78903 - Visual Communication (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Maria Pia Pozzato

  • Credits 6

  • SSD M-FIL/05

  • Language English

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Semiotics (cod. 8886)

  • Teaching resources on Virtuale

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

After a general introduction on some Visual Communication issues, the course will concentrate on visual communication of identities, - of persons and places, and more cursorily of groups, institutions and brands.

Course contents

The contemporary culture assigns a leading role to the visual component of communication. Semiotics adopts a specific methodological approach to the analysis of this kind of texts, either connected with some verbal parts, or not. The first part of the course will be devoted to introduce the fundamental concepts of the discipline, beginning with narrative models, since also images always contain some narrative elements, more or less developed. Further, the concepts of enunciation and discourse will be illustrated, in order to understand the importance of the conditions of production of visual discourses. Finally, we will see the conceptualisations more strictly connected with visual communication, such as the opposition between figurative (concrete) and plastic (abstract) according with A. J. Greimas’ theory.

Main subjects that will be treated during the lessons of the course: narrativity in images; some basic semiotic concepts introduced through examples; Umberto Eco’s iconism theory; Algirdas Greimas’ natural world semiotics; figurativity and figurative density; ‘plastic’ organization of visual sexts; symbolism and semi-symbolism; Floch’s analisys of photographs; semiotics of comics; the sociosemiotic case of the wedding photographs in the past and nowadays; pop visual culture; the role of images in the newspapers; the case of the maps about their own places of origins drawn by some interviewed people; semiotic tools for the analysis of advertising; semiotic tools for the analysis of texts formed by different languages (music, verbal, visual, etc., as a commercial); analysis of Tv series.

The course will focus particularly on methodological aspects in order to furnish some analytical tools, which can be useful for those who want to analyze communication products less intuitively and more scientifically.


Since there are not many fundamental semiotic texts available in English, the teacher will provide some materials, such as lessons slides'texts, copies of a few A. J. Greimas’ essays in English, including chapters of books dealing with the various examples. Some preliminary indications:

For general theory:

- some dictionary entries from Greimas, A. J., and J. Courtés. Semiotics and Language: An Analytical Dictionary (first published in French in 1979, translated by L. Crist, D. Patte, et al. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982);

- “Figurative Semiotics and the Semiotics of the Plastic Arts”, in New Literary History, vol. 20, n. 1989 (first publish in French in 1984, translated by F. Collins and P. Perron, The Johns Hopkins University Press, available on https://www.jstor.org/stable/469358 );

For advertising: J.-M. Floch, Visual Identities, translated by, A.W. McHoul [https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1245037.A_W_McHoul] and P. Van Osselaer [https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2574075.Pierre_Van_Osselaer], Bloomsbury Academic 2001 (first published in French in 1995).

For maps: M.P. Pozzato (and collab.), Visual and Linguistic Representations of Places of Origin, Springer 2017.

For comics: English slides from D. Barbieri, Semiotica del fumetto, Carocci, 2017.

For tv series: J. Mittel, Complex Tv. The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling, NYU Press, 2015.

Teaching methods

During the first part of each lesson, the teacher will present the subject of that day using projections which are intended to help the comprehension of concepts and to show the images we will be talking about.

In the second part of the lesson, students can ask questions and contribute to the analysis of the cases illustrated in the class.

Assessment methods

The exam will consist of an analysis of a visual, or verbal-visual, or audio-visual text. This paper may be based either on collective or on individual work. In case of group work, groups should be composed by 2 - 6 people at most, except in the case of an analysis of an audiovisual text (for example, an episode of a television series) for which the group could also be slightly larger. The analysis should be submitted by the individual person or by the group through a power point presentation.

Teaching tools

The course will involve theoretical lectures and empirical analysis with multimedia support.

Office hours

See the website of Maria Pia Pozzato