Abstract: Ferroelectrics and multiferroics have recently emerged as perspective materials for information technology and data storage applications. The combination of extremely narrow domain wall width and the capability to manipulate polarization by electric field opens the pathway toward ultrahigh (>10 TBit inch−2) storage densities and small (sub-10 nm) feature sizes. The coupling between polarization and chemical and transport properties enables applications in ferroelectric lithography and electroresistive devices. The progress in these applications, as well as fundamental studies of polarization dynamics and the role of defects and disorder on domain nucleation and wall motion, requires the capability to probe these effects on the nanometer scale. In this review, we summarize the recent progress in applications of piezoresponse force microscopy (PFM) for imaging, manipulation and spectroscopy of ferroelectric switching processes. We briefly introduce the principles and relevant instrumental aspects of PFM, with special emphasis on resolution and information limits. The local imaging studies of domain dynamics, including local switching and relaxation accessed through imaging experiments and spectroscopic studies of polarization switching, are discussed in detail. Finally, we review the recent progress on understanding and exploiting photochemical processes on ferroelectric surfaces, the role of surface adsorbates, and imaging and switching in liquids. Beyond classical applications, probing local bias-induced transition dynamics by PFM opens the pathway to studies of the influence of a single defect on electrochemical and solid state processes, thus providing model systems for batteries, fuel cells and supercapacitor applications.