Towards meaning-making in visual discourse
: a grounded theory approach to luxury fashion print advertising

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


How should we understand visual meaning making? Responding to calls for integrative, cumulative, corpus-based abstract frameworks, this research aims to contribute to knowledge by building theory on visual meaning making inductively from a significant corpus of empirical data. The objective is to identify and describe the first principles of meaning making in visual discourse systematically and adequately in an inclusive (cross-disciplinary), practicable and parsimonious theoretical framework. The scope of the research is limited to a narrowly defined type of static text, namely a corpus of print advertising in Anglo-American upmarket women's magazines (Vogue UK and US, Vanity Fair UK) as units of analysis. Acknowledging the geographical, cultural and historical specificity of the sample, the particular narrow sample was specifically chosen for its ubiquity and accessibility within its specific context to laypersons as well as for facilitating easier access to a potential ‘preferred’ reading in comparison with other texts given the positionality of the author within this classed and gendered socio-historical context. Cross-cultural or longitudinal research or the study of other types of media and genres are beyond the scope of this thesis. Using Potter and Wetherell’s (1987) discourse analysis as a model of good practice this research attempts to apply the same rigorous process to visual meaning making in static images that they applied to text. The thesis undertakes a rigorous grounded theory approach to a corpus of advertising discourse with the aim of developing ‘simply [sic] explications of what is going on in particular texts’ in which a Homo rhetoricus is considered to be ‘primarily concerned with formulating accounts that are as persuasive as possible, in order to serve his or her interests’ (Hammersley, 2003, p. 763). Thus, the concern is neither for how a discursive account corresponds with an empirical world nor to expose biases and power structures but to reveal the intricate layers of meaning in a textual analysis of visual discourse.
Date of Award1 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorNick Wilson (Supervisor) & Rosalind Gill (Supervisor)

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