Echoing the Call for Multimodal Representation


  • Michael Renner



The editor’s introduction to the Visual Anthropology Review, Vol. 32, Issue 2, from fall 2016 emphasizes the necessity of anthropology to engage in multimodal methodologies of research and research communication.

An expanded view of visual anthropology, and its methodological and analytical contributions to current debates, recognizes and builds on the field’s commitment to a reflexive awareness of the social relationships at stake in the process of making images and an engagement with the politics of representation. It also encompasses an active approach toward learning to see how others see, how technologies of imaging picture the world, and a serious consideration of the technical capacities necessary for communicating ethnographic knowledge through visual composition, editing, and design. (Chio & Cox, 2016, pp. 101–102)

The claim that the reflection on images has been neglected compared to the reflection on language, echoing in the introduction of Chio and Cox (216), has been made in the context of the iconic turn in the mid-1990s. In reference to the linguistic turn in philosophy coined by Richard Rorty (1967) in philosophy, art historian Gottfried Boehm (1994, pp. 11–38) described the iconic turn, and Thomas W. Mitchell (1995, pp. 11–34) used the term pictorial turn, observing a significant shift toward communication by images. Both recognized the increasing power of images in society through the digital means of communication, which enables everyone to easily create and disseminate images. Both were aware of the lack of reflection on the meaning of images in Western thought.