Image Clusters. A Hermeneutical Perspective on Changes to a Social Function of Photography




image analysis, image clusters, figurative hermeneutics, sociology of knowledge, visual sociology, visual studies, visual communication, digital photography


Photography can be used for a wide variety of social functions. The hermeneutic method of image cluster analysis presented deals with a comparatively new social use and understanding of photography: as digital montage forming intricate compilations. At the methodological heart of this approach is the 1. figurative analysis of the compositional principles of particular image compilations, i.e., their expressive meaning. This ideographic perspective is expanded and supplemented by 2. investigating the structure of the mediated field of perception and action of each image cluster, as well as the styles of observing and knowing that they predicate. Methodologically speaking, the approach relies on an assumption that far from being an invention of technological media, the "game" (WITTGENSTEIN) which is constitutive of iconic image clusters, complete with relationships of similarity and difference, has its anthropological basis and primary social expression in people's body language and in minor social distinctions. According to this hypothesis, in recent image clusters photography is no longer necessarily understood as depicting or documenting occurrences in the lifeworld, but is instead consolidated as a collectively shared means of expression which can be repeatedly recombined to form new figures of expression—in other words, it achieves a decidedly idiomatic quality.


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Author Biography

Michael R. Müller, TU Chemnitz

Michael R. MÜLLER is professor of visual communication and sociology of media. His areas of expertise include: sociology of knowledge and qualitative methodology (esp. figurative hermeneutics and image analysis). Currently, he directs the project "Social Displays—On the Accountability of Embodied Digital Technologies in Everyday Life" within the Collaborative Research Centre 1410 "Hybrid Societies—Humans Interacting with Embodied Technologies" (funded by the German Research Foundation), the project "Styles of Life 2.0—On the Genesis and Structure of Lateral Sociation" (funded by the German Research Foundation), and the project "Constellations of Seeing. On the Rationality of the Immersive and Explorative Use of Images" (funded by the Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung). He is co-editor of the series Visual Sociology (Beltz Juventa) and has published books and articles on the sociology of culture and media, on interaction theory, and on material culture and aesthetics.




How to Cite

Müller, M. R. (2020). Image Clusters. A Hermeneutical Perspective on Changes to a Social Function of Photography. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(2).