The Visual Turn in Social Science and Organization Theory
In this chapter, the concepts of vision and visuality will be introduced and examined in some detail. Before we proceed to the discussion of the historical development of a modern theory of vision, a few central terms needs to be defi ned. Following Natharius (2004: 239), we speak of vision as “the mechanical process of receiving visible light waves through the retina.” That is, vision is primarily a chemico-physical somatic response to external stimuli. On the other hand, visuality is denoting “the social/psychological process of socially constructing the meaning of our perceived visual data” (Natharius, 2004: 239). Similarly, Elkins (1996: 19) uses the term vision to denote “the anatomical actions of the eyes” while sight “refers to all the wider senses of seeing, from suspicion to unconscious desires.” Elkins is, however, suggesting that recent neurological research shows that practically separating these two terms is problematic. Still, vision provides input that is cognitively and emotionally processed in order to produce coherent meaning and make sense out of what is seen. Since vision is perhaps the sense most widely used by human beings in everyday life, there is a tendency to assume that vision is capable of offering accurate images of social life (Natharius, 2004: 241). However, in comparison to, for instance, olfactory capacities, vision is less closely tied to memory; a certain smell almost immediately provokes responses like no other sense. In addition, in
comparison to taste, vision is vague and imprecise. When tasting something you dislike, you do not need to be too uncertain whether you like the taste or not-you know straightaway-but when looking at something there are no such direct responses. Still, as argued in this chapter, vision has served as the dominant paradigm for truthfulness and accuracy in the Western episteme and there are many reasons for critically examining this tradition of thinking and to examine its organizational practices and implications.