Whitney Davis (2011) A General Theory of Visual Culture. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691147655 / 9780691147659
What is cultural about vision – or visual about culture?
In A General Theory of Visual Culture, Whitney Davis provides new answers to these difficult and important questions. Grounded in the theoretical traditions of art history, the book argues that artifacts and pictures have been made to be seen in a certain way; what Davis calls “visuality” is the visual perspective from which certain culturally constituted aspects of artifacts and pictures are visible to informed viewers. Davis provides a systematic analysis of visuality and describes how it comes into being as a historical form of vision.
The book draws on a wide range of disciplines, including art history, aesthetics, the psychology of perception, the philosophy of reference, and vision science, as well as visual-cultural studies in history, sociology, and anthropology. Interestingly, however, despite the professed interdisciplinarity of visual culture studies, it is striking to note the book does not easily align with the community of scholars most associated with visual culture, including, for example the readership of the Journal of Visual Culture. This reading group has been established to explore the ideas and methods of the book, and to consider an accord between Davis’ ambitiously framed ‘General Theory’ and the ongoing initiatives of Bildwissenschaft, image studies, visual culture, and visual studies.
INSTRUCTIONS TO PARTICIPANTS: Participants will need a physical copy of A General Theory of Visual Culture and should read the selected pages in time for the designated sessions outlined below. For each session you are encouraged to post your comments, questions and responses. The online environment allows for a flexible, asynchronous approach, so participants can work around their own schedules. However, in order to properly share a reading of the book, you are asked to contribute your thoughts within a week of the set session times. A link to each session will be made live on the advertised dates. Full details to be confirmed.
1. The Successions of Visual Culture (Pages 3-42: Chapters 1 & 2)
2. What is Cultural about Vision? I (Pages 45-119: Chapters 3 & 4)
3. What is Cultural about Vision? II (Pages 120-186: Chapters 5 & 6)
4. What is Cultural about Vision? III (Pages 187-274: Chapters 7 & 8)
5. What is Visual about Culture? (Pages 277-340: Chapters 9 & 10)