Qualitative content analysis – the text and the image

Yes, I have been neglecting this blog over the summer. Even though there has generally been either too little (mostly) or too much (recently) sunshine… But now the new academic year is about to start, and to mark the occasion I just found a question about qualitative content analysis in my inbox (thank you, Valeria). Valeria is using QCA to analyse an advertising campaign involving both images and text, and she was wondering whether she can use QCA to analyse both or whether she will need a different method to analyse the images.

To start with, this is difficult to tell in the abstract. Methods questions are rarely ever methods questions only – they are linked to theory and to research questions. So it is in this case: Depending on her research question, she may be able to apply QCA to text and the images – or she may have to use a method like semiotics or iconography to do a more in-depth analysis of the images. The reason is that text and images are different modalities, and they differ as to how meaning is created.

A common distinction when analysing images refers to denotation and connotation. Denotation, to put it in a simplified way, is the literal meaning – that which the image or the text refers to. QCA is well-suited as a method to assess the denotation of images: Are men or women displayed, what type of activity do the persons in the image engage in, what is their facial expression, and the like. Connotation, on the other hand, refers to that which is implied by an image, the associations evoked by an image. Connotative meaning is much more difficult to assess and to analyse than connotative meaning, and a large part of the analysis of images is concerned with how connotative meaning is created by using various kinds of symbols in various kinds of relationships to each other. When it comes to analysing connotative meaning, QCA is not a suitable method. Semiotics or iconography would be more helpful and allow for a more in-depth analysis.

On a different note: It seems that Valeria checked this blog before sending me an email and that she was disappointed not to find an answer online. If you are in Valeria’s situation, just ask me your question by commenting on this or another of my blog entries on qualitative content analysis – I’ll be happy to answer!

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