"VISUAL POLITICS" [Volume 1]
A methodology for analysing socio-political graphics
case study: Lebanon 2005-2007

by Joanna Choukeir
2007

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MA Graphic Design
Tutor: Tony Credland
London College of Communication
University of the Arts, London

 

© Joanna Choukeir 2007 -2021
Joanna Choukeir was born in Lebanon in 1982 in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War. She lived most of her childhood in Lebanon, and at the end of the Civil War, moved with her family to Washington D.C. where her father was sent on a mission at the Lebanese Embassy.

Back to Lebanon, Joanna completed her Secondary Education in Experimental Sciences at Saint Joseph School and her BA in Graphic Design at Notre Dame University, during the relatively peaceful gap of 1996 to 2004. For three years following graduation, she founded There for Design, a freelance design studio, was employed in the design department of Mediapak, Indevco Group, witnessed the 2005 serial bombings, participated in the 2005 serial demonstrations, backpacked around Europe by train and experienced the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Gradually, Joanna developed an interest in researching about the conflict in Lebanon through two areas that she had acquired most experience in: Design and politics. In 2007, she moved to London and completed her MA in Graphic Design with distinction, at the University of the Arts London. Her MA thesis, Visual Politics, is presented here.

Moving on to PhD, Joanna is currently developing communication design methods for integrating youth groups from different social groups in Lebanon. She is also working as lead designer with Uscreates, a social design company in London, and assisting in the Learning Zone at the University of the Arts London.

 

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ABOUT VOLUME 1

The purpose of Volume 1 is to offer a clear, simple, transferable and flexible methodology for analysing contemporary socio-political graphics in a specified society, over a specified period of time. This methodology is addressed to scholars and professionals – in the fields of visual communication, visual sociology and social and political science – who are interested in understanding the value of graphics as a medium through which social and political life occurs. The methodology is not meant to replace pre-existing visual methodologies but rather to concentrate and condense different methods through selecting the most relevant research instruments and assembling them into an achievable and effective methodology intended for the particular objective of analysing socio-political graphics. Methodologies can never be exhaustive as different investigations present different problems, but this volume may help to find an insight out of arising enquiries.

I have chosen to use the adjective socio-political to describe such a diversified quantity of visual materials, due to the ambiguous and multidimensional meaning of the term political. According to Oxford American Dictionaries[1], the adjective 'political' is defined as 'of or relating to the government or the public affairs of a country'. Liz Mcquiston[2] on the other hand, suggests a broader perspective to the term: "Up to the mid-1980s, 'politics' usually inferred party politics. But with the build-up of 'awareness' activities… the term politics has grown more and more to signify popular movements relating to social issues". To avoid debating the controversy over the scale of this word, the graphics are referred to as socio-political, thus including social graphics, political graphics, in addition to the possible overlaps that may exist between the two.

The chapter structure of Volume 1 begins with an introduction highlighting the context of socio-political graphics in cultures, and then giving an overview of visual methodologies through 'looking' at the different sites and modalities of a graphic image.

It then proceeds to the main section, the conception of the methodology. This section develops in detail the six stages of the methodology: Establishing a research question, researching the context around the question, collecting a survey of graphics, creating a coding system and coding the graphics in a database, mapping the database visually, and ultimately analysing the results and transforming the information into qualitative and significant findings. The parallel case study of Lebanese socio-political graphics exemplifies this methodology throughout the 6 stages.

The conclusion reflects on the methodology in general, and assesses the drawbacks of the case study specifically. In addition, it projects potential developments in response to research review from an industrial collaborator, Dr. Adonis Bouhatab.

It is essential to refer occasionally to Volume 2 as it draws together the complete range of visual materials and the analysis variables used throughout the case study.

Notes

[1] Oxford American Dictionaries (2005) Version 1.0.1
[2] McQuiston, Liz (1993) Graphic Agitation, London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.7

 

 

 

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to all those who contributed to the different stages of this research; it wouldn't have been possible without you

Victor, Raymonde, William, Ashley, Cedric, Adrea and Chelsea Choukeir

Georges, Julie and Adonis Bouhatab

Youhanna Hojeily, Linda Selwood Choueiri, David Habchy, Muriel Moukawem, Hanane Kai, Rana Abou Rjeily, Hikmat el Ashkar, Emile Saad, Amal Ftouni, Joumana Haddad

Russel Bestley, Paul McNeil, Tony Credland, Penny Hilton, Vanessa Price, Susannah Rees, Naji Zahar

Individuals who submitted their graphics

Waleed Saab
Angelo el Chami
Patricia Barakat-el Asmar
Muriel Moukawem
Stefany Abou Jaoudeh
Hanane Kai
Jirjis Markous
Georges el Hajal
Celine Meouchy
Elie S Abou Jamra
Nadine Feghaly
Hanane Kai
Maya Chami
Joumana Ibrahim
Lara Balaa
Charbel Torbey
Maher Diab
Saro Ajemian
Ahmed Shamseen
Danny Khoury
Joseph Kai
Ahmad Osman
Jamal Issawi
M Faisal el Husseini
Pascale Chehadeh
Danny Khoury
Leen Charafeddine
Tina G Sleiman
Nisreen Sarkis
Lana Daher
Ghassan Seb
Saad Shaar
Hagop Hovannessian
Halah Halaby
Samar Zablith
Joseph Abi Saab
Jesse Nicolas
Alya Karame
Maya Zankoul
Pascal Zoghbi
Nabz Kay
Youmna Habbouche
Sevan Kouyoumjian
Bernard Mansour
Carla Khater
Hala Abi Aad
Rami el Khoury

Outlets that distributed 'Visual Politics' flyers

Notre Dame University
Lebanese American University
American University of Beirut
Collège Saint Esprit
ALBA
Mediapak
Al Mohtaraf
Graphic Shop
Print Works
Art Lounge
Galerie Ajyal
Janine Rubeiz Gallery
Bookstop
Compuprint
Bookopy
Uturn
Daily Press
Doculand
Al Madina Theatre
Cinema Sofil
Le Théâtre de Tournesol
Adcom Apple
House on Mars
Metallica
CD-Thèque
Jbeil Market
Club Social
Café de Prague
Baromètre
Schtroumpf
Godot
Cinzeo
Malilu
Tonga

Associations that were interviewed, and kindly provided visual materials from their archives

The Free Patriotic Movement
The Future Youth Movement
Lebanese Forces
The Lebanese Phalanges
Hezbollah
The Lebanese Organisation for Democratic Elections
YASA Road Safety
Oum el Nour Drug Awareness
Greenpeace
Helem LGBT Community
Lebanese Red Cross

 

 

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INTRODUCTION
click to enlarge
Visual Politics
Figure 1
Figure 1 - Caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in Jullands-Posten
www.wikipedia.org
Visual Politics
Figure 2
Figure 2 - The Hanging Tree
Graphic Agitation (1993) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.14
Visual Politics
Figure 3
Figure 3 - Maniac Ravings
Graphic Agitation (1993) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.15
Visual Politics
Figure 4
Figure 4 - Votes for Women
Graphic Agitation (1993) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.19
Visual Politics
Figure 5
Figure 5 - World War One Recruitment Tactics
Graphic Agitation (1993) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.19
Visual Politics
Figure 6
Figure 6 - Record sleeve of God Save the Queen
Graphic Agitation 2 (2004) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.18
Visual Politics
Figure 7
Figure 7 - Silence = Death
Graphic Agitation 2 (2004) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.23
Visual Politics
Figure 8
Figure 8 - China 1989
Graphic Agitation 2 (2004) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.25
Visual Politics
Figure 9
Figure 9 - Anti-war New York
Graphic Agitation 2 (2004) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.12
Visual Politics
Figure 10
Figure 10 - Subvertising on Nike
Graphic Agitation 2 (2004) London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.12
Visual Politics
Figure 11
Figure 11 - Sites and modalities at which the meanings of an image are made

On the 30th of September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article entitled the face of Mohammed. The article included twelve cartoons figure 1 of which only some depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The cartoons were illustrated by different members of the Danish editorial cartoonists after an invitation from Jyllands–Posten to draw Mohammed as they see him. The intention of the article was to question the self-censorship of Muslim aniconism in this modern society of democracy and freedom of speech where societies 'must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule'[3] in published caricatures.

Evidently, aniconism in Islam prohibits the creation of images of Allah and the Islamic prophet Mohammed, so the cartoons were taken far more seriously than a caricatural joke. By January 2006, more than ten major newspapers, primarily in continental Europe, had reprinted the cartoons. The reaction of the Muslim culture around the World was devastating. First of all, death threats forced the Danish cartoonists to go into hiding. The Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon were set afire; I remember distinctly that a Danish tutor of mine was evicted from Lebanon one day before the violent protests.

The demonstrations that took place around the world resulted in at least 140 deaths. Four ministers were forced to resign amidst the controversy and a consumer boycott of Danish goods was organised in many countries, which consequently reduced Danish exports to the Muslim world by 15.5 percent.[4]

It is difficult to comprehend that such a simple visual representation in caricatures can instigate a turning point with such violence and escalation. However, this is not the first time that graphics have challenged and changed societies. Throughout the years, many protest graphics from different contexts managed to stimulate society. 'The ongoing products of wars, economic inequalities and failed social systems … continued to offer graphic design one of its most powerful and traditional roles as a tool for raising social awareness and prompting social change'.[5] The graphics may not have always caused a change as drastic as that of the Danish cartoons, but they frequently had a significant impact.

0.1.0 Context of socio-political graphics

Protest graphics date back to the Roman times when 'graffiti' was written, painted or carved onto city walls. During the renaissance period, public statues were accompanied by placards carrying political comments. With the dawn of the printing age in the late 1400s, protest graphics found their true vehicle for carrying mass messages, and by the 1500s political prints had become widely available. In the 1600s they were used to document the battles in European wars figure 2. In the 1700s, they evolved from a history-recording device to a means for expressing public opinion, and later in the 1800s, for depicting visual satire figure 3. By the 1900s, as satire became less popular, industrialisation and avant-garde constructivism shaped the new visual language. They became one of the best examples of politics and revolution expressed through art and design. The modern poster was established as a commercial tool as well as an anti-establishment mouthpiece figure 4. It was used heavily during World War One figure 5, World War Two and the Cold War in both good and bad functions that sustained these devastating periods.[6]

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new form of global protest started to emerge, and the term 'personal politics'[5] became more popular. Individuals began taking personal initiatives to design campaigns that rebel against the perplexing society and its politics. 'Many of the anti-establishment statements of the 1960s were made through graphic design'.[5] They ranged from anti-Vietnam war in the US to anti-establishment in the UK figure 6. The 1980s became equipped with new communications media that brought global concerns within everyone's reach. Activism issues were directed towards more international and global dilemmas such as racism, feminism, environmental awareness, AIDS figure 7, child abuse, drug abuse, and nuclear rearmament. Even local concerns received global empathies such as anti-communism demonstrations in the USSR and China figure 8. With the emergence of new technologies and the World Wide Web in the 90s, globalization and the disappearance of national identity became a popular theme of protest and debate in graphic design around the world. In 2001, the 9/11 incident agitated the world and released unforgettable imagery against terrorism figure 9.

Today, the common themes of socio-political graphics range from the ever debated issues of feminism, child abuse, drug abuse and AIDS, to more contemporary issues on the Iraq War, global giants, capitalism figure 10, national politics, and the critical concern over global warming.

0.2.0 Looking at socio-political graphics

As a generous amount of socio-political graphics is being produced in response to contemporary cultural issues, researchers can benefit on many levels from interpreting their different aspects. Gillian Rose[7] accentuates the 'need to learn to interpret visual images because they are an important means through which social life happens'. The nature of this interpretation falls within visual culture studies, defined as 'the plethora of ways in which the visual is part of social life'.figure 8 Visual culture studies is much more established today as a field of study than it was a few years ago, because there is an augmenting and persistent body of work in the social sciences that is using images as a method for answering research questions.[9] Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins for instance, studied photographs from National Geographic to identify what the American culture defines as westerner in contrast with non-westerner.[10]

Although interpreting images can prove to be an efficient research method for complex cultural enquiries, the difficulty lies in the ability to perform the interpretation justly and impartially. One image might speak a thousand words, but then again, these words may change radically between one social condition and another. The first condition is the difference between what is seen and what is implied. The second condition is how this image can be seen by different spectators who have their own particular ways of seeing. Thirdly, the image requires a specific social context and location in order to be seen as intended. The fourth condition is that spectators who do not fall within the social context may be unable or unwilling to respond to the seeing invited by the image, and the fifth and last condition is the meanings that may arise if this image is seen irrespective of the textual substance accompanying it.[11]

Thus it can be reasoned that there may never be one single meaning to an image, but rather a range of varying and contesting interpretations. Stuart Hall[12] recommends that 'the best way to settle such contested readings is to look again at the concrete example and try to justify one's reading in detail in relation to the actual practices and forms of signification used, and what meanings they seem to… be producing'. Thus, the most important aspect of looking at images is distinguishing between vision; what the eye is capable of seeing, and visuality; how the mind is able, allowed or made to see the seen and the unseen.

In order to better follow the multi-layered complexity of reading an image, we can divide the sites at which meanings are made into three: The site of the production of an image, the site of the image itself and the site of its audiencing. The content of each of these sites is in turn controlled by three different modalities figure 11: Technological, compositional and social.[13] The following subsections will define each one of these sites and the modalities therein.

0.2.1 Site of production

An image's outcome is largely powered by the circumstances of its making. When investigating the production of the image, it is valuable to look at the technological modality such as the camera model or the software used to generate the image. The compositional modality will give information on the genre of the image during the making. For example it can raise questions on whether the composition is a result of a quick/accidental, or prolonged/ planned production. The social modality includes economic budgeting in addition to the social identity of the commissioner, designer, artist or author. All of these factors can play, in varying degrees, a role in determining an image's meaning, form and effect.

0.2.2 Site of the image

This site predicts the meanings made by the image's physical components. Technological modalities in this case observe how an image's color or quality is an outcome of the technical method used to produce it. Compositionality studies the actual objects in the image and their relationship to one another, while the social modality studies the actual social themes that the components of the image are communicating. Most spectators who are uninformed of the site of production tend to formulate conclusions from reading images through the site of the image alone.

0.2.3 Site of audiencing

Spectators need to remind themselves that they, as an audience, are developing a crucial part of the image, and without them, the image does not communicate. The technological modality depicts the technology used for the communication to happen with the audience. The compositional site relates to the way in which objects in the image invite a particular audience for viewing, and the social modality refers to the social space/location where the image is viewed, as well as the time/period of viewing. It is imperative to note that very different readings can occur between interpreting an image in its original context, and reinterpreting it from secondary reproduced sources.

It is not possible to determine which site or even which modality within a site is the most important when reading images. Each one delivers a new perspective to looking at the image, thus the importance of one over the other is not determined by the image itself, but by the type of investigation the onlooker is trying to resolve through looking at the image. However, no matter what the investigation, it is crucial to acknowledge each one of these aspects very carefully because an image cannot be entirely reduced to its context.[14] The interpretation of socio-political graphics specifically, must be as true and impartial as possible, because it is a cultural practice 'which has a major significance in the articulation of meanings about the world, in the negotiation of social conflicts, and in the production of social subjects'.[15] Rose states that it is not only important to interpret the images, but also to be able to justify that interpretation. To do that, one must have an explicit methodology.[16]

The following chapters will introduce a particular visual methodology for analysing socio- political graphics, and might serve as a guidance to researchers for similar modes of inquiry. Thereby, it was essential, throughout the introduction, to give a notion on both the context of socio-political graphics, and their visual content, because understanding the upcoming methodology relies heavily on recognising these as objects of enquiry.

Notes

[3] Rose, Flemming (2005) Muhammeds ansigt, Jyllands-Posten
[4] Anon (2006) Cartoons row hits Danish exports, BBC News
[5] McQuiston, Liz (2004) Graphic Agitation2, London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.10
[6] McQuiston, Liz (1993) Graphic Agitation, London: Phaidon Press Limited, p.14-27
[7] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage,p.xiii
[8] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.4
[9] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.6
[10] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.62
[11] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.6-12
[12] Hall, Stuart (1997) Representation, London: Sage, p.9
[13] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.13-26
[14] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.12
[15] Pollock, Griselda (1988) Vision and Difference, London: Routledge, p.7
[16] Rose, Gillian (2007) Visual Methodologies, London: Sage, p.xiv

 

 

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