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Print version ISSN 1517-4522On-line version ISSN 1807-0337


BOHNSACK, Ralf. Image interpretation and the documental method. Sociologias [online]. 2007, n.18, pp.286-311. ISSN 1517-4522.

The considerable development of qualitative methods over the last 20 years is intrinsically related to the "linguistic turn". The assumption that recorded texts are the basic data for all scientific research is therefore responsible for that prevalence of text interpretation methods and for such particular "fixation" on texts within qualitative methodologies. However, a difference has to be established between communication about (über) image and communication through (durch) image. Methodological access to the pre-conceptual or 'atheoretical' understanding was introduced in the 1920s by the iconology of Erwin Panofsky and his contemporary Karl Mannheim with his documental interpretation method. Important correspondences can be demonstrated between the two approaches as well as regarding the field of semiotics. Based on the understanding that the iconic character in its obstinateness is not properly available to us through language, we may conclude - referenced in the aforementioned authors as well as in Barthes, Foucault, and Imdahl -, that apprehending an image's peculiarities implies suspending, "placing in parentheses" our connotations (based on the iconographic previous knowledge mediated by language) as much as possible. Methodologically, the iconic character can only be reconstructed through the description of form, especially image's planimetric structure. The documental method of image interpretation is fit to face such challenge.

Keywords : Image interpretation; documental method; qualitative methods; Erwin Panofsky; Karl Mannheim.

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