IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

events: Visual studies today: The power of images


Ory Bartal
Social Sciences meet the Humanities: A Research Methodology for the Creative Industries

Among the items studied in the field of visual culture are products of the creative industries (fashion, graphic and product design), which have a dialectical relationship with the society in which they act, both resulting from, and causing social, political, and economic processes and changes. However, despite the deep engagement of visual images with social processes, the different approaches of the social sciences to them (from the early works in visual anthropology by Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead, through the psychological analysis of Rudolf Arnheim, the socio-historical approach of Michael Baxandall, cultural and gender studies by Erving Goffman, and the visual semiotic studies of Roland Barthes) lack the appropriate methodological) modes and terminology to analyze the aesthetics of images (colors, composition, etc.) and the way this aesthetics operates in social contexts. A case study of Japanese advertisement design based on theories of creative industries (Richard Caves, Hilary Collins, John Hartley, Richard Florida) and contemporary research into visual methodology (Theo van Leeuwen, Gillian Rose, Stephen Spencer and Gregory Stanczak) allow me to propose a new qualitative methodology for analyzing design-related images/products as a social process taking place in the creative industries. As they fully integrate visual and socio-economic systems, I propose a multi-faceted approach combining art, design, business, sociology, and modern history, allowing a reading of their aesthetics in the broad social context of late consumer culture. The methodology pairs Grounded Theory created by in-depth interviews (social science-based) with visual social-semiotic analysis (humanities-based). This image-driven scholarship enables a transdisciplinary approach to the different layers (social, economic, aesthetic) of the image beyond iconography, and in this way reveals the overlapping meanings of design as a cultural product and positions the field of visual culture as an independent academic discipline based on critical methodologies apart from those of art history.