Visual representations of homelessness in the canadian public sphere: an analysis of newspaper and photo voice images

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The thesis poses a central question: How do images of homelessness, circulated in the Canadian public sphere, simultaneously bolster or disrupt longstanding discourses surrounding homelessness? The question is addressed through quantitative and qualitative analysis of images related to stories on homelessness published in The Calgary Herald, The Toronto Star, and The Vancouver Sun between 2005-2010. Using the same analytic techniques, images taken by homeless individuals in photo voice projects, and published by advocacy groups within the same time period, are also investigated. Two central theoretical tenets ground the research. First, images do not merely reflect an empirical reality, but gain meaning within discursive and conventional contexts. Second, images have the potential to function as inter-subjective and performative instances of communication. These theoretical considerations underwrite the methodological procedure, which triangulates coded content analysis, interpretive qualitative analysis, and socio-historic discursive contextualization. The analysis shows that both the newspaper data and the photo voice data forward a representation of homelessness that emphasizes the personal culpability and experience of homeless individuals, but primarily neglects the structural and systemic causes of the social issue. Several important distinctions are also detected between the two sets of data. The newspaper data emphasizes an "undeserving" image of homeless individuals, one that easily bolsters a punitive and reformative approach to homelessness. Alternatively, the photo voice data emphasizes the personal agency of homeless individuals and opens the possibility for an expanded definition of the public, one that includes those who are not stably housed. The thesis thus offers three main contributions. In terms of visual and communicative theory, the research demonstrates how images function as important nodes for various discursive, representational, and performative meanings. Methodologically, the work uniquely combines quantitative and qualitative methods in an attempt to bridge the gap between larger social meanings and the expression of those meanings in specific mico-instances of cultural articulation. Finally, and substantively, the thesis provides important insight into how contemporary Canadian society conceptualizes homelessness, but does so through a unique and academically overlooked medium, images.
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Remillard, C. (2012). Visual representations of homelessness in the canadian public sphere: an analysis of newspaper and photo voice images (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/28656