M.A. Dorothee Elisabeth Baumann
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Current Research Project
Press the power button: The social semiotics of photography in marketing materials – historical, multimodal, and ideological perspectives
PhD project is funded by SNF Swiss National Science Foundation Doc.Mobility
This project seeks to make a theoretical, analytical, innovative contribution to the field of critical discourse studies, social and media anthropology. The project investigates the language of amateur photography in marketing material through Social Semiotics. It aims to explore the gender and postcolonial aspects (structural racism) embedded in the imaging tools of daily life. This PhD is currently analyzing seven amateur cameras by case studies, which have fundamentally changed the practice of photography and its social impact until today – from the first amateur camera invented allowing automatization (Kodak Brownie,1900) to the current image technologies of today such as the photo drone and in particular the smartphone (2014). Since the invention of amateur photography (Kodak, 1888), the practice has become highly automated through technological developments that evolved into a more ‘immersive’ and 'progressive practice’. The aim of this research is to examine how the economic incentives for the technical aspects have been particularly relevant, while ethics have mostly been ignored in order to understand: a) what kind of postcolonial and gender ideologies were transmitted by the photography industry b) how the gaze of the camera sold by the industry was translated and transmitted c) how the social meanings are still articulated through photography and forms of visuality today.
The seven case studies are a set of data of marketing material and legacy documents around the camera (e.g. manual, handbook, adds, sales brochure) and in particular, the instruction manual serve as a map and framework for the collection of data of the seven case studies. The manual is a document that conveys information explicitly within their legal, technical and economic capacity while it is implicitly, a behind-the-scenes agent of social meaning in an ideological, esthetical and ethical capacity. I am analyzing a set of textual and visual data within a social ethnographic framework to understand how the social meanings of both photography and photographer are produced and circulated. I will explore the eventual ideological ramifications of this dynamics and their impact on our perception of the world.
The first results (January 2020) of my research suggests the need to gain a contemporary social counter perspective to history to fully understand it and how it operates and impacts social meaning in the wider society. This will be done in future workshops and interviews to establish a dialogue with US indigenous population and African Americans who are former Kodak factory workers in the state of New York and try to bring to light their points of view. There is no similar research in Humanities to this date; once published, this research can lay the foundation for a new interdisciplinary approach in this field.
1 Worldwide the sales figures increased to $ 67.9 million between 2015 and 2021 (Trendreport, 2017). The phone industry is working on the ‘smart’ image (artificial intelligence) and is the current leading technology in the image industry.
Prof. Dr. Michaela Schaeuble from the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Bern. She published Narrating Victimhood (2014), in which she traces the complex mechanisms of political radicalization in a post-war scenario of Croatia at the margin of Europe.
Prof. Dr. Andi Schoon is a scholar of cultural and media studies and director of the transdisciplinary research institute Institute Y at the Art Academy and board member of the Graduate School of the Arts at the University of Bern. His main focus is on media and sound and his latest book The Weak Voice was just published by the German editor Textem Verlag (2018).
English Department, University of Bern
Prof. Crispin Thurlow supports with his expertise in Social Semiotics and Multimodality.
Prof. Dr. Crispin Thurlow is an international renowned expert for Discourse Analysis. He is Professor of Language and Communication in the Department of English at the University of Bern, affiliated Professor in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell) Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media (eds Thurlow, C & Mroczek, K. (New York & London: Oxford University Press, 2011).
The Graduate Center at CUNY City University New York, New York City
Professor Dr. Peter Hitchcock is an international renowned scholar of English Literature at The Graduate Center CUNY. He is also co-director of the CPCP Center for Place Culture and Politics at the TGC CUNY. He gives his theoretical expertise in in post-colonialism, materiality, culture, Marxist issues and the theory on the Commons. There is no place for the Commons (The Minnesota Review, 2019), Oscillate Wildly: Space, Body, and Spirit of Millennial Materialism (Minnesota Press, 1999), Labor in Culture, or, Worker of the World(s) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).