Visual ethnography: Tools for Mapping the AIDS Epidemic

Eric Margolis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Visual representations, such as photographs, maps, and computer graphics, have much to offer ethnography. In the early 1900s, photojournalists and sociologists used photography to document poverty in rural America and urban slums. Nonverbal representations played an important role in bringing social conditions to the attention of the citizenry. This article reports on a street outreach project taking place in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. A variety of visual representations was used to illuminate the social processes, events, relationships, and meanings of both the subculture of intravenous drug users and the outreach workers who pass out bleach and condoms to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus. Maps are used to depict the drug users' view of the Tenderloin and the centers of HIV infection in San Francisco. Computer graphics describe the demographics of the client population, while photographs portray the reality of outreach work in a way that words cannot. The article sketches a paradigm for using visual material in ethnographic investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-391
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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