Research focus: Depictions of Blacks in LIFE Magazine, 1936-2000

Advertising images as social indicators: depictions of blacks in LIFE magazine, 1936-2000, by John Grady, is the lead article in Visual Studies (December 2007,Volume 22, Issue 3). The journal is available from the Library’s home page (E-resources).

Abstract
One of the most important prerequisites for building a more visual social science is demonstrating that visual data provide answers to research questions, which are not addressed satisfactorily by the use of more conventional, non-visual, methods. In this article the author argues that a systematic analysis of the images in print advertisements not only accounts for patterns in contemporary American race relations as reliably as findings derived from national surveys like the General Social Survey (GSS) and the US Census, but also illuminates questions that are often raised by, but seldom resolved with, quantitative data. These questions include, for example, consideration of what factors might encourage respondents to espouse some attitudes – or to make certain choices – but not others. More specifically, a close examination of trends in advertisements published in Life magazine between 1936 and 2000 reveals that, while the white commitment to racial integration appears to have taken longer to develop than survey data suggests, this commitment seems to be much firmer than findings based on census data imply. Nevertheless, the trend in advertising images also shows that, even with a steadily growing white commitment to racial integration, there are still areas of social life where whites are wary of blacks and find it hard to imagine scenarios that exemplify relations of moral equality.

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