Introducing Visual Culture (AHV1001)

StaffDr Joao Florencio - Lecturer
Dr Joao Florencio - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module aims to introduce students to the new field of enquiry that is Visual Culture’s domain. It will help students trace the intellectual roots of Visual Culture as a mode of enquiry, map the concerns that typify its approach to the study of visuality and indicate its possible future direction. It is especially concerned to encourage students to accept the dynamism and continued development of the subject in their own approach to the study of visuality. The module will assist thinking about vision, about cultures of vision and visuality and about visual objects and practices, both (pre-)historic and contemporary. It also acquaints students with the varied visual, archival and literary resources used in the study of visual culture and provides practical instruction in their use. Because Visual Culture will be a new subject for almost all students at University level, the module aims to provide a basis for successful progress, embedding a good understanding of the critical thinking associated with it and sharpening any distinctions to be drawn between Visual Culture and related fields of enquiry.

The  primary goal of this course is not to engage in justifications for this emerging field of study, but rather to get a feel for how Visual Culture has attempted to open up new ways of thinking about vision, visuality, images, representation, culture, and agency. Some key questions we will be dealing with are: What new things does Visual Culture have to say about pictures, images, and representation? What are the relationships between Art History, Visual Culture, and aesthetics? What models of culture does Visual Culture mobilize, implicitly or explicitly? How did Visual Culture emerge from British Cultural Studies and American Material Culture? How do different interpretive and disciplinary frameworks, such as anthropology or archaeology, engage with Visual Culture? How does Visual Culture deal with issues of agency, and related notions of embodiment, virtuality, and materiality? What relationship does Visual Culture have to theories of vision? How can we foster a practice of Visual Culture that is not restricted to the contemporary world, but can also account for earlier historical periods (prehistoric, ancient, medieval, early modern)? Is Visual Culture interested in history at all? How does Visual Culture relate to issues of aesthetics? Does Visual Culture attempt to break down the boundaries between “acts” of vision, seeing, and perception and the “objects” of those acts of vision, seeing, and perception or does it reaffirm them? What future directions might Visual Culture imagine?

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Describe and evaluate some of the dominant concepts, methods and debates informing Visual Culture as a mode of enquiry
  • 2. Apply a variety of methodologies and theoretical approaches to the interpretation of visual artefacts and practices in an informed way
  • 3. Demonstrate knowledge of visual culture and visuality in different historical periods
  • 4. Undertake independent research on a visual artefact or practice

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Research, present and evaluate relevant descriptive and analytic material with increased independence?
  • 6. Use specialist terminology effectively and make proficient use of the relevant literature

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through writing and project assessments, demonstrate good research and bibliographic skills, an informed capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose.
  • 8. Through research for projects and essays, demonstrate good proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 9. Through project work, demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively orally and/or in written form, and in teams towards the development, research, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time.

Syllabus plan

An indicative week by week syllabus may be as follows:


1. What is visual culture?

2. Issues of representation

3. Visual Culture and Art History

4. Anthropology & archaeology of the visual

5. Embodiment and the virtual

6. Opportunities week

7. Sensing and perception

8. Photography

9. Text & Image

10. Visualising information

11. Historicity

12. Towards a future visual culture


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities11Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminars - these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and to present on a given topic on at least one occasion
Scheduled learning and teaching activities10Workshops - 2 hours every other week
Scheduled learning and teaching activities12Tutorial guidance for reading, research and essay preparation
Guided independent study245Private Study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Critical Analysis500 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Oral presentation5-10 minutes1-9Peer-assessment recorded on feedback sheet with tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay652000 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Individual portfolio- a) 750-word analysis of visual object; b) 750-word reflective learning journal351500 words 1-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay2000 word essay1-8Referral/deferral period
Individual portfolioIndividual portfolio- a) 750-word analysis of visual object; b) 750-word reflective learning journal1-9Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Mieke Bal ‘Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture’, Journal of Visual Culture
2, no. 1, 2003 pp. 5–32. [see also ‘Responses to Mieke Bal’s “Visual Essentialism and the Object of Visual Culture.” ’Journal of Visual Culture 2, no. 2, 2003, pp. 229–68.

Malcolm Barnard, Art, Design and Visual Culture: An Introduction, 1998.
-----. Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture, 2001

Hans Belting, An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body, 2011

-----Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, 1997

Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, and Keith Moxey, (eds) Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations, 1994

Whitney Davis, A General Theory of Visual Culture, 2011

Richard Howells Visual Culture, 2003.

Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), The Visual Culture Reader ,1998

-----An Introduction to Visual Culture , 1999

Matthew Rampley (ed.) Exploring Visual Culture: Definitions, Concepts, Contexts, 2005

Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2001

John A. Walker, and Sarah Chaplin Visual Culture: An Introduction, 1997.

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Available as distance learning?


Origin date

Nov 2012

Last revision date

Jan 2013

Key words search

Visual Culture; Media; Art History