Reconstructing Colonialism: Graphic Layout and Design, and the Construction of Ideology *

By Bowden, Gary | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, May 2004 | Go to article overview

Reconstructing Colonialism: Graphic Layout and Design, and the Construction of Ideology *


Bowden, Gary, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology


THE CONNECTION BETWEEN IMAGE AND IDEOLOGY is one of the most analysed themes in visual sociology. Despite this fact, there exists a serious omission in our understanding of the visual processes used to create ideology. Most previous studies, following the lead of Goffman's (1979) pioneering analysis of gender advertisements, have focussed on the analysis of repeated tropes (e.g., feminine touch) present within a collection of individual images. More recently, building upon the work of Foucault, researchers have examined the ideological purposes of specific types of images (e.g., mug shots of criminals). Neither of these forms of analysis emphasizes the role of either juxtaposition or sequence in the construction of meaning, despite the fact that these are standard considerations in the layout of photographic articles and books. This article, through the analysis of the role of visual juxtaposition and sequencing in the British government publication The Colonies in Pictures, documents previously ignored processes of ideology construction.

The article is divided into three sections. The first section summarizes previous research on the connection between visual images and ideology. It aims: 1) to establish the theoretical legitimacy of the connection; and 2) to document the lack of previous attention to the role of juxtaposition and sequencing in ideology construction. The second section discusses various ways that juxtaposition and sequencing have been used to create meaning in photo essays and books of photographic art. The presumption is that if these techniques have been recognized as powerful tools for the construction of desired meanings within the artistic community, then similar processes can likely be used to construct ideological meaning. The third section turns to the empirical examination of a specific publication, The Colonies in Pictures, in order to document the role of juxtaposition and sequencing in the construction of ideology.

Studies of Ideology

For initial purposes, ideology is conceived as a set of values and beliefs specific to a particular society that are: 1) taken for granted as natural and inevitable aspects of everyday life; and 2) through which individuals live out their relations to social institutions and structures. This is a broad definition, intended to encompass a variety of more specific theoretical conceptualizations. Specifically, there exists a significant theoretical cleavage between Marxists (who talk about ideology or the related term hegemony) (1) and followers of Foucault (who prefer the term discourse). (2) For current purposes, however, two elements of commonality are more important. First, both groups build upon the concept of gaze and treat visual materials as directly relevant to the construction of knowledge that affects social institutions and processes. (3) Second, though differing significantly on the processes that bring this about, both groups treat individuals as tied to subject positions. (4)

One of the earliest, and most influential, sociological studies of visual representation is Goffman's (1979) classic, Gender Advertisements. Drawing upon a visual archive of over 500 magazine advertisements, Goffman documented, in exhaustive detail, the existence of a series of recurring visual tropes with clear implications for gender relations, particularly the stratification-related issues of relative power and status. (5) For current purposes, the study had three significant legacies. First, the study drew attention to the manner in which characteristics of visual representation (relative size, direction of gaze, etc.) tacitly constructed understandings of social relationships. Second, according to Goffman (1979: 25): "[A]lthough the pictures shown here cannot be taken as representative of gender behavior in real life ... as pictures they are not perceived as peculiar and unnatural." In other words, Goffman drew attention to the power of visual representations. …

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