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Exploring new creative possibilities for ethnography
through documentary film and data visualization


The VizE Lab  is dedicated to new forms of ethnography that combine the person-centered and narrative traditions of ethnographic documentary, based on in-person research, with new techniques of data visualization and mapping. The Lab offers consultations and lab resources for researchers who want to:


  • collect structured ethnographic data sets and host online data repositories
  • create interactive data visualizations and maps to analyze relationships and express complexities in data
  • create an ethnographic data management plan for research proposals and IRB protocols
  • combine data visualizations and maps with ethnographic writing and film in a project website


  • plan, produce and edit ethnographic documentaries, video clips and podcasts
  • combine documentary film with data visualizations, maps and writing and in a project website


  • use the Lab for a comfortable, conversational setting to brainstorm and collaborate on visualizing ethnographic data, and gather feedback on works in progress. 

We are eager to collaborate with students and faculty in social science and humanist disciplines as well as scientists, engineers, designers, and policy experts who want to use ethnographic methods to enrich and express their work. As the Lab's defining core, ethnography is an approach to studying people and cultures that involves in-depth and often long-term participant observation. Ethnographic methods help researchers understand what motivates and organizes human activity from the perspectives of social contexts themselves, and it is the method used most by socio-cultural anthropologists.

The VizE Lab was founded in a political and environmental moment that has placed new -- if not urgent -- demands on scholars to expand their range of methods and the accessibility of their work. On one hand ethnography brings into view a variety of unseen and unanticipated cultural facts through grounded engagements with people outside of elite institutions, or who may not appear in statistical knowledge. And on the other hand, the patterns that data visualization can reveal offer new starting points for ethnographic inquiry. Taken together, the VizE Lab's mission is to use documentary and data visualization to produce empathetic understandings of the humanity of people where ever they are situated, while portraying the shifting complexity of structural inequalities in intelligible and engaging forms. To be sure, the lab is also committed to the critique of the social production of data and to reflexive questions about the datafication of knowledge in the on-line, digital age. In any case, we believe that the social pervasiveness of both documentary film and data visualization as media in their own right are excellent vehicles for extending the reach of and legibility of ethnographic understanding well beyond academia.


concept map of VizE Lab
The VizE Lab Visualized

The VizE Lab has initiated a series of research projects based in Philadelphia, in collaboration with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates. The Visualizing Philadelphia project combines a range of data sources, from giant longitudinal datasets of physiological records, to environmental and socio-economic data, and eventually person-centered ethnographic film and interviews. In the pilot project, we want to provide an expanding starting point for  independent research and coursework where students can contribute new data and explore new possibilities for visualizing data, while analyzing the relationships between social contexts, environmental conditions and childhood growth and development. 

Contact Jeffrey Himpele with your interest in our services, resources and research collaborations.

Email us to add your name to the VizE Lab mailing list.


VizE Lab for Ethnographic Data Visualization
320 Aaron Burr Hall

Contact Us:  vizelab@princeton.edu