Unit 3: Questioning images: representation and critical visual literacy

In this module, we look at visual representation and the role it plays in society. We are surrounded by images all the time, some of which reinforce particular ideas about people’s identity and position in society. Negative and conventional representations, which are based on stereotypes, are quite pervasive and can influence our attitudes, beliefs and ways of interating with those who we perceive as different. They can also have a detrimental effect on what people from certain groups (e.g., women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people, etc.) can be and do in life. By portraying these groups in a stereotypical and often demeaning manner, images can undermine people’s sense of agency and confidence over time. Although things are gradually changing, there is still a long road ahead in terms of achieving a fairer and less sterotyipal representation of all groups in society. This module will help you to look more critically at how people are represented visually and to challenge practices of visual exclusion and misrepresentation that may go unnoticed in everyday life. It will also equip you with practical resources and methodologies that you can use in the classroom to develop critical visual literacy skills in your pupils. All the exercises in this module have been adapted for self-directed learning; however, it is advisable to do them in a group, especially with your colleagues at school.

Learning Objectives

  • Values n.3 Promote a sense of responsibility for challenging exclusionary and stereotypical visual representations both locally and globally.
  • Attitudes n.5 Enable teachers to engage with sensitive and controversial topics related to visual representation.
  • Knowledge n.1, 2 & 3 Increase teachers’ awareness of how visual representation operates in society and its relationship with issues of power, discrimination and exclusion.
  • Skills n.2 Develop teachers’ ability to engage learners in a critical analysis of visual representation in the media.

Learning Outcomes

  • Values n.3, 5 & 9 Embrace critical visual literacy as a way of challenging exclusionary and stereotypical visual representations of different groups in society.
  • Attitudes n.2, 3 & 5 Support a critical analysis of visual representation among your learners.
  • Knowledge n.1, 2 & 3 Understand how different groups in society are visually represented, the reasons behind such representations and their effect on people’s lives and society at large.
  • Skills n.1, 2 & 3 Develop your learners’ critical visual literacy skills to question practices of visual exclusion as well as conventional forms of visual representation.

Activities

Activity 1: Warm-up
Estimated time
20 min
Learning objectives
  • To enable you to reflect on issues of representation (in a broader sense) and visibility within the education system.
Activity 2: Role reversal
Estimated time
30 min
Learning objectives
  • To develop your critical thinking skills in relation to how certain groups in society are seen and perceived in terms of roles, status and power.
Resources needed
  • Internet access
Activity 3: Challenging visual stereotypes
Estimated time
45 min
Learning objectives
  • To develop your ability to identify non-stereotypical images of women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, elderly people and disabled people.
Resources needed
  • Access to the internet and a colour printer (alternatively, newspapers and magazines can be used for this activity)
  • A1 paper sheet, scissors, glue stick and felt-tip pens
Activity 4: Representation matters
Estimated time
45 min
Learning objectives
  • To encourage you to reflect on the visual representation of Black people and the impact it has on their lives.
Resources needed
  • Internet access
Activity 5: Re-imagining Refugees
Estimated time
45 min
Learning objectives
  • To develop your critical thinking skills in relation to how refugees are often represented and what alternative visual representations could be made.
Resources needed
  • Access to the internet and a colour printer (alternatively, newspapers and magazines can be used for this activity).
  • A1 paper sheet, scissors, glue stick and felt-tip pens.

Suggested readings

Andreotti, V. (2011). Relativizing Western Knowledge Production in Spaces of Dissensus: The OSDE Methodology. In A. Darder, A. Hickling-Hudson, & P. Mayo (Eds.) Actionable Postcolonial Theory in Education (pp. 191-215). Palgrave Macmillan. Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1991). The social construction of reality. Penguin Books. Jackson, J. (2019). Introducing Language and Intercultural Communication. Routledge.  Hall, S. (2009). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. SAGE Publications. Hooks, B. (2014). Black Looks: Race and Representation. Routledge.

Glossary entries

Critical visual literacy Ethnic minority Ethnocentrism People of colour Stereotype Visual exclusion Visual representation