In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Visual Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Visual Culture
  • Semiotics
  • Sociology and Anthropology
  • Psychology and Visual Perception
  • Visual Rhetoric
  • Visual Literacy

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Visual Communication
Michael Griffin, Kevin Barnhurst, Robert Craig
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0034


The study of visual communication is inherently multidisciplinary, comprising the wide-reaching and voluminous literature of art history and the philosophy of art and aesthetics; the development and use of charts, diagrams, and cartography; the history and theory of graphic design and typography; the history and theory of photography, cinema, and television studies; the perceptual physiology and cognitive psychology of visual apprehension; the impact of new visual technologies (including digitization, multimedia, and virtual realities); the concepts and teaching of visual literacy; and the boundless social and cultural issues surrounding practices of visual representation. Such an eclectic and newly developing field has reached little consensus about canonical texts. Its boundaries remain indistinct. Even the concept of visual imagery is loose, aggregating everything from mental reproductions of perceptions in eidetic imagery, dreams, and memory to the physical creation of pictorial material. Images are the most obvious of the wide-ranging forms of visual communication, which extend beyond “pictures” or icons into realms of abstract symbols, indexical signals, designs, and ideas humans use to communicate experience. The following bibliography focuses on visual elements and images in communication media. It acknowledges literature from other disciplinary traditions that influenced the rise of visual studies, but centers primarily on the developing visual studies literature within communication as a discipline and field.

General Overviews

General overviews of visual representation and visual communication studies are available in encyclopedias of communication and in recent journals of communication and communication yearbook surveys. These include in the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Communications (Summers 1989) and Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Communication (Griffin 2008). Most of the reviews are products of the 2000s, as communication media scholarship came to acknowledge and incorporate visual analysis as a central component of media studies. Summers 1989 reviews the history of scholarly attention to the visual image, Griffin 2001 and Griffin 2008 attempt to trace the multidisciplinary roots of visual scholarship and the eventual convergence of work from the humanities and the social sciences in visual communication studies. Barnhurst, et al. 2004 contributes particularly on the emergence of academic and institutional networks supporting visual studies in communication and media studies departments and professional associations. Jewitt 2008 surveys associated theoretical developments and syntheses.

  • Barnhurst, Kevin G., Michael Vari, and Ígor Rodríguez. 2004. Mapping visual studies in communication. Journal of Communication 54.4: 616–644.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2004.tb02648.x

    Charts the main currents and topical categories of the visual communication literature, correlating them with underlying institutional and organizational connections and loci. Assesses the coalescence and formation of visual studies as a disciplinary area within scholarly societies such as the International Communication Association.

  • Griffin, Michael. 2001. Camera as witness, image as sign: The study of visual communication in communication research. In Communication yearbook. Vol. 24. Edited by William B. Gudykunst, 433–463. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A historical review of the study of lens-based media representation and the multiple streams of theory and scholarship that have contributed to the emerging field of visual communication studies. Surveys contributions from film studies, the psychology of art and visual representation, semiotics, the anthropology and sociology of visual communication, and mass media studies.

  • Griffin, Michael. 2008. Visual communication. In International encyclopedia of communication. Vol. 11. Edited by Wolfgang Donsbach, 5304–5316. Oxford: Blackwell.

    An overview of the multidisciplinary field of visual studies in communication, with attention to key interdisciplinary and theoretical cross-currents and issues. The entry focuses on the study of media and pictorial forms, still and moving, and the epistemological and political implications of mediated visual representations. Available online by subscription.

  • Jewitt, Carey. 2008. Visual representation. In International encyclopedia of communication. Vol. 11. Edited by Wolfgang Donsbach, 5319–5325. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A brief summary of modernist and postmodernist approaches to the study of the visual that have increasingly conflated “looking,” “seeing,” and “knowing.” Highlights the role of cultural theories that connect visual representation with fundamental questions of reality, ideology and power, as well as procedures of signification and potentials for interpreting meaning. Available online by subscription.

  • Summers, David. 1989. Visual image. In International encyclopedia of communications. Vol. 4. Edited by Erik Barnouw, 294–305. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An overview of scholarship on visual images prior to 1990, from ancient uses of images to European art history and the historical relationships between image and reality in pictorial representation. Attempts to specify the conceptual role of the picture plane in defining the visual image.

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