What is Visual Communication? Past and Future of an Emerging Field of Communication Research
In the Anglo-American context visual communication has been on the academic radar since the late 1970s. In continental Europe the diversity of disciplines and the heterogeneity of national and cultural traditions in researching the visual have hampered a unified approach towards this expanding field of research that is in and by itself transdisciplinary in nature. This overarching quality of visual communication research is both the beauty and the beast. The "beauty" is the methodological as well as topical width of the scope that can be covered by visual research. The "beast" is that this disciplinary heterogeneity has, up to this point, deprived visual communication from a wider institutional impact in terms of curricula and third-party funding. In its current state, visual communication as organized in the International Communication Association (ICA), can be described as an expanding subfield of communication science that uses social scientific methods to explain the production, distribution and reception processes, but also the meanings of mass-mediated visuals in contemporary social, cultural, economic and political contexts. In this article a particular emphasis is placed on traditions and methods from the German-language.