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Visual literacy and semiocognitive constructs: a sense-making study of Viewers' Visual Experience

Abstract : Images of all shapes and sizes abound in our everyday lives to the extent that we are not all always aware of what sense we make ot them, if at all. This begs the question about the literacy skills involved in making sense of these visual experiences. With this in mind a study was conducted into the declared preferences of spectators based on a conceptual framework investigating the effects of (social-technical) norms on users. This involved examining the works of two leading French-speaking communication researchers, Yves Jeanneret (2008) and Bernard Lamizet (2006), and those of well-known English-speaking researchers Luciano Floridi (2010) and George Kelly (1963).Conceptual frameworkWe looked at Jeanneret's (2008 : 159) idea of "media-text" as the relationship between what can be expected from a set of mediated objects and how an individual makes sense of them. Jeanneret's hypothesis of media-text can be buttressed by Gibson's (1979: 139) idea of "affordances" as objects that can be seen as offering "use opportunities" to a user akin to how a "media-text" emerges as interactions between what can be expected from perceived objects and an individual's sense-making process. Given this, we argue that when objects of communication are coupled to an individual's expectations, they afford opportunities for semiocognitive constructs in a sense-making process. But, how do "media-text affordances" occur in the first place? An answer to this question would seem to lie in the informational nature of the "semiotic experience of events", defined by Lamizet (2006: 60, 271) as "unexpected facts, or at the very least a fact non-conform to the facts that preceded it" (Lamizet 2006 : 26). Such "events" intrigue, worry and pry open an individual's sense of identity. The question then arises as to the informational nature of these "events"? In this context, Floridi's (2010: 20-21) concept of "General Definition of Information" (GDI) sheds light on the phenomenon of information. Floridi posits "data" as the basic building brick of what he calls "information". These data are defined as "fractures in the continuum or lacks of uniformity in the fabric" of a reality that can be inferred empirically from experience (Floridi 2010: 23, 69). (This "fracture in the continuum" resonates with Lamizet's idea of "semiotic experience of events"). Given this Floridi (2010: 20-21) argues that a GDI involves well-formed (in terms of syntaxical rules and norms), meaningful (interpretable within the norms of a given discourse community) data ("stuff that can be manipulated", Floridi, 2010 : 20). How then can the GDI help understand the sense-making process? This presentation advances the idea that Kelly's (1963: 120) methodology offers an answer to the question via the dialogue created in constructing a cross-matching (potential choices/preferences) "repertory grid" that documents how an individual channels the ways he anticipates events when making sense of them.Research objectiveWithin the ambit of our conceptual framework, the main claim of this paper is that the co-construction of semiocognitive constructs via a repertory grid (Labour 2010: 83-86) links up key concepts of Jeanneret (2010), Lamizet (2006) and Floridi (2010) in a sufficiently coherent way in order to better grasp an individual's "visual literacy" universe. By visual literacy is meant the self-critical "ability to construct meaning from visual images" (Bamford, 2003: 1). In this sense, making sense of visual images implies a skill set that includes interpretation of content, examination of social and ideological implications of visual images, understanding of purpose, audience and ownership and judging the accuracy, validity and worth of what is experienced (ibidum). On this point, this understanding of visual studies corresponds to the writing of Visual Studies, such as Mitchell (1986: 2) for whom imagery serves as "a kind of relay connecting theories of art, language, and the mind with conceptions of social, cultural, and political value". In this context, the research objective targets the links between perceived scenic elements of a film extract, seen here as "media-text", and spectators' sense-making semiocognitive constructs.Research methodA communicational situation was designed to allow spectators watch a four-minute car chase, taken from an action film they had never seen, on a computer screen put on a desk. After having watched the extract, the spectator was immediately interviewed for about an hour. The interview was based on Dervin's (1999) qualitative sense-making approach, followed by Kelly's (1963) analytical and more quantitative technique. After a pilot study, 20 adults were interviewed about what sense they made of the car chase. This led to three sets of data. The first set of data came from the verbatim of the interview. The second set of data was based on three short questionnaires. An initial questionnaire established the interviewee's film watching preferences before watching an extract of the film. After having watched the extract, the second questionnaire asked the spectator if they wanted to see the whole the film and what the film meant to them. The third questionnaire came near the end of the interview to see if after talking about the film, the spectator (still) wanted to watch the whole of the film, or not. This final questionnaire takes into account some inevitable bias of a semi-directive interview, which includes the current mood of the interviewee and the "personality style" of the interviewer. A third set of data arose from the filling in of Kelly's (1963) "repertory grid". The systematic filling in of the grid allows interviewees to succinctly express their point of views via contrastive attributes followed by choosing a numerical preference on a 5-point ordinal scale. Floridi's (2010) "General Definition of Information" appears to fit in with Kelly's (1963) operational repertory grid methodology. In this case the grid allows interviewees to document their personal value systems in reference to the social norms and cinematographic stereotypes via what they identified as meaningful "events" in a film they had just watched. This grid filling activity, with its attending dialogue with the interviewer, acts as a form of "rewriting" (Jeanneret 2008: 87-88) that not only identifies the scenic affordances of the film but also acts as a "mediation of sense-making". This mediation transforms how "cultural beings" perceive communicational objects embedded in norms and value systems (Jeanneret, 2008: 87).ResultsThe results of the study indicate that for the majority of the participants, the verbal and digital explicative process had a stabilizing effect, i.e. it reinforced their initial decision about wishing to see the film (expressed in Questionnaire 2). For others, the process brought out either a boomerang (intensification against seeing the film) or a propellant effect (intensification of wanting to see the film). The results highlights notable aspects of visual literacy in the way the spectators emphasise, discard or are oblivious to what some of the interviewees called the "moral aspects of an action film" in the way it could encourage younger or vulnerable adult viewers to carry-out the "anti-social" behaviour portrayed on screen. The identification of these effects sheds light on a spectator's value-system when making sense of perceived cultural and cinematographic norms and in so doing they help clarify design choices for decision aiding engineers and authors of audiovisual documents.
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Michel Labour. Visual literacy and semiocognitive constructs: a sense-making study of Viewers' Visual Experience. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. pp.217. ⟨hal-00839265v2⟩

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