (2005) explained, is more than simply mixing methods and sources: it is a methodological move that recognizes multiple and simultaneous frames and modes (semiotic, embodied, social, material) through which phenomena emerge. Time (a fourth dimension) is also crucial to a multidimensional account of boundary-marking, because boundary-marking practices are dynamic and ongoing as well as localized.
  • An attempt to go beyond the think-aloud protocol and resist an impulse to rely on language as the sole or even primary representation or maker of reality. This means taking the act of making and what is made as seriously as what someone says about the act and product of making. 
  • Collapsing material-temporal distinctions among “interview,” “observation,” and “participation” (as well as “observation of participation”) and, instead, focusing on acts of making as they unfold. This includes the making of knowledge and the making of the research itself, as well as the marking of boundaries such as “subject,” “object,” “making,” “maker,” and “space.”

To be clear, I am not starting with the assumption of a Latourian parity between, for example, 3D printers and people, nor do I ignore what people say or write in favor of movements or objects. Instead, I use the 3D interview apparatus to help me account for the practices by which boundaries are marked and by which rhetorics, objects, and bodies are made. In my study, this looks like observing and interacting with people and machines as they engage in acts of making, also holding space for absent bodies and foreclosed possibilities. This sometimes takes me outside the physical space to interact, for example, with women who were once involved but had left the space. It also looks like accounting for my own involvement in and changing relationship to the space. To this end, I use a body-worn or hand-held digital camera that documents not only what I see and hear, but also the direction of my attention and my own body movements, as I explain below.

3D Interviews as Method

Just as David Sheridan (2010) built on a rich tradition of visual rhetoric to make a case for the practice of attending to and teaching 3D rhetoric, I draw on a tradition of visual research methods in rhetoric and writing studies (Brumberger, 2005; McKee & DeVoss, 2007; McNely, Gestwicki, Gelms, & Burke, 2013; Hawisher, Selfe, Berry, & Skjulstad, 2012) in my use of digital video and photography (in addition to hand-drawn sketches and handwritten and typed notes) in 3D interviews. In addition to these digital methods—in the (contemporary) sense of “digital,” as a reference to new media and technologies, and also in the (literal) sense of “digital” as a reference to an older technology, namely fingers (Haas, 2007; Eyman, 2015)—I also account for physical artifacts and embodied memories, as well as theoretical and methodological frameworks, as part of the specific 3D interviewing apparatus. My approach to 3D interviews draw on a tradition of phenomenological qualitative interviewing (Van Manen, 1990; Seidman, 2013) and share elements of ethnographic field interviews (in that they draw on the relationships and knowledge I have built over time), think-aloud protocols (in that participants sometimes describe or comment on what they are doing without my prompting), and artifact-based interviews (in that many of the conversations are prompted by physical artifacts). 3D interviews also collapse material-temporal distinctions between interviewing and participant observations (and observations of participation, for that matter). In my research project, this looks like observing and interacting with people and machines as they engage in acts of material-discursive making. While my observations and interactions are certainly guided by my research questions—which include attending to the ways in which the technologies and making practices in a makerspace make some kinds of making and bodies matter more than others (Shivers-McNair, 2016)—as well as what I have learned in the makerspace over time, I typically do not prepare a structured interview protocol, instead letting the acts of making themselves and the participants shape the questions I ask.

Consider, for example, a moment in my fieldwork in December 2015, when I observed Richard, one of the co-founders of the makerspace, using the laser cutter to make a dress form for displaying his cosplay creations (see Video 1). The laser beam was moving toward a part of the plywood sheet that was warped, and because the machine is calibrated in a way that assumes the material is lying flat on the cutting bed, Richard used his fingers to press the warped edge of the plywood flat as the laser beam passed by.

Video 1: Demonstration of POV Video Research

There are multiple layers of boundary marking at play here, and many of them exceed the verbal interaction Richard and I had as he worked. On the one hand, there are dimensions to this interaction that would be difficult to capture in words alone and are highlighted in the video, such as the sound of the laser cutter, the tone of our voices, the nuances of Richard's posture and movements, and my own placement and gaze in the interaction. On the other hand, there are dimensions to this interaction that could not be captured in the video. While Richard reminded me to "do as I say, not as I do," I realized that Richard's experiences operating the laser cutter for more than a year had given him a keen sense of how the machine worked, of the problems that would occur when the laser passed over warped material, and of spatial relations like the airflow space at the front of the machine (just wide enough for fingers) and where the laser beam moves (along the toolpath he had specified in the driver). Since Richard's expertise is acknowledged by his colleagues, no one else in the space reacted to Richard's risky move. In standard machine certification trainings, however, people are told not to put their hands in the machine (indeed, even looking directly at the laser beam can damage one's eyes). In other words, what is not said in the video (no one, including me, tells Richard to stop or be careful) matters, just as the fact that he easily accomplishes his goal of flattening the board without being injured matters. The mark of a maker is not only the embodied, proprioceptive knowledge of machine movements, but also the shared recognition of one's expertise.

But there is another important boundary marking: my own involvement in the interaction. When I first began researching the makerspace, I was unfamiliar with the fabrication technologies in the space: I had never seen, much less operated, a laser cutter, 3D printer, or computer-numerical control (CNC) milling machine. I spent the first several months of my fieldwork learning to understand and communicate not only with the people in the space, but also with the machines. This moment with Richard happened nearly nine months into my fieldwork, by which point I had an understanding both of Richard and of the laser cutter. What the camera does not show is that as Richard put his hands in the machine, my eyes widened, because I knew the risk involved. But because I knew his ethos as a maker, I expressed my surprise as a joke ("Living on the edge!" as opposed to "What are you doing?!"). In other words, my own prior embodied experiences with the laser cutter and interacting with people in the space made it possible for me to know that Richard's maneuver was both risky and significant, and thus to comment on it.

3D Interviewing with Digital Video

While digital video is important to my work of 3D interviewing (both in terms of data collection and data representation and visualization), I am not an ethnographic filmmaker. I am one researcher, working without a budget for a film crew or extensive equipment. My approach to 3D interviewing with digital video is responsive to those material facts. And because I am researching a space with large machines and constant movement, a stationary camera on a tripod is not a viable option, so I either hold or wear a small digital video camera as I move around the space and interact with participants.

I do draw on moving-camera techniques from sensory anthropology and mobile ethnography, like walking with video (Pink, 2015) and mobile headcam video (Brown & Spinney, 2010; Laurier, 2014; Simpson, 2014), and from mobile video in literacy sponsorship research (Halbritter & Lindquist, 2012). Specifically, I use a GoPro video camera that shoots at 1080 pixels and 30 frames per second, set on the “SuperView” field of view (FOV) setting. According to the manufacturer, the wide FOV has a focal length equivalent of 14mm, and the SuperView mode dynamically stretches the 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9. The wide angle allows me to stand close enough to participants and machines to see and hear (and let the camera see and hear) what they are doing and saying while still capturing large machines and a sense of the action in relation to the larger space in the video frame, as in the case I discussed above of my 3D interview with Richard operating a laser cutter (see Video 1). In Video 2, for example, the wide angle allows me to capture not only the entire 3D printing station, but also the gestures of the participants as one of them (Alex) trained the other (Tony) in 3D printing techniques. Those gestures were important in my analysis, as they exemplified a case of a human (re-)translating machine gestures, which are themselves a translation of human instructions to the machine. Similarly, in Video 3, the wide angle allows me to capture Tony's posture in relation to and his interactions with the 3D printer as he observed it working, and it also captured my field notebook, serving to situate my position in the interaction, both physically in proximity to Tony and the 3D printer and relationally in my role as a researcher. Furthermore, the wide angle also works well for relatively low-light filming, allowing maximum available light into the camera (in my case, there is little natural light and only overhead fluorescent lights).

Video 2: Alex and Tony Discuss 3D Printing
Video 3: Tony Operates the 3D Printer

I shot Videos 1 and 3 with the camera mounted on my head (via adjustable elastic straps), which left my hands free to take notes (and, as I noted above, this reminder of my relationship to the scenes is captured in the wide angle frame in those interactions). As Katrina Brown and Justin Spinney (2010) noted, the camera does not exactly approximate my eye movements, and because the camera is positioned just over my eyes, the participants are looking just below the camera to make eye contact with me. The camera does, however, move with my head when I nod (at the end of the clip in Video 1), lean in to look closely at a machine (at the beginning of the clip in Video 3), or look down at my field notebook to take notes (at the end of the clip in Video 3). I do not always wear the camera on my head, though: I shot Video 2 with the camera in my hands, at chest-level. While the camera's records of my own body movements can be somewhat visually jarring, I value them as a reminder of my relationship to the phenomena I'm recording.

It’s important to note, as Eric Laurier (2014) reminded us, that even the best and most immersive-seeming video set-ups cannot capture everything and are not a substitute for imagination and verbal description. Instead, I see the video recordings as part of the research(er) apparatus, a way of attending to movements and gestures and space along with voices and sounds. I also use hand-drawn sketches and handwritten notes, photos and video recorded with my iPhone, photos recorded with a DSLR camera, and my own embodied memories, particularly since video recording is not always appropriate (when, for example, participants are discussing or modeling proprietary designs). Indeed, on my site visits, I carried equipment for these multiple methods of recording data:  

  • GoPro camera (with fully charged battery, a back-up SD card, and a cable to connect to my laptop)
  • Head mount strap for GoPro
  • Small tabletop tripod
  • iPhone (fully charged and with plenty of space for videos and photos, and a lightning cable to connect to my laptop)
  • Laptop and power cord
  • Field notebook and extra pencils
  • DSLR camera (with 35 mm lens, fully charged battery, extra SD card, and a cable to connect to my laptop)

Just as the camera-researcher apparatus encourages me to diffract words, sounds, gestures, and spatial relations, the multiple methods of recording 3D interviews encourage me to account for different ways of knowledge making. To conduct my analysis, I often begin by editing video (in Adobe Premiere Pro), as the act of transcribing the interactions and adjusting sound levels attunes me to nuances and patterns in the interactions, as well as their connections with other events and themes. As I work, I also consult my handwritten and typed notes, as well as other photos and videos, looking for relationships and patterns. These relationships and patterns help me construct both the video stories (the clips I produce) and the ethnographic stories into which those videos are woven.

Implications and Applications

While I developed 3D interviewing with researcher POV video in the context of my research on a makerspace, the methodological orientations and techniques could support research and teaching in a number of ways beyond the scope of my study. An interview need not be about 3D making in order to be a 3D interview. As Laura Gonzales (2015) has shown, filming a focus group in which students talk about their composing practices across languages and across modalities affords an opportunity to examine students’ gestures alongside their verbal accounts. Even when an interview in my makerspace study seems more traditional (for example, a Skype interview with a participant who has moved away), I still approach it as a 3D interview in that I’m attending to bodies in place and space (including virtual space), I’m triangulating multiple ways of knowing that include and exceed the words we say, and I’m accounting for my own role in the making of knowledge.

3D interviewing with video has also informed my ongoing research on students’ multimodal composing. While some research on multimodal composing has relied on written and verbal reflections as a means of data collection (see, for example, DePalma, 2015), other approaches, like that of Stuart Blythe and Laura Gonzales (2016), focused on acts of composing via screen capture technologies. I see 3D interviewing with video as a way to combine both these approaches: putting embodied acts of making (digital, 3D, alphabetic, haptic, visual, aural) alongside verbal or textual artifacts or reflections, and locating the researcher (via POV video) in the making of knowledge.

Since I developed 3D interviewing with video in the context of an ethnographically-informed case study, I can certainly imagine applications of the method to other ethnographic research, including case studies, workplace studies, classroom research, and user research, as a way of bringing multiple modes of meaning-making to the forefront, acknowledging and accounting for the researcher’s participation and supplementing textual descriptions. But just as 3D interviewing need not be limited to 3D making, it also need not be limited to qualitative research. As a complement to a quantitative approach—for example, a corpus study—3D interviewing with video could illuminate the particulars of individual cases and contributors to the corpus. Or, as an autoethnographic technique, 3D interviews with video could help us, no matter what our approach, not just say but show our methodological work.


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1. Part of an international maker movement that values creativity, entrepreneurship, and collaboration, makerspaces offer training and access to 3D fabrication technologies (typically 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC milling machines, sewing machines, and a variety of tools for small electronics. The movement is, by its own account, dominated by middle-to-upper class men (Maker Media, 2015) (QA: CITATION NOT IN REFERENCES). While some makerspaces are grant-funded, not-for-profit, or hosted at schools or libraries, the makerspace I studied is a public benefit corporation with a commitment to education and access. Visual and textual references to people in the makerspace are made with their permission, and my study was reviewed and exempted by my institution's review board.
2. I am grateful to Anis Bawarshi for suggesting the name "3D interviewing."


Created by matthew. Last Modification: Monday 09 of January, 2017 17:12:15 UTC by kristi.