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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Visual communication in the new century : challenges and norms revisited


The discipline of visual communication finds itself at the interface of many social-scientific and humanitarian fields, and it is a challenge in itself to circumscribe its numerous influences. The present proposal aims to integrate visual and political communication, and to further the semantic potential of this combination with the addition of expertise from systemic-functional linguistics and multimodal communication research. These disciplines, combined so, make a bold promise of more telling analyses and better understanding of the meaning-making potential of contemporary communication artifacts which are increasingly visual and multimodal in nature and execution. To be fulfilled, however, this promise has to break through a number of norms and barriers which have been established in contemporary visual communication scholarship. This proposal outlines the most important ones. Visual communication and "visuality" as a communication artifact are at the core of this proposal. Kress & van Leeuwen (1996, p. 4) are among the first scholars to prominently refer to the term "visuality"; they use it to signify the visual aspect(s) of communication artifacts and sometimes employ it interchangeably with "visual communication". The latter term has been in use for a longer period of time and is arguably gaining more and more prominence in present day. Müller (2007) provides a detailed overview of the field of visual communication, with particular focus on the German tradition. Both works agree in their treatment of visuals as universally perceivable yet culturally coded communication artifacts which need contextualization to be properly understood. Müller (2003) and Kappas & Müller (2006) detail the basics of visual communication with special attention to both production and reception contexts and the variety of combinations thereof. The sound understanding of visuals' contextual baggage is of utmost importance for their proper interpretation, and, conversely, ignoring the context from which they come and in which they were meant to be viewed can lead to misunderstandings with sometimes grave consequences (cf. Müller, Özcan, & Seizov, 2009). This comes as the first norm in visual communication that needs updating: visuals deserve special attention and analysis with image-specific methodologies, but their publication and reception contexts need to be considered equally in any serious semantic analysis. Multimodality, in turn, builds up on the already complex concept of visuality and pertains to the interactions of different communication modes and their artifacts. Van Leeuwen (2008) even proposes abolishing visual and textual analysis proper in favor of a multimodal approach. Bateman (2008) provides a detailed overview of the booming research field and of its present and future significance. He focuses his study on the multimodal document, in which "a variety of visually-based modes are deployed simultaneously in order to fulfill an orchestrated collection of interwoven communicative goals" (Bateman, 2008, p. 1). It follows, therefore, that multimodality and visual communication are inseparable in their reliance on visual perception and on understanding the compositional and symbolic meaning-making conventions of the artifacts they study. The "interaction and combination of multiple modes within single artefacts [sic]" (ibid.) are of major interest, along with their potential for multiplication of meaning (Lemke, 1998). The simultaneous deployment of several communication modes is by far superior to the use of text alone (cf. Thibault, 2001), and the multimodal document decidedly carries more information than merely the sum of its mono-modal parts. The second norm that visual communication research needs to update, therefore, relates to the extension of visual-analytical methodologies to include the surrounding text and design features of multimodal documents and to incorporate their semantic charge into the otherwise image-centered analyses. The breakdown of those norms is best suited to happen in a communication setting that is society-wide and, hence, more or less universally accessible and used. For these purposes, the realm of political communication presents a data-rich and easily accessible field for the trial of new analytical approaches. By default, visual research in political science remains sparse, and this is a shortcoming to be remedied. The deficiency of visual political communication research was already identified years ago by Griffin & Kagan (1996). A major reason visuals should not be neglected is their uncanny ability to transcend the usual limitations of verbal communication. Doris Graber (1988) conducted numerous studies attesting to the ability of photographs to "make information transmission more realistic, accurate, and touching than is possible in purely verbal messages" (Moriarty & Popovich, 1991, p. 372). Therefore, despite the ubiquity of visuals, there is a scarcity of research done on their meaning-making potential and actual effects. Furthermore, as Blackwood (1983, p. 712) asserts, "in some cases the photos are the only representation of an event. Visuals are important as conveyers of information and shapers of attitudes". By paying attention to the visual components of political communication, which has been experiencing a visual turn for a while now (cf. Griffin & Kagan, 1996), a whole new host of meaning-making potential can be harnessed. The current project proposes to go in that direction with explicit attention to the challenges outlined above. If accepted at the proposal stage, this project presentation will elaborate on the updated norms in visual political communication outlined above and will use a number of examples from recent political campaigns in Europe and USA to illustrate the benefits of a visual-multimodal approach which breaks away from the monodisciplinarity of established communication research modes. In doing so, it will combine theory-building with practical examples and take the field of visual communication in a new direction, informed by older and related research disciplines and by real-world phenomena.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840435 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840435 , version 1


Seizov Ognyan. Visual communication in the new century : challenges and norms revisited. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840435⟩


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