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Visual Social Semiotics: Understanding How Still Images Make Meaning

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Abstract:

This article presents a framework—visual social semiotics—that can help professional communicators who need practical tools for image analysis and who may not have the time or inclination to immerse themselves in a new field of study. Although visual social semiotics is not the only theoretical framework for examining how images convey meaning (others include Gestalt theory, art history, psychoanalytical image analysis, and iconography, to name a few), it is unique in stressing that an image is not the result of a singular, isolated, creative activity, but is itself a social process. As such, its meaning is a negotiation between the producer and the viewer, reflecting their individual social/cultural/political beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Because professional communicators must persuade readers/users of one particular viewpoint among many competing and conflicting perspectives, visual social semiotics will help them better understand the rhetorical, meaning-making potential of still images in relationship to text, provide them with techniques to analyze those images, and contribute to their ability to effectively discuss imagery within a team setting.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-02-01

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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