Visual Knowledge in the Legal Field

steampunk_archive_icon_by_yereverluvinuncleber-d5jsav0Sherwin, Richard K., Neal Feigenson, and Christina Spiesel. “What Is Visual Knowledge, and What Is It Good for? Potential Ethnographic Lessons from the Field of Legal Practice.” Visual Anthropology 20 (2007): 143-78. Web. 1 May 2012.

The article says the legal system requires competing reconstructions of reality (defense and prosecution), with a theoretical grounding in social constructionism. Visuals are less likely to be individually interpreted (Pink 2006: 49), though their creation is not always reality based. The article then looks at the question of “what kinds of knowledge and meaning are created, and with what outcomes, when they are visually and digitally constructed” (150). They argue that visual thinking is pre-conscious and rapid, thus forming lasting impressions that can be (and sometimes are) wrong (155). Visual images have greater impact, convey more information, bring out the emotional response of the real thing, and can appear to lack human intervention (156). In addition, visual images allow meaning to be grasped at one time, a meaning assumed to be the whole available, and yet some meaning remains implicit, which they convey subconsciously (157). Narrative theory (159) and media as message (161) are discussed as well as the impact of the modern malleability of images (164). The article ends with the statement that “the production and interpretation of visual knowledge requires a new intellectual framework” (168).

Not only does the article contain quite a bit of development in social constructionism and narrative theory, it also makes its points using actual court cases in which digital images were shown and made a difference to the outcomes of the cases. Some of the outcomes were not positive (as far as the authors were concerned). Whether there actually was media manipulation is beyond my knowledge; however, our photoshop culture makes it obvious that there could have been. The article is replete with discussions of visual images, their development, and their manipulation.

The background in visual knowledge research is valuable. The physical difference in how we process images versus written words is presented in a straight-forward manner, with citations for follow up. Discussing context of visual images would certainly impact visual knowledge and would be something I could do with my history and theory of rhetoric graduate class.

RrNm Ann Bib

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