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2022/23 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

COMM5160M Critical Studies in Visual Communication

30 creditsClass Size: 32

Module manager: Holly Steel

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

- This module explores the role that visual imagery plays in contemporary society, by means of looking at the visual as a key communication as well as economic and cultural resource. - The module offers both an overview of established critical theories of visual communication and more contemporary takes on visual analysis and visuality at large. - To gain a critical understanding of the central role that visual communication plays in global and local contexts alike, the module relies on a wide range of examples and case studies from key communication industries including: advertising, film, stock photography, branding and urban planning. As well as studying visual communication theories, methods for critical visual analysis and specific examples and cases, students will develop their own original research and fieldwork on specific dimensions of visual communication.


On completion of this module, students should be able to:
- expose and discuss the significance of visual communication for the broader field of media and communication studies;
- illustrate the cultural, political and economic elements of visual communication and the debates around them;
- develop an understanding of the complexity of visual communication and its implications on local, national and transnational levels;
- develop analytical skills for sophisticated analyses of visual texts in relation to language, materiality and the contexts of their production and reception;
- examine specific case-studies and controversial issues within the field, especially the relations of power involved in visual communication (eg issues of ownership and control of global media and communication technologies, issues tied to the representation and communication of gender/sexual, racial/ethnic, national/regional and trasnational/global identities);
- reflect on out role and ethical responsibility as producers and users of visual images in social science and humanities research and everyday contexts alike.

Learning outcomes
- Knowledge of visual communication, including key power structures and dynamics.
- Knowledge of the various flows of communication products and practices that characterize contemporary visual communication.
- Experience in analysing specific examples and cases through the theoretical and methodological instruments offered by visual communication scholarship.

Skills outcomes
- Critical thinking and analytical skills in relation to key contemporary cultural, economic and political processes and phenomena related to visual communication.
- Ability to apply theoretical constructs to specific case-studies and everyday life contexts.
- Research skills (eg case-study analysis and design, archival/library and field research) that may be useful and transferable in careers relating to media production, branding/public relations, public/institutional communication, community planning/activism, etc.


The module will comprise a reading week and 10 one-hour lectures, followed by class discussion.

The proposed weekly themes will be:
1. Introduction: Approaching the visual.
2. Theories of visual communication: visual perception and semiotics.
3. Theories of visual communication: rhetoric and cultural studies.
4. Methods for visual analysis: social semiotics I.
5. Methods for visual analysis: social semiotics II.
6. Visual texts: typography and color.
7. Visual texts: film editing and photography.
8. Reading week.
9. Materiality and multimodality in visual communication.
10. The city as visual communication.
11. Final remarks.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours279.50
Total Contact hours20.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

- Students will be required to read 6-8 articles and/or book chapters a week, for a total of about 15 weekly hours of reading (150 hours over 10 weeks).
- Each student should spend approximately 60 hours working on the completion of the essay assignment, and 69.5 hours on the project report assignment (since the latter assignment requires some archival/library research and fieldwork, students should spend more time on the second assignment).
- The instructor will support students’ private study and independent learning through the active use of VLE capabilities (eg by posting resources, encouraging online exchange on key themes/topics, etc).
- Additional support will be offered in the form of one mandatory individual tutorial regarding the project report assignment.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Students taking this module are expected to attend classes regularly. A register will be taken and absences will be justified only if there is a documented exceptional reason for missing class.

- Students will be expected to read in advance of classes and participate in weekly discussions. Those who fail to do so will be encouraged and/or met out of class to discuss any problems.

- The assessed assignments are designed in such a way that the individual essay due on week 8 should lay the conceptual foundations for the project report due on week 12.

- In addition, the module leader will meet with each student during office hours for support and advice in relation to their projects (see tutorials). Ideally, students will meet with the module leader at least once during the semester, although students will be encouraged to see the module leader regularly during office hours.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2,500 - 3,000 words. The essay focuses on the conceptualization and analysis of key dimensions of visual communication in relation to specific media texts.50.00
Project1 x 2,500 - 3,000 words. The project report will require for students to conduct original research on a specific set of visual communication practices or cases, which they will research through archival/library research methods and through fieldwork.50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The essay focuses on the conceptualization and analysis of key dimensions of visual communication in relation to specific media texts. Students will be required to write 3,000 – 3,500 words for this assignment. The project report will require for students to conduct original research on a specific set of visual communication practices or cases, which they will research through archival/library research methods and through fieldwork within the city of Leeds. Students will be required to write 3,500 – 4,000 words for this assignment.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:23:01


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