Miami in Transformation during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Participatory Visual Culture Analysis




COVID-19 pandemic, Miami, Visual Culture, participatory photography methods, epidemics, coronavirus and economic insecurity


While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt around the world, Miami, Florida is one example of the specific and unique ways in which this pandemic is experienced. Drawing on the concepts of visual culture analysis and disaster literature, this article analyses how the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the everyday lives of people living in this subtropical American city. Specifically, this study draws on data collected from a digital participatory photography project implemented in July 2020, as the novel coronavirus began to rapidly spread. Through an inductive thematic analysis of participants’ photographs and captions, we discovered that the COVID-19 pandemic transformed not only basic daily needs but also lead to recognition of privilege and an awareness of the needs and vulnerabilities of others. While many of the complexities illustrated in this study are left unresolved, the photos and captions are useful examples of how visual depictions can be used to inform and realign the ways in which people interpret and respond to global public health crises. 

Author Biographies

Kaila Witkowski, Florida International University

Kaila Witkowski is a PhD candidate at Florida International University, Department of Public Policy & Administration. Her research and teaching interests include health policy, health epidemics/crises, emergency management, and participatory qualitative methods. Specifically, her research focuses on using mixed-method techniques to improve government actions and policy outcomes responding to stigmatized health issues such as opioid abuse and HIV.

John Vertovec, Florida International University

John Vertovec is a PhD candidate in Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University, USA. His dissertation project ethnographically examined the intersections of structural conditions, inequalities, and income generating behaviors in Havana, Cuba. He also does community-based participatory research (CBPR) in other Caribbean spaces (Miami and Puerto Rico, among others) to identify local interpretations of complex social/structural factors that are most important to local populations. One such CBPR project is the GREETINGS COVIDIANS participatory photography project that sought to provide a cathartic space for community members to reflect on the transformations happening around them during COVID-19.

Natália Marques da Silva, Florida International University

Natália Marques da Silva is a Doctoral Candidate in Global & Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. Her current research focuses on memory, heritage, and travel, as well as representations and narratives of enslavement.

Raymond K. Awadzi, Florida International University

Raymond K. Awadzi is a doctoral student in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University. His research focuses on transnational networking and identity politics in Africa and the African diaspora. Raymond has done research in the areas of religion and state interface, church history and African Christian in reverse missions in South Florida. He is currently conducting his dissertation field research on transnational networking and ethnic reconstructions among African diaspora communities in North America. He works on the GREETINGS COVIDIANS research team with nine other researchers from seven different disciplinary backgrounds.

Farah Yamini, Florida International University

Farah Yamini is a non-binary Masters student in the Department of English at Florida International University. Their research interests includes resilience and subjects in the margins, third spaces, visual data and collaboration between community and university partners. 

Nelson Varas-Díaz , Florida International University

Dr Nelson Varas-Díaz is a Professor of social-community psychology at Florida International University’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies. His research addresses the social, political and individual level implications of stigmatization.  His research has focused on the social stigmatization of disease (i.e. HIV/AIDS, addiction), marginalized groups (i.e. transgender individuals) and cultural practices (i.e. metal music, religion). His work has been published in multiple journals, including the Journal of Community PsychologyAIDS CareCulture, Health and Sexuality, Journal of Homosexuality, Global Public Health, and Metal Music Studies. His documentary films have garnered 75 laurels in international film festivals.

Mark Padilla, Florida International University

Dr Mark Padilla is a professor of anthropology in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. He is a medical anthropologist with research and teaching interests in issues of gender, sexuality, race, migration, political economy, commercial or transactional sex, theories of tourism, and critical HIV/AIDS and drug research. His work seeks to shift research, dialogue, and policy by amplifying the voices and experiences of the communities he studies to raise awareness of social inequalities and provide directions for policy change, community engagement, and social transformation.

Sheilla L. Rodríguez-Madera, Florida International University

Dr Sheilla L. Rodríguez-Madera is a social scientist specializing on the social conditions affecting the health of vulnerable populations. She is the former Executive Director of the Puerto Rico’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence and the past president of the Psychological Association of Puerto Rico. She has multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes; published six books; and participated extensively in academic forums worldwide while disseminating her work. She has received multiple research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Her research interests are related to structural violence and health outcomes, and disaster management in impoverish contexts. 

Armando Matiz Reyes, Florida International University

Dr Armando Matiz Reyes is a research associate at Florida International University in the area of public health and a specialist in Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), having conducted numerous research and community intervention projects in the urban US (Miami, Detroit), the Caribbean (Dominican Republic), and Latin America (Colombia, Panama). Dr Matiz’s work focuses on structural vulnerabilities and health promotion among marginalized populations, including LGBT persons, sex workers, gang members, and incarcerated populations.

Matthew Marr, Florida International University

Dr Matthew Marr is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University. His research focuses on homelessness in the US and Japan, showing how urban marginality is shaped by social conditions operating at multiple levels, from the global to the individual. 


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How to Cite

Witkowski, K., Vertovec, J., da Silva, N. M., Awadzi, R. K., Yamini, F., Varas-Díaz , N., Padilla, M., Rodríguez-Madera, S. L., Matiz Reyes, A., & Marr, M. (2021). Miami in Transformation during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Participatory Visual Culture Analysis. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20(1), 157–181.