Workshop and discussion exercises

Practice with these exercises to prepare for your seminars and wider research.

1. In this exercise you will do a semiotic analysis for which you will need to have collected a number of advertisements featuring women. For instance, select from a ‘women’s magazine’ all the advertisements for perfume, or from a magazine targeted at young men all the advertisements about deodorant. The overall concern is to gain knowledge of how meanings about gender are used, organised and produced within visual texts. For example, questions you might ask are: How are men and women portrayed? How is gender represented? Does it support or challenge gender stereotypes and binaries? How are gender relationships depicted? Use semiotic concepts (sign, signifier, signified, connotation, denotation) to consider the following questions for each image (these are suggestions):
(a) What are the elements of the sign (the advertisement)? Look at images of people, settings, products, written text. Consider what they signify: what kinds of meanings and associations do they bring into the image? What kinds of codes of meaning do they draw on? How are these elements organised and related to each other (do they support or contradict each other, do they comment on each other)?
(b) How are the different meanings in the text related to the product advertised, and what meaning is thereby given to the product?
(c) Is there an overall ideological structure of meaning which emerges from the advertisement (e.g. what conclusions about gender do you think the advert leads the reader to)? How are other kinds of social difference such as ‘race’, class and sexualities intersecting with gender?
(d) In comparing the different advertisements, what can you infer about the range of possible constructions of gender available within advertising?

You can apply this approach to other types of image too – such as images of children in clothes catalogues.

2. Consider each of the following research projects:
(a) An investigation of communication in medical consultations
(b) A social history project about experiences of wartime
(c) A study of children’s experiences of play
(d) A study of far right ideology

For each, consider what sources of visual images would be relevant for such a project, how they would be collected, how you would analyse them, and consider the ethical issues that may arise and how these might be addressed.