Visibility as a key concept in Communication and Media Studies


  • Samuel Mateus


visibility, visual, publicness, media


The concept of visibility has become a problematic one as hypervisibility gave rise to new forms of opacity that are formed not through secrecy but by its opposite, pan-visibility. Paradoxically, by amplifying visibility, media create new forms of invisibility. An analysis of visibility will provide us with a precise perspective how these processes occur. In this paper, we suggest three lines of empirical and theoretical investigation in the topic of visibility: a sociological (symbolic) axis; a collective (publicness) axis; and a technological (media) axis. Since the social category of visibility is a central aspect of communication and media studies, we will be inter- rogating it through three distinct ways: visibility as a field whose symbolic determination results in the constitution of different regimes of visibility; visibility as a pivot-concept of publicness since it is this public quality that transforms proto-visibility into a full accomplished visibility; and, third, the transmutations and dangers stemmed from media’s production of visibility. Each one of these principles highlights different concepts: in the field of visibility we need to address inter-visibilities; in public visibilities we need to address proto-visibilities in verge of becoming full-visibilities through the synchrony of collective attention; and in mediated visibility it is imperative to deal with super-visibility as an extreme effect of an intense modulation perpetrated by com- munication technologies.