LINGUIST List 25.5110

Mon Dec 15 2014

Review: Discourse; Pragmatics; Text/Corpus Ling: Machin (2014)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 17-Jul-2014
From: Andrea Lypka <>
Subject: Visual Communication
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Book announced at

EDITOR: David Machin
TITLE: Visual Communication
SERIES TITLE: Handbooks of Communication Science [HoCS]
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Andrea E Lypka, University of South Florida

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Visual Communication, a collection of studies edited by David Machin enriches the growing body of visual communication studies through an interdisciplinary approach. The handbook’s 34 chapters, theoretical and analytical essays and research studies, examine semiotic modes, such as talk, text, moving and still images, music, and other forms of communication. Contributions are made by international scholars and practitioners in the fields of semiotics, psychology, anthropology, linguistics, typography, theatre, mass communication, photography, tourism studies, advertisement, education, political communication, and history. In the overview of the communication discipline, Peter J. Schulz and Paul Cobley, editors of the series Handbooks of Communication Science, articulate the interdisciplinary nature of communication studies and acknowledge that communication spans hard and social sciences, semiotic and linguistic approaches. This collection conceptualizes quantitative and qualitative orientations to the study of human visual communication and offers a broad survey of different theoretical, methodological, and analytical perspectives.

The 756-pages long book is divided in three sections. In part one, Machin introduces major academic journals and handbooks, such as Visual Communication and Visual Studies, Rose’s (2012) Visual Methodologies, and Spencer’s (2010) Visual Research Methods in Social Sciences. He then examines the evolving nature of the field, cautioning against over-specialization, the tendency to privilege theory-building as opposed to conducting research, and the over-reliance on popular theories, models, and concepts. Machin argues that such trends limit the approach to the exploration of certain concepts and ultimately have epistemic limits to knowledge creation.

Machin fuses the perspectives of communication and semiotics to define visual communication as the act of creating and communicating meaning through visual resources and understanding the creator-meaning relationship in wider contexts. In this perspective, visual communication is connected to identity and positioning self within cultural discourses. Building on Kress and Leeuwen’s (2001) discussion of the fluid visual-language-genre connection, Machin visual communication as a social phenomena.

Parts two and three are a collection of 17 chapters that investigate visual communication extensively from an interdisciplinary perspective, followed by the authors’ biographical sketch. Studies in part two of the volume focus on different methodological and theoretical approaches to visual communication, including textual analysis, relevance theory, multimodality, critical theory, psychoanalysis, content analysis, film narrative analysis, eye tracking, biographical analysis, and visual analysis in various fields, such as semiotics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, cognitive science, design studies, anthropology, media studies, arts, education, and cultural studies. Studies in part three investigate visual communication in different media or forms of art.

The First Chapter by Göran Sonesson differentiates semiotics from the fields of art history and psychology, positing that semiotics studies conventions of visual artefacts. Informed by cognitive semiotics and James Gibson’s work, the textual analysis of Mark Rothko’s set of abstract pictures, “Untitled” reveals the complexity of rules, models (such as iconicity and plastic language) and concepts (such as prototypes, oppositions, identities and indexicalities) that might influence understanding of the artwork.

In the Second Chapter, Charles Forceville applies Sperber and Willson’s Relevance Theory (RT) (1995) as a framework in his analysis of visual images. Through the analyses of a Tintin panel cartoon and a political cartoon on Barack Obama and the Dutch queen, Beatrix, Forceville illustrates the difference between mass communication and prototypical verbal communication, suggesting that RT allows for a rigorous analysis of different modes and media.

In the Third Chapter, through the concept of resemiotization (Iedema, 2001), Ian Roderick investigates the semiotics of military artifacts in two television series, Future Weapons and Ultimate Weapons, by combining the simondonian theory of socio-technical relations and Actor-Network Theory. Findings suggest that the series present weapons as technical objects and resemiotize the relationship between artifact and audience to publicize military policy and recruit military personnel.

The aim of the Fourth Chapter by Christina Konstantinidou and Martha Michailidou is to demonstrate how generic photojournalistic photographs and archival images in a corpus of Greek newspapers reproduce institutional discourses on immigration. Findings reveal that the press problematizes immigration either as a national threat or humanitarian crisis within discourses on European identity and securitization; both visual and textual discourses normalize immigration, perpetuate visual stereotypes, and portray immigrants as the “Other.”

Linguistic fetishisation or the use of languages for symbolic value as opposed to instrumental value in advertising is the focus of the study by Helen Kelly-Holmes. Using linguistic landscape analysis, she examines foreign words in an online advertisement and on commercial websites to emphasize that linguistic fetish is grounded in power relations.

In Chapter Six, Paul Bowman explores gender, sexuality, identity, and ethnicity as performance, and the male gaze in contemporary popular culture, to argue that media shape discursive individual and collective identity formation. By linking Critical Theory and Laura Mulvey’s visual pleasures with Rey Chow’s coercive mimeticism as analytical frameworks, Bowman demonstrates how the popular music videos perpetuate patriarchal and sexist discourse on gender.

In Chapter Seven, Inna Semetsky’s study on visual semiotics in Tarot cards fuses Jung’s work and Charles Sanders Peirce’s logic as semiotics model that consists of sign, object, and interpretant. The author suggests that interpreting the polysemous meanings of Tarot cards in light of current events enriches the consciousness.

In the Eighth Chapter,“Color language hierarchy,” Dennis Puhalla theorizes color as language. By analyzing a weather map that might be difficult to interpret without reference to a color legend and the London underground transportation map that successfully integrates color, the author argues that similar to language, color carries meaning and message and its three characteristics, hue, value, chroma act as organizational and hierarchical rules, comparable to syntax and semantics in language.

To understand the complex process of reading and the analysis of typefaces, Mary C. Dyson carries out computer-based experimental research in chapter nine. Specifically, the author examines differences between typographer and user perception of these visual forms, particular characteristics of letters and typefaces, drawing on two models of reading, McClelland and Rumelhart’s Interactive Activation Model (1981), and Sanocki’s “font tuning” concept (1991). Even though such methods are less used in typography research, they can inform pedagogy and typography practice.

Toys as mass cultural artefacts and representations of simplified and often distorted reality are the center of Gilles Brougère’s study in Chapter 10. Using a socio-anthropological lens and rhetorical analysis, the author connects the notion of toy to the action of play and game, to the goal of entertainment and/or education, arguing that this image of toy is constantly altered through media.

In Chapter 11, Martin Conboy’s provides a thorough historical overview of the evolution of the journalism industry in Britain, including the influence of American journalism and New Journalism, characterized by bold headlines and simple, short language to attract attention. Conboy expands his analysis to image, textual display, layout, and format, arguing that the evolving tabloid journalism genre needs to be contextualized within contemporary journalism, politics, economy, culture, and technological advances.

In Chapter 12, Gwen Bouvier analyzes how news photographs in the UK framed the 2011 uprising and 2012 NATO involvement/strikes in Libya, employing visual content analysis and Halliday’s (1978) classification of verb types. Findings reveal that the photographs represent a simplified, generic, decontextualized, sanitized, and ethnocentric worldview, utilize government perspective, and lack details about socio-political context.

Audiovisual artefacts, in particular narrative films, are the focus of the study by John A. Bateman in Chapter 13, inspired by the Hallidayan systemic functional theory. Bateman employs functional discourse analysis to interpret three filmic discourse relations, such as time, contrast, and space, filmic discourse structure, such as spatiotemporal relations, and filmic cohesion, including audio elements and settings in an extract of the movie Father and Daughter.

In Chapter 14, Jana Holsanova calls for more empirical research on multimodality from the user perspective within an interdisciplinary framework. Using heatmaps and examples from previous eye tracking studies, Holsanova discusses informant narratives on their inspection of an image, following the gaze allocation saliency model.

Within the broader aspects of the role of arts and artist in society, H. Camilla Smith examines artistic creativity of German artist, Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976), pointing to the artist’s and arts’ role as social construct in Chapter 15. The analysis of magazine illustrations is contextualized in a detailed discussion of Mammen’s letters, objects, and photographs in her studio to reveal that such multilayered analysis can enrich or challenge previous evaluations of Mammen’s work.

Carey Jewitt connects the discussion on multiple literacies and multimodality in education to the Foucauldian notion of power in Chapter 16. Using a case study of a multimodal hands-on lesson on blood circulation and a learning space similar to a teenage room in a secondary school, the author demonstrates how multimodal practices and materials facilitate learning and reconstruct the student-education relationship,

In Chapter 17, Ross P. Garner adopts social-constructionist theories to expand Paul Grainge’s (2000) model of nostalgia “moods” and “modes” to his analysis of nostalgia discourses in the crime drama series, Ashes to Ashes. Garner dissects changes in discourses of nostalgia, using various narrative strategies. The author combines textual analysis with socio-semiotic methodology to reveal the interconnection between nostalgic discourse constructions and BBC public service discourses in TV series.

A 19th century UK cartoon figure with an oversized head and pot belly, Ally Sloper, is the focus of Roger Sabin’s essay in Chapter 18. Following an overview of comics studies, including the comic Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, the author draws on textual analysis and historiography to provide possible interpretations of the evolution, relevance and meaning of this popular figure in the Victorian context.

In Chapter 19, Marvin Carlson calls for the reconceptualization of visuality in theatre. He discusses examples and technological affordances to attest the dominance of visuality in the theatre, starting from the Greek theatre and Filippo Brunelleschi’s giant flying machines, theatrical shows of panoramas, evolving into the melodrama and silent movies, and culminating in live video installations that blur the lines between public and private.

Vincent Campbell’s article in Chapter 20 provides an overview of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) in documentary entertainment, such as extinct animal shows as well as series on extreme weather, natural disasters, and crime. The author draws on models of computer animation in documentary films to analyze the use of CGI scenes in Planet Dinosaur, a series about extinct animals.

From a poststructuralist paradigm, Sarah Edge approaches historical photographs taken in prisons as visual discursive constructs that can help historical photographers interpret complex historical events, identity, and popular culture at a particular point in time. The author’s critical interpretation of photographs of Fenians is contextualized in the mid -19th century sociopolitical environment.

Diane Carr’s study in Chapter 22 is an analysis of a section of a survival horror digital game. The author employs textual, structural, and inter-textual analysis to reveal differences between game textuality and game structure, arguing that the combined theoretical and methodological approaches afford a multiple-level analysis.

Visual thinking and graphic representation play a key role in children’s sense-making process and communication. In Chapter 23, Susan Wright discusses a telling-drawing study that investigated how children from two primary Catholic schools in Australia interacted with multimodal texts, using an analytical framework inspired by Vygotsky, Bruner, and Peirce. Wright’s analysis reveals that children combined fantasy, imagery, and personal experiences to represent and describe complex ideas in their drawings.

Gendered meanings of fashion toys perpetuated in advertisements and connected to culture are the focus of the study by Danielle Almeida in Chapter 24. The author adopts a social semiotic lens to compare the performative nature of gendered discourses on fashion dolls. The analysis reveals that fashion toys present an idealized and simplified version of reality: they mirror evolving discourses on gender but are unable to capture the complexity of human lives beyond the commercial level.

In the exploratory study in Chapter 25, Kay I. O’Halloran, Alvin Chua, and Alexey Podlasov combine linguistic and visual analysis to investigate visual communication on social media networks in Singapore. Specifically, the interconnection between personal and professional life is analyzed in multimodal user generated content on Twitter and Instagram, using the free face detection software, OpenCV.

Nathaniel Dafydd Beard’s essay examines the symbiotic relationship between the contemporary fashion industry, visual communication, and technology in Chapter 26. The examples in the essay reveal that through evolving technological developments, fashion photography blends characteristics of commercial photography and art photography, materialism, artistic creativity with multimodal forms to appeal to a global audience.

In Chapter 27, Nurit Peled-Elhanan adopts a social-semiotic approach to examine meta discourses of power in Israeli textbooks. Her analysis suggests that the ideological choices employed in the textbooks portray Palestinians as subhumans or as invisible and legitimize Israeli discourses on authority by presenting Israel as a democratic state that protects human rights.

Through a semiotic perspective, William Cannon Hunter’s case study investigates discourses of tourism in advertising materials published by the government and tourism developers to reveal how the tourism destination image of Seoul is mediatized. Frequent depictions of tourism landscapes represented Seoul as a progressive, global city and landscapes portrayed Han River as an evolving tourist destination for recreation.

In Chapter 29, Randall Teal dissects the relationship between object and visual representation in architecture from a visual communication lens. The author borrows the analytique drawing approach developed by Marco Frascari to argue that through this technique the designer reintroduces the elements of ambiguity, incompleteness, and specificity in design.

The article on animal visual communication in Chapter 30 by Karely Kleisner and Timo Maran proposes the Portmannian- Uexküllian adopts biosemiotic approach as alternative to traditional theories on evolution. Through a discussion of the development of semantic organs, the authors demonstrate that the subject-oriented nature of biosemiotic approach allows the reinterpretation of the dynamic interactions between certain elements in complex and organic systems.

Murals as a medium to publicize political messages and propaganda, recruitment tools for political movements, and representations of political events and cultural symbols in Northern Ireland are at the center of Chapter 31 by Maximilian Rapp and Markus Rhomberg. From a historiographical lens, the authors investigate how murals in Belfast and (London-) Derry depicted a republican agenda during the 1968 civil war.

From a visual anthropology paradigm and Taussig’s notion of mimesis (1993), Rupert Cox’s essay raises questions about the relationship between art-agency, original-copy, and viewer-object by analyzing a collection of reproductions of Western artwork at a Japanese art museum in Chapter 32. Findings reveal that this act of copying photographs of authentic artwork blurs the lines between original and copy and challenges norms of cultural knowledge display, copyright, and ethics.

Reader emotional engagement in fictional narratives is explored by Maria Nikolajeva in Chapter 33. The author adapts the theory of mind from cognitive psychology and the term emotion ekphrasis to reflect on joy, fear, love, and guilt, in relation to multimodal narratives in children’s picture books. Nikolajeva suggests that the complexity of iconography on the levels of visual, verbal narrative, and word-image interaction differs in various picture books.

In Chapter 34, from a practitioner standpoint, Paul Brighton argues that effective data visualization and newsgathering can enhance a story’s news value and the news outlet’s authority. Using autobiographical accounts from reporters, he dissects how visual representation influences story treatment and editorial decisions of selection of stories for television news from the perspective authenticity, transparency, and audience expectations and within the constraints of journalistic norms, citizen journalism, and economy.


Visual Communication’s critical, interdisciplinary approach provides a fresh perspective on the relationship between text and image with specific attention to the symbiosis of popular media and the culture at large. Each chapter offers an overview of visual communication in everyday mass-mediated culture and examines a specific facet of popular culture: music videos, the toy culture, tabloid newspapers from various fields of study, such as psychology, media studies, linguistics, communication science, typography, anthropology, theatre, and tourism studies, and lesser-known fields, such as cartoon studies, biosemiotics, and game studies. As a result, the epistemologies and theoretical frameworks underpinning these studies expand current pedagogy and research.

However, this edited volume is more than a collection of visual communication studies written by international scholars. The studies are valuable for students and researchers in diverse fields interested in interdisciplinary approaches to visual communication. There are many studies that will greatly benefit novice researchers because of their in-depth description of theory, methodology, and implications for practice, as well as the visual enhancements-- photographs, news articles, works of art, diagrams, heat maps, and statistical tables--that accompany these studies. For example, Garner’s clear argumentation for the relevance of the social constructionist perspective to the topic of his study, nostalgia, as well as the combination of textual analysis with socio-semiotic methodology in Chapter 17 are great resources for novice researchers. However, some studies do not convey theory and method in a way that is easily accessible to the novice researcher.

Besides the broader connection to visual communication, sometimes it is unclear the relationship between the chapters and the three sections of the book. The editor could have linked their theoretical, methodological implications and broader concepts to other chapters in the book. For example, the concept of creativity, explored in Chapter 15 as “artistic creativity” could have been more thoroughly explored in Chapter 16 that deals with multimodal forms of expression in education and Chapter 23 on affective interactions with multimodal texts. Machin cautions against over-reliance on popular theories, and the book itself does not rely on popular theories. Instead authors use a fusion of theories from various disciplines and critical approaches, such as the Foucauldian perspective on power.


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Andrea Lypka is a third year PhD student in the Second Language Acquisition and Instructional Technology (SLA/IT) program at the University of South Florida (USF). Her research interests include motivation, identity, digital storytelling, and photovoice.

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