Academic journal article College English

"Between the Eyes": The Racialized Gaze as Design

Academic journal article College English

"Between the Eyes": The Racialized Gaze as Design

Article excerpt

Individuals "shape their interests through the design of messages with the resources available to them in specific situations," British educator Gunther Kress maintains (Multimodality 23; original emphasis). Rooted in the classical Latin word de-signa-re, or "to mark out," design as a verb spotlights the processes of strategic choice making involved in deploying representational resources, such as images and words, to enact our communicative purposes. At the same time, design as a noun, or available design, focuses on the existing resources from which those representations are crafted.1 Scholars have long recognized the ways in which visual representations are always interwoven with rhetorical purposes for meaningmaking. Despite our acceptance of the visual-rhetorical intersection and the Design decisions influencing that intersection, we are less attentive to the ways in which a culture's dominant perceptual practices implicate that culture's design and available design, thus affecting designers' choice making for their rhetorical agendas.2 After all, we invent what we see. Yet the role of these dominant perceptual practices in Design remains invisible and unconscious. I use uppercase "Design" to refer both to verb and to noun, while lowercase "design" refers only to verb, or to designers' choice-making processes.3 Given the ubiquity of images and, implicitly, the habits of looking that influence the production of those images for both representation and communication, English studies requires a theory of Design that better accounts for dominant perceptual habits that function both to constrain acts of choice making and to restrict the repertoire of available resources.

In this essay, I contribute to that agenda by focusing on one perceptual habit: the racialized gaze, a dominant cultural habit for perceiving race-related visual phenomena. I argue that the racialized gaze as Design provides a valuable theoretical framework for visual rhetoric, exegesis, and cultural analysis by directing our attention to how designers may unwittingly sustain practices of racialization and perpetuate racially based sociocultural exclusions. Such increased awareness offers the potential for the active creation of unique and innovative ensembles, produced from a range of available resources, with the goal of transformation. Design has the means to imagine future human dispositions and to enact dynamic social action through visual meaningmaking.

The racialized gaze as Design, as a theoretical framework, opens up at least three transformative possibilities for the use of images to communicate and persuade. The first possibility is methodological. Contributing to the bread-and-butter work of English studies that involves close reading, analysis, and critique, scholars may employ the concept of racialized gaze as Design to promote a conscious awareness of the recursive relationship between rhetorical purpose and perceptual habits, where visual representations shape even as they are shaped by our ideologies on race relations. Even as scholars in English studies expand the work of exegesis to include image analysis, scholars in rhetoric, composition, and professional communication increasingly include the principles of Design to guide the production of "texts." As designers draw on multimodal resources for meaning-making, they must attend to how perceptual habits, such as the racialized gaze, are interwoven with their production of persuasive ensembles.

The second possibility is theoretical. The concept of the racialized gaze as Design enables scholars to focus on how both processes and resources are always already sedimented with perceptual habits that may run counter to designers' professed goals. Relevant to visual rhetoric and critical race studies, this second possibility concerns Design that advocates for progressive, race-related social reforms, given that "there is power in looking," as bell hooks observes (115).

The third possibility is pedagogical. …

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