Dr Giorgia Aiello
Director of Research and Innovation; Associate Professor in Media and Communication
0113 343 5828
Clothworkers' Building North, 1.03
Office hours: Wednesdays 10-12; by appointment during non-teaching weeks.
BA & MA (Bologna), PhD (Washington)
I received my PhD in Communication from the University of Washington with a doctoral dissertation on the visual communication of European identity. My doctoral project was the winner of the 2008 National Communication Association Critical and Cultural Studies Division’s Outstanding Dissertation Award. At the University of Washington I co-founded and co-directed the Urban Archives project, which produced and promoted visual research about the city through a publicly available digital database. I joined the School of Media and Communication in 2010. Previously, I worked as an assistant professor of media and cultural studies at Colorado State University.
Current and recent projects include:
- The book Visual Communication: Understanding Images in Media Culture (with Katy Parry, under contract with SAGE, to be published in 2017)
- The edited book Communicating the City (with Kate Oakley and Matteo Tarantino, under contract with Peter Lang, to be published in 2016)
- A special section of the International Journal of Communication titled “Going About the City: Methods and Methodologies for Urban Communication Research” (co-edited with Simone Tosoni, published in February 2016)
- A special issue of the Sage journal Visual Communication on Difference and Globalization (co-edited with Luc Pauwels, published in August 2014)
I am a recipient of a four-year Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013). Other recognitions include the NCA Visual Communication Division’s 2012 Outstanding Essay or Book Chapter Award and the 2010 Urban Communication Foundation Research Incentive Award. I am also the current Chair of the Visual Communication Studies Division within the International Communication Association.
In June 2013 I organized the international conference Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media in collaboration with the Urban Communication Foundation and the ECREA Media and the City Temporary Working Group. The conference attracted nearly 100 participants from 20 different countries and featured four keynotes and 16 panel sessions over two days. To see a .pdf of the conference programme, click here.
Selected invited research talks and lectures
“A critical genealogy of the Getty Images Lean In Collection: Researching the feminist politics of stock photography across representation, circulation, and recontextualization”. Invited pitch and research project for the Digital Methods Winter School, sponsored by the Digital Methods Initiative, University of Amsterdam, January 2016.
“Taking stock: Changing aesthetics and photographers’ perspectives in the global visual content industry”. Invited research seminar sponsored by the Visual and Digital Cultures Research Center, University of Antwerp, November 2015.
“‘I would not have guessed they’d take that bloody picture’: An investigation of photographers’ perspectives on stock photography”. Brown bag research talk sponsored by the School of Media Studies, New School for Public Engagement, May 2014.
“Your body is a sociolinguistic playground: resemiotization, recontextualization and stylization in feminist art”. Invited paper for the roundtable conference “The Sociolinguistics of Art”, organized by Professor Adam Jaworski and Professor Christopher Hutton. School of English, University of Hong Kong, January 2014.
“All Tögethé® now: branding, identity and diversity in EU public communication”. Invited research seminar sponsored by the Centre for European Research. University of Gothenburg, November 2013.
Selected conference presentations
“A visual-material approach to the city: The urban built environment as a key form/force of mediation and mediatization”. Paper part of the roundtable session “The urban as emergent key concept for media theory: ambiguities, certainties and stakes”. Philosophy, Theory and Critique Division, ICA 2016, Fukuoka (Japan).
“Powerful stock: The contradictory visual regime of contemporary commercial photography”. Paper part of the refereed paper session “The paradoxes of photographic power”. Visual Communication Studies Division, ICA 2016, Fukuoka (Japan).
“Pride, protest and performance: Picturing the Pride Parade on Serbian television”. Refereed paper, with Aleksandra Krstić and Katy Parry. Political Studies Association (PSA) Media and Politics Group Conference, University of Chester, November 2015.
“What can a visualisation do? Power and the visual representation of data”. Paper part of the panel session “Visualising Data”. With Helen Kennedy, Rosemary Lucy Hill and William Allen. Data Power Conference, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, June 2015.
My research focuses on the relationship between visual culture and globalization, with an emphasis on how identities are formed and social and cultural differences are negotiated across cultures and through visual means—including mediated imagery, the urban built environment, travel and tourism, design and branding, material culture and consumption.
In my work I privilege a critical cultural perspective on issues of power and cultural production in advanced capitalism, with an interdisciplinary approach that spans semiotics, cultural studies, sociocultural anthropology, phenomenology and critical discourse analysis.
From 2011 to 2015 my research project “Globalization, Visual Communication, Difference” was supported by a Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013).
Areas of interest
- Visual communication and visual research methods
- Urban communication, space and place
- Globalization, identity and power
- Cultural and social difference in communication
- Social semiotics and critical discourse analysis
- Critical cultural studies
- Feminist and queer theory
- Ethnographic, international and phenomenological research methods
I lead the following modules:
- COMM3180 International Communication (undergraduate)
- COMM5160 Critical Studies in Visual Communication (MA)
- COMM5310 Media, Culture and Globalization (MA)
I contribute guest lectures to the following modules:
- COMM2811 Thinking Photographically: Developing Approaches to Photography (undergraduate)
- COMM1970 Introduction to Media Communication Theory (undergraduate)
I also supervise undergraduate, MA, and PhD dissertations.
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.This paper argues that visualisation conventions work to make the data represented within visualisations seem objective, that is, transparent and factual. Interrogating the work that visualisation conventions do helps us to make sense of the apparent contradiction between criticisms of visualisations as doing persuasive work and visualisation designers’ belief that through visualisation, it is possible to ‘do good with data’ [Periscopic. 2014. Home page. Retrieved from http://www.periscopic.com/]. We focus on four conventions which imbue visualisations with a sense of objectivity, transparency and facticity. These include: (a) two-dimensional viewpoints; (b) clean layouts; (c) geometric shapes and lines; (d) the inclusion of data sources. We argue that thinking about visualisations from a social semiotic standpoint, as we do in this paper by bringing together what visualisation designers say about their intentions with a semiotic analysis of the visualisations they produce, advances understanding of the ways that data visualisations come into being, how they are imbued with particular qualities and how power operates in and through them. Thus, this paper contributes nuanced understanding of data visualisations and their production, by uncovering the ways in which power is at work within them. In turn, it advances debate about data in society and the emerging field of data studies.
(2016) “Being Through There Matters: Materiality, Bodies, and Movement in Urban Communication Research”, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION. 10: 1294-1308.
Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/94209/
(2016) “Going About the City: Methods and Methodologies for Urban Communication Research”, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION. 10: 1252-1262.
Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/95633/
(2016) “When corporations come to define the visual politics of gender: The case of Getty Images”, Journal of Language and Politics. 15.3: 352-368.
DOI: 10.1075/jlp.15.3.08aie, Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/94210/
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.While stock photographs have come to saturate media and have been mocked for their clichéd nature, for example where women are pictured laughing alone with salad, a powerful corporation like Getty Images that disseminates commercial imagery globally has sought to challenge these stereotypes by making more politicized images. This article examines one such case, that is, Getty's Genderblend visual trend, which claims to portray gender identities and relations in ways that are both more inclusive and diverse, harnessing feminist theory as part of its promotion. Taking a multimodal discourse and visual design approach, the article looks at how corporate imagery can be styled as political and, in turn, how a politics of difference itself is shaped in the interests of the ideologies of consumer capitalism.
(2014) “Beyond authenticity: A visual-material analysis of locality in the global redesign of Starbucks stores”, Visual Communication. 13.3: 303-321.
DOI: 10.1177/1470357214530054, Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/87634/
In this article we examine the global store design strategy launched by Starbucks in 2009 in the wake of the economic crisis, increasing brand dilution, and growing competition. We offer a visual-material analysis of the corporation’s efforts to create a global aesthetic grounded in locality, with an in-depth focus on meaning potentials of materiality and community found across the four store redesigns that were unveiled in Seattle, the coffee company’s hometown, and which functioned as prototypes for store design across the United States, Europe, and Asia. We then critically engage Starbucks’ rhetoric/discourse of locality in relation to the more widespread notion of authenticity. We argue that while authenticity is rooted in textual and symbolic arrangements, locality operates in the realm of emplaced and embodied claims of difference. Shifting from authenticity to locality in design and branding practices alters critical engagements and everyday relationships with global consumer capitalism, insofar as this may be increasingly entrenched with vernacular expressions of cosmopolitanism.
(2013) “From wasteland to wonderland: The hypermedia(tiza)tion of urban regeneration in Leeds’ Holbeck Urban Village”, First Monday. 18.11
In this paper, I examine Holbeck Urban Village (HUV), Leeds’ flagship urban regeneration project and a textbook case in approaches to planning and redevelopment via the popular notion of ‘urban village’. Based on an analysis of online planning and promotional media, I argue that the lived space of HUV is hypermediatized, as it is imagined and imaged for key lifestyle publics via top–down multimodal discourses. However, it is not only the social but also the more properly material dimensions of our cities that are increasingly mediatized. In my analysis, I note how specific ‘textures’ of envisioned lived space are mobilized in the communication of HUV to achieve distinction within major genres and formats of urban regeneration. I then posit that this is also a hypermediated approach to urban regeneration, as the imaginations and images that constitute the visual–material performances of the urban village are in turn productive of very specific and therefore also limited (embodied) subjectivities and (emplaced) communities. Overall, the key aim of this article is to draw attention to the increasing hypermedia(tiza)tion of the material and social dimensions of urban regeneration and, in doing so, also generate concepts for the development of a broader critical and theoretical framework for the study of major contemporary approaches to urban regeneration from a communication and media studies perspective.
(2013) “Generiche differenze: La comunicazione visiva della soggettività lesbica nell’archivio fotografico Getty Images”, Studi Culturali. Dicembre 2013.3
This article offers a critical analysis of stock photographs aimed at generically representing lesbians for a variety of communicative contexts. In particular, the article examines issues such as embodiment, sexualization and discursive constructions of individual and relational identities. This research combines a qualitative content analysis of 1500 stock photos from the global corporate image bank Getty Images with in-depth interviews with some of the photographers directly involved in the production of images associated with the tag «lesbian». What emerges from this concurrent evaluation of key semiotic and social dimensions of stock photography is a complex approach to the visual communication of «generic» lesbian subjectivities. On one hand, there is an increasing visibility of non-standardized forms of lesbian embodiment and sexualization. On the other hand, as a visual concept «lesbian» is most often communicated in a homonormative manner, by means of association with conservative relational modes (e.g. the married couple) and neoliberal lifestyles.
(2013) “Here, and not yet here: A dialogue at the intersection of queer, trans, and culture”, Journal of International and Intercultural Communication. 6.2: 96-117.
(2013) “Fra abiezione e stilizzazione: corpi femminili, corpi lesbici e corpi queer nella comunicazione visiva globale”, AG About Gender - Rivista Internazionale di Studi di Genere. 2.3: 145-163.
Since the 1970s, feminist and LGBT scholarship has extensively focused on the impact that advertising, television and film have on the standardization and objectification of the female and lesbian body. However, little attention has been given to the images produced in global(izing) communication industries such as branding and stock photography. Brands and stock photographs alike may seem to be more invisible, although and perhaps because they are in fact much more pervasive than “traditional” media images. These images originate from major centers of post-industrial capitalist power and are used and consumed by multiple actors, ranging from communication professionals to ordinary consumers. In this article, I offer an in-depth critical reading of some key communication resources of two global corporations: the global coffeehouse chain Starbucks and the world-leading provider of stock photography Getty Images. First, I examine some of the key branding strategies used by Starbucks, with a specific focus on the deployment of the female body in the mermaid logo. Second, I examine Getty photographs aimed at representing lesbian subjectivities for a variety of uses. The differences that set us apart, or the eccentricities of our bodies, are increasingly exploited in globalizing contexts that require differentiation and distinction, though within the rigid structures that underlie the economic, political and cultural marketplaces of contemporaneity. For this reason, in my analysis I also and foremost focus on the visual treatment of key “abject” or “queer” features that characterize images produced both by Starbucks and Getty. In this way, I ultimately highlight some of the dynamics that underlie the coding of differences, rather than the homogenization of discursive practices in contemporary communication. Keywords: lesbian, female body, queer, abjection, stylization, Starbucks, Getty, branding, stock photography, visual communication, globalization
(2012) “Confined to the edges: Reflections on visual research in Bologna”, Lo Squaderno: Explorations in Space and Society. Observing today's Italy. New urban ethnography in Italy. 24.June 2012: 37-41.
(2012) “All Tögethé® now: The recontextualization of corporate branding and the stylization of diversity in EU public communication”, Social Semiotics. 22.4: 459-486.
This article examines the EU Birthday Logo Competition, which was launched jointly by the major European Union (EU) institutions to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2007. As the first public communication initiative by the European Commission's newly restructured Directorate General for Communication, the logo competition is a particularly rich micro-textual “site” for a critical investigation of the recontextualization of corporate communication discourses and practices into institutional approaches to the communication of EU identity. Through an analysis of policy documents, on-site observations, textual artifacts, and in-depth interviews with policy-makers and design professionals I argue that the tensions and challenges that characterized the EU Birthday Logo Competition and related EU communication policy as a site of recontextualization may have led to the communication of a much more stylized, rather than complex and nuanced, version of European identity. In particular, I argue that the dialectic between the “professional/corporate” and “institutional/political” cultures that interacted in the selection, production and implementation of the anniversary logo may have contributed to obscuring key principles of corporate branding at work in the design, and may have in fact worked to produce a highly generic, decontextualized and ultimately also bland, although certainly problematic, “vision” of EU diversity.
(2012) “The ‘other’ Europeans: The semiotic imperative of style in Euro Visions by Magnum Photos”, Visual Communication. 11.1: 49-77.
In this article, the author examines Euro Visions, the exhibition created by Magnum Photos to portray the new countries that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007. She begins by observing that this project’s deviations from the world-leading agency’s trademark humanist style of photography were discursively ascribed to Euro Visions photographers’ authorial style. In this regard, she identifies two key semiotic resources – typing and juxtaposition – that were mobilized as markers of individual style. She then argues that both typing and juxtaposition should instead be seen as generic semiotic resources rooted in corporate styles of visual communication, which contribute to othering the ‘new’ Europeans. She also argues that in Euro Visions, the notion of ‘distinctive’ authorial style was deployed as symbolic currency for a global(ist) market that rewards cultural production and, broadly, aestheticization. She finally posits that, in projects like Euro Visions, what is mostly (generic) design may get passed off as (specific) representation, and that this aestheticization of styles and identities may be mystified as the substantial honouring of difference and diversity.
(2011) “From wound to enclave: The visual-material performance of urban renewal in Bologna's Manifattura delle Arti”, Western Journal of Communication. 75.4: 341-366.
In this article I examine the visual-material performance of urban renewal in Bologna’s cultural district Manifattura delle Arti. Through an evaluation of its physical characteristics and with the aid of personal narrative, I elucidate that the district performs meaning potentials of exclusion and distinction. Not unlike when it was a run-down former industrial area, the district visibly interrupts the cityscape. In doing so, it is now constituted as an enclave for the global(ist) communication of Bologna. Rather than being an organically integrated or politically disruptive presence, this urban enclave ultimately contributes to the deepening of inequalities that are typical of advanced capitalism.
(2007) “National pride, global capital: A social semiotic analysis of transnational visual branding in the airline industry”, Visual Communication. 6.3: 305-344.
In this article we examine 561 different airline tailfin designs as a visual genre, revealing how the global-local binary may be managed and realized semiotically. Our analysis is organized into three strands: (a) a descriptive analysis identifies the strikingly restricted visual lexicon and dominant corporate aesthetic established by tailfin design; (b) an interpretive analysis considers the communicative strategies at play and the meaning potentials which underpin different visual resources; (c) a critical analysis links these decisions of design and branding to the political and cultural economies of globalism and the airline industry. Specifically, we show how airlines are able to service national identity concerns through the use of highly localized visual meanings while also appealing to the meaning systems of the international market in their pursuit of symbolic and economic capital. One key semiotic resource is the balancing of cultural symbolism and perceptual iconicity in the form of abstracted stylizations of kinetic effects. Although positioned unfairly in the global semioscape, airlines may resist straightforward cultural homogenization by strategically reworking existing design structures and exploiting possibly universal semiotic meaning potentials.
(2007) “Seattle's Pike Place Market (de)constructed: An analysis of tourist narratives about a public space”, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change. 5.3: 158-185.
This paper is a critical analysis of the narrative construction of Seattle’s well-known and heavily touristed Pike Place Market. The analysed data come from both institutional and amateur sources, including travel guides and photographs taken by tourists at the market. Tourist literature provides narrative themes in the form of literary descriptions and photographic images, that emphasise and reveal only certain textual dimensions of a place. Tourists’ experiences and accounts are inevitably informed by such themes. In addition, studying tourist photography is an excellent way to understand how people actively use and resist modes of representation that are derived from institutional sources. Tourists are usually remarkably prolific photographers, while also being exposed to a great number and variety of institutional narratives of the sites they visit. Public space is not merely a geographical configuration, but also a verbal and visual narrative construction by means of technologies such as writing and photography. The construction of a narrative via the means of technology can be political both in the way that it is produced and in the way it is consumed. The authors examine the dynamic power relationship that exists between institutional and amateur texts about popular public spaces, such as a city’s public market.
(2006) “Symbolic capitals: Visual discourse and intercultural exchange in the European Capital of Culture scheme”, Language and Intercultural Communication. 6.2: 148-162.
In multilingual Europe, visual discourse may function as a cross-culturally strategic form of communication, thanks in part to its perceptual and iconic availability. In this regard, we offer a social semiotic critique of a range of visual resources deployed in he official promotional texts of 30 of the 43 cities either nominated or competing for he title of European Capital of Culture between 2005 and 2011. In considering the political/cultural/economic ideologies that underpin the production of a supposedly pan-European identity, we also show how these branding exercises manage local/global tensions by exploiting the intercultural meaning potentials of visual discourse.
(2006) “Theoretical advances in critical visual analysis: Perception, ideology, mythologies and social semiotics”, Journal of Visual Literacy. 26.2: 89-102.
(2016) “Everyday utopias, technological dystopias and the failed occupation of the global modern: Dwell Magazine meets Unhappy Hipsters”, In: Day A (eds.) DIY Utopia. Rowman & Littlefield. (Accepted)
(2015) “Aesthetics, Political”, In: Mazzoleni G (eds.) The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication. 1st. The Wiley Blackwell-ICA International Encyclopedias of Communication. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. 11-16
Repository URL: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/92466/
(2010) “Faces of places: Façades as global communication in Post-Eastern Bloc urban renewal”, In: Jaworski A; Thurlow C (eds.) Semiotic Landscapes: Language, Image, Space. Continuum. 256-273
(2010) “Urban Archives: Public memories of everyday places”, In: Hou J (eds.) Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities. Routledge. 181-193
(2007) “The appearance of diversity: Visual design and the public communication of EU identity”, In: Bain J; Holland M (eds.) European Union identity: Perceptions from Asia and Europe. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft Mbh & Co. 147-181
(2010) The Europe of minorities: Putting to use the European Courts’ human rights case law on LGBT people and migrants.
In this post for The Person in the (Big) Data edition of EM, we hear from Giorgia Aiello @giorgishka who demonstrates the ways in which she used both digital and traditional methods to explore the people and practices that characterise the stock photography industry. Giorgia’s stories of photographers attempting to game the algorithms that determine which photographs will come out on top in a search for cheese are compelling and memorable, and they just show how important it is to develop an expanded idea of just what ‘data’ is constituted by, even if the dominant discourse is more limited.
(2015) “Media and the City: Cosmopolitanism and Difference.”, MEDIA CULTURE & SOCIETY. 37.2: 327-329.
(2010) “Review of Mobilities (by John Urry)”, European Journal of Cultural Studies. 13.1: 129-131.
(2005) “Review of Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civic Society in Cyberspace (edited by Douglas Schuler and Peter Day)”, New Media & Society. 7.4: 582-584.
“Review of Landscapes of Capital: Representing Time, Space, and Globalization in Corporate Advertising (by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson)”, Sociologica. il Mulino. 2.2013
Research Projects & Grants
I work and have worked both individually and collaboratively on several grant-funded research projects:
- PI, “Globalization, Visual Communication, Difference”. Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant, European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-PEOPLE-2010-RG), grant agreement no. 277039. Total award €100,000. 2011 – 2015.
- Research team member of “MeCoDEM – Media, Conflict and Democratisation” (PI: Professor Katrin Voltmer), a project that investigates the role of traditional media and ICTs in conflicts that accompany and follow transitions from authoritarian rule to more democratic forms of government in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa (funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme). Working with political communication scholars on the role and significance of images and expressive practices in protest and activism. 2015 – present.
- Project advisory board member and research article co-author in “Seeing Data: Are good big data visualisations possible?” (PI: Professor Helen Kennedy), a project that examines the increasing significance of visual representations of data in everyday life and aims to understand how people make sense of data visualisations (funded by AHRC Big Data Scheme). Working with sociologists and digital media scholars on social semiotic approaches to data visualisations. 2014 – present.
Chair, Visual Communication Studies Division, International Communication Association
Advisory Board Member, Urban Communication Foundation
Editorial Board Member, Social Semiotics
Editorial Board Member, Western Journal of Communication
Editorial Board Member, Women’s Studies in Communication
Editorial Board Member, Etnografia e Ricerca Qualitativa
PhD & Postdoctoral Supervision
I am currently supervising three PhDs:
Kristina Karvelyte, “City Branding Techniques in Greater China: A Multiple Case Study of Three Alpha Cities in the Region” (co-supervisor)
Sally Osei-Appiah, “Gendered discourses of West African female politicians in the media” (main supervisor)
Ana Stojiljkovic, “The use of nationalism discourse in political communication” (co-supervisor)
Toussaint Nothias, “Beyond Afro-pessimism? British and French Print Media Discourse on Africa” (co-supervisor, 2015)
“Felix & Mumford. CodeX”. Juliet Art Magazine, November 2015.
“Per una Manifattura del contemporaneo a Bologna”. Article on art installation featuring my research on urban regeneration in Bologna. Juliet Art Magazine, September 2015.
“Prima il degrado, ora l’enclave della cultura “alta”: La Manifattura delle Arti raccontata Oltreoceano”. Feature article with interview about my research on urban renewal in Bologna in the daily newspaper L’Informazione. December 2011.
“Marking Their Words: In the landscape of ideas, graffiti tells us what we may not want to hear”. Lead article and interview about graffiti and the Urban Archives project in the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine. August 2007.
“Photos tagged and organized to create the searchable Urban Archives…your city, yo”. Live interview and visual presentation of the Urban Archives project in the Microsoft video webcast Channel 10. July 2006.