Blogging my research: deciding how to analyse colouring book images

I recently was able to take some time to start the qualitative analysis on the colouring books project. If creative materials like colouring books differentiate how boys and girls are presented  in active situations, it might affect their imaginations and trajectories through sport, leisure and education. The Let Books Be Books campaign asserts that gender differentiated and stereotyped materials restrict the story lines available to children and can make them feel outcast if they make choices that don’t belong to ‘their gender’.

The quantitative analysis was completed in late 2014 but soon being on maternity leave I was not able to get the second part, where I attempt more of a discourse analysis of some of the images in six colouring books. The focus is on images of human bodies and physical activity, and I am trying to get a sense of how masculinity and femininity are represented in colouring books for children. Are men presented as active and powerful? Are women represented as passive / engaged in domestic activities, and are their poses submissive? The quantitative research found that gendered colouring books (books for boys and books for girls) present predominantly characters of the gender the book is aimed at, and found something of a trend towards boys being shown out of doors  and girls indoors more often. This used a quantitative content analysis to describe the images based on certain categories (gender, age of character; space; activity type – e.g. leisure time physical activity, sedentary, active transport). Gillian Rose (2013) in Visual Methodologies identifies that content analysis can provide a thorough representation of the field, but struggles to contribute to a critical visual methodology. Content analysis cannot analyse what is invisible or missing, differentiate strong or weak examples of a code, or comment on composition and mood (Rose, 2013).

I’m interested in whether there is a double whammy so that girls don’t merely learn what activities are appropriate for girls, but also how to act, dress and behave in a feminine way and in relation to boys (and vice versa with boys, masculinity). This prompts qualitative research because of the need to consider the sense or meaning that can be read in an image and accompanying text that a quantitative content analysis cannot record. Rose notes that a quantitative content analysis finds it difficult to analyse the strength of connections, for instance prompting us to think that a more frequent occurrence is more important than something that is only seen as few times.

However, there are multiple forms of qualitative analysis that can help make sense of the meanings of images, so I will turn to my go-to visual methods guides to help choose an analysis method.

Rose’s Visual Methodologies (3rd ed, Sage) introduces a number of forms of visual analysis and examines how they are done and with what sort of research question and what sort of images you can use them with. There is some element of comparison between the methods although it cannot of course tell me exactly which method I should use! I gravitated towards three of the chapters: on Semiotics, on Discourse Analysis (concerned with texts), on Discourse Analysis (concerned with social institutions).

Semiotics might seem to make sense in analysing images and symbols that create meaning about gender. However, as it is represented by Rose, I found semiotics to be weighed-down by jargon, to focus on case studies that might not be representative.

On the other hand, discourse analysis, in the Foucauldian sense (according to Rose), pays attention to the social construction and consequence of difference. Discourse ‘refers to groups of statements that structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking’ (Rose, 2013, p. 190). Discourse can be articulated though a variety of means or media, so intertextuality is important – that is, meanings depend on other texts too. By implementing discourse analysis, we could investigate the reproduction of the social institution and practice of gender. Hence, examination is possible of the construction of masculinities and femininities, and how they related to one another, in order to create more nuanced understanding of gender relations, subject positioning and the gendered body.

One lead researcher read through all six books and created written notes of the overt and covert stories told in the images; that is, the discourses reproduced in the images. For instance, characterisation; setting (such as contemporary, historical or imaginary); and juxtaposition of male and female characters were noted for individual images, and further observation of the overall discourses in each book.

 

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