Documenting social and stylistic norms in danish cinema: The contribution of content analysis to visual communication

Abstract : Content analysis and visual communication
Content analysis represents one of the main methodological approaches in media and communications studies (Krippendorff, 2004; Riffe, Lacy, & Fico, 2005). Despite its wide application in media studies (Deacon, Pickering, Golding, & Murdock, 2007), content analysis and other quantitative approaches have played a rather limited role in visual studies in general, and in film studies in particular - with the exception of pioneering works such as (Bordwell, Staiger, & Thompson, 1985). The aim of the paper is to demonstrate the usefulness of content analysis as a methodological resource in the analysis of visual communication, thereby attempting to extend the methodological repertoire of film studies, which have predominantly been based on qualitative analysis. As will be demonstrated, content analysis carries a great potential of documenting changing social, cultural, and visual norms in an increasingly globalised popular culture. The use of content analysis will allow researchers to document and compare stylistic and thematic developments in time or across sociocultural domains in a highly reliable fashion. It will also, as is the case in the present study, allow researchers to correlate developments in themes and style with other types of social or cultural developments. The central contribution of the paper is the description of a research project, which shows how content analysis can be adapted and used to answer classical research topics in film studies. The project will apply basic content analysis methods to both thematic and stylistic elements in film analysis. The discussion is exemplified by reference to an on-going content analysis of a sample (N=80 feature films) of Danish cinema from 1990-2010 that illustrates the potentials and possible limitations of content analysis in the field of visual communication. Content analysis and the emergence of visual studies Several factors can help explain the limited role of content analysis in visual studies. Much can be attributed historical and methodological circumstances; Historically, the emergence of visual studies, most notably film studies, coincided with the linguistic turn and the Positivismus-Streit, resulting in an orientation towards interpretivism and qualitative analysis. As a consequence, visual studies turned away from earlier sociological orientations on a theoretical level (Tudor, 1998), and towards semiotic and structural approaches on a methodological level, thus discontinuing a tradition for content analysing cinema dating back to early mass communication studies (Jones, 1942). Methodologically, content analysis in mainstream media studies has predominantly been concerned with the quantification of (manifest) semantic content, to the exclusion of stylistic and narrative content. This narrow (but somewhat arbitrary) focus on semantics is undoubtedly responsible for the perceived lack of relevance of the approach in film studies. Furthermore, content analysis has mainly been associated with hypothesis-testing strategies (Rose, 2012) overlooking the explorative potentials of quantitative methods (Bryman, 2008, p. 595ff.). As this research project will demonstrate, both methodological assumptions are questionable. Firstly, following a formalistic definition of style as the systematic use of technical devices (Bordwell, 1985, p. 50) content analysis represents a valuable tool in documenting stylistic norms and variations across different visual platforms. Secondly, through longitudinal studies content analysis carries a potential for uncovering and exploring correlations between visual and thematic variables. Content analysing Danish Cinema: documenting social and stylistic norms This paper presents and discusses a methodological proposal for content analysing social and stylistic norms in feature films. The aim is to develop an analytical framework that documents (1) to what extent cinema reflects changing social values and (2) whether these social changes are accompanied by alterations in stylistic norms. A central feature of the study is the construction of the coding scheme, which draws on existing, longitudinal social research of changing values in Danish society (Gundelach, 2011). Over the past 20 years, researchers have tracked changes to central values held by members of Danish society (for example their religious beliefs, view of the family and tradition, immigrants, the political system etc.) Our study incorporates these values as thematic variables to be coded for films spanning the past 20 years, in order to correlate changes in film style and content with changes in society at large. The presentation is exemplified by the results from a pilot investigation (N=20) in preparation for a full-scale content analysis of a sample of Danish cinema, covering two decades of Danish film production. The research design represents a longitudinal study aimed at uncovering trends and variations (Krippendorff, 2004, p. 49ff.) in Danish cinema, as well as extrapolating so-called "antecedents" of communication (Holsti, 1969, p. 24); in this case correlations between social and demographic changes in Danish society and cinematic representations of Danish everyday life. Data in the pilot project has been coded for three major types of variables: * Representations of social actors * Narrative structures * Stylistic features This coding procedure represents a deliberative attempt to combine a content analysis of both thematic and stylistic features: * On a thematic level such a methodological approach will allow us to document (and not only extrapolate from qualitative analysis) the social "universe" of Danish cinema: Which kinds of characters are in fact populating Danish film in terms of socio-graphic variables (gender, age, ethnic background, social status, etc.), what types of stories are they inscribed in (dramas, comedies, crime fictions), and what kinds of motivations do they have (social prestige, love, etc)? * On a stylistic level the study codes for narrative strategies (classical storytelling, multi-character narratives, multi-plot strategies) and cinematic devises (e.g. handheld camera, homo-diegetic voice-over, etc.), aiming at drawing inferences to e.g. the legacy from the "Dogme" movement; the "mainstreaming" of popular narratives; the influence of global cinema; the diversifying or homogenisation of national film production. Overall, the research design aims at probing into the way social and narrative norms portrayed in Danish cinema have changed over the last two decades, indicating the contribution of popular culture in staging, constructing, and negotiating social values and stylistic features in an increasingly globalised media landscape.
Type de document :
Communication dans un congrès
Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France
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http://hal.univ-lille3.fr/hal-00840427
Contributeur : Compte Laboratoire Geriico <>
Soumis le : mardi 2 juillet 2013 - 14:42:42
Dernière modification le : mardi 2 juillet 2013 - 14:42:42

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  • HAL Id : hal-00840427, version 1

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Mikkel Eskjaer, Rasmus Helles. Documenting social and stylistic norms in danish cinema: The contribution of content analysis to visual communication. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. 〈hal-00840427〉

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