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Iconic communication
An empirical study on iconic standards of communication as shown in fashion

This research project aims to understand the role of formal pictorial elements for the standards of communication within the medium “image”. It is designed as an empirical study, which shall, however, advance the theoretical understanding of iconic standards of communication and thus contribute to the development of empirical methodology and methods. Iconic communication has come to a sharper focus because the humanities have developed strong tradition of interest for iconicity over the last two decades. Some authors even dub this development an ”iconic turn” or “pictorial turn.” These venues of research also open new vistas for to the social sciences, not the least on the level of fundamental theories. Empirical methods are fruitful only when applied in systematic conjunction with theoretical developments in the field, and when empirical evidence stimulates fundamental theories. Conversely, theoretical considerations can lead to new approaches in empirical methodology and methods.

Within the context of language standards of communication have already been extensively researched. To give an example, the linguistic format and implications of the narrative are already well known. Social agents adhere to its structure without being conscious of doing so. By now, the social sciences have developed a clear understanding of this structure and have described its formal elements. However, almost only experts in aesthetics and art history have examined such formal vehicles of iconic semantics. Perspectivity as a part of composition is considered such a vehicle. In our age of digitalization, bringing about ever more rapid medial developments and a radical abundance of pictoral stimuli, the systematic research of such iconic semantics must be of particular interest to the social sciences. It allows for the development of methods in which the entelechy of the medium “image” is already inscribed. I.e., in order to understand iconic standards of communication, we as social scientists have to learn to think iconically in our methods. Only with the help of such methods can we gain an understanding of orientations, longings, and anxieties of our time that are often silently conveyed by images.  

Commercial and private images of fashion offer a particularly rich access to communication within the medium “image”. Three reasons make fashion a particularly suitable subject for the intended project: The parameters of fashion are primarily conveyed via images; fashion is omnipresent in everyday life; and its function unfolds solely within a social context. The images of interest will be freely chosen by test groups of various social backgrounds. A systematic comparison of these images will help to ascertain which formal configuration elements may be considered essential to the formation of communication standards. The relationship between commercial and everyday stylistic productions will also be examined. Group discussions stimulated by the chosen images will not only help differentiate between iconic and linguistic meaning, but will also aid in estimating the embedding of iconic structures of meaning in everyday social practices.


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