Comparing Visual Communication

Authored by: Marion G. Müller , Michael Griffin

Handbook of Comparative Communication Research

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415802710
eBook ISBN: 9780203149102
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514241


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At the beginning of their influential book, The Logic of Comparative Social Inquiry, Przeworski and Teune (1982) note that “observation” is at the heart of social science methodology. Thus, the act of seeing and perceiving appears to be crucial for the comprehension, analysis, and explanation of any “human or social behavior” (Przeworski & Teune, 1982, pp. 36–37). And yet, visual communication has not received the attention it deserves from communications social science, and the area of visual communication studies has emerged only recently as a recognized field of communication research (Barnhurst, Vari, & Rodríguez, 2004; Griffin, 1992a, 2001; Knieper & Müller, 2001; Messaris, 1994, 1997; Müller, 2003, 2007; Worth & Gross, 1981). Even the term “visual communication” only slowly came into use after the idea and study of “mass communication” had become well established following World War II. The term seems to make its first appearance in the title of William Ivins’ 1953 book Prints and Visual Communication, a treatise on the proliferation of “exactly repeatable pictorial statements” made possible by the means of mechanical and photographic reproduction. But despite Ivins’ work, communication and media scholars continued to pay little attention to the specifically visual aspects of mass media content during the postwar years. It was left to film theorists of the time to incorporate psychological, structuralist, and semiotic methods into the analysis of cinema, while perceptual psychologists, art historians, and anthropologists fueled an interest in comparing pictorial representation and perception across cultures (Deregowski, 1968, 1980; Edgerton, 1975; Gombrich, 1960/1969, 1972; Gregory, 1966, 1970; Hudson, 1960, 1967; Worth, 1981; Worth & Adair, 1972). 1

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