The confluence of visual communication and CSR: decoding the representation of the image in the CSR reports of oil and gas companies

Vazhappully, Rajeev (2020) The confluence of visual communication and CSR: decoding the representation of the image in the CSR reports of oil and gas companies. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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One of the foremost picture theorists, W.J.T Mitchell points to a visual hegemony in contemporary communication by coining the term ‘pictorial turn’. CSR communication has not been impervious to this trend. However, CSR as a concept has never had a universally agreeable formulation and conceptual confusion pervades the field. In many ways, the complexity in the meaning of CSR mirrors the semantic complexity of the image, which is capable of being deliberately designed to control the perception of the reader. This is a useful tool to have for companies who, motivated by legitimacy concerns, can make use of images in CSR communication to make sense of CSR and portray responsible behaviour. However, there is little research that has focused on how this discursive construction takes place. So, the principal aim of this thesis is to explore the nature of representation of image in a CSR report and to examine how it associates with the concept of CSR.

Adopting a pragmatic approach and making use of well established concepts from disparate disciplines, this thesis develops an analytical framework and codebook that is the basis of the exploration of a broad range of representational aspects of the image. The codebook introduces a structured approach to visual and multimodal analysis which is the chief methodological contribution made by this research. The codebook is made use of in carrying out a longitudinal qualitative content analysis of the images used in the CSR reports of five of the biggest oil and gas companies of the world.

The study found that despite diversity in data, there is only a moderating influence of contextual factors on representational aspects of the image and its association with CSR. While the prevalence of the use of visual rhetoric was evident, the practice was not found to be as widespread as indicated in past literature. The images were largely found to be aestheticized equivalents of written texts.

The findings indicate that despite being separated by geographical boundaries, global companies that are subjected to similar legitimacy concerns exhibit mimetic behaviour. The lower incidence of use of rhetoric can be seen as a response by the oil and gas industry to a greater level of stakeholder scrutiny. In terms of image-text associations, this thesis notes the beginnings of a delineation of the visual language in organisational CSR discourse from advertising discourse to which it is often compared. This thesis also confirms that the previously observed institutionalisation of representational practices in CSR communication also extends to the use of the image- the more potent and persuasive mode in communication.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Multimodal analysis, Legitimacy, Social semiotics, Intersemiotic complementarity, Visual rhetoric
Subjects: N100 Business studies
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2021 10:15
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2021 10:15

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