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Methodology and Project
Although several frameworks have been developed specifically for the analysis of multimodal documents (e.g. see Bateman 2008; Kress and van Leeuwen 2006), the methodology adopted here draws on several methodological models and insights, particularly the triangle of communication model (cf. Cook 2004), (corpus-assisted) Critical Discourse Analysis, Qualitative Content Analysis, and Thematic Analysis. These methodological influences and concerns are discussed in the first section of this chapter. Following this, the sampling and data analysis methods are discussed in the latter half of this chapter.
Reminiscent of Cook’s (2004) approach to the study of discussions surrounding genetically modified food, this project has three different foci, namely the producers of the magazines/adverts under study and the wider cosmetics market; the adverts and features within the lifestyle magazines; and the reception of the magazine data. The process of analysing the multimodal documents is similar to Gleeson’s (2011) Polytextual Thematic Analysis and Moran and Lee’s (2013) Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis. For their analysis of representations of labiaplasty on four Australian cosmetic surgery websites, Moran and Lee (2013) adopted a Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis approach. To explore their data, the authors took screenshots of all the relevant webpages and printed these. Subsequently, reminiscent of a thematic analysis, they read the entire dataset to gain an overview and wrote detailed field notes to identify potential themes. Based on these notes, Moran and Lee identified a coding system for the written text on the websites and simultaneously analysed images, colour, and layout. Preliminary themes were then revisited and reworked “through an iterative process of recoding and further analysis” (Moran and Lee 2013: 376).
Like Moran and Lee, Gleeson (2011: 320) also gained a broad overview of her data by repeatedly looking at the images under study - “singly, in groups [and] serially”. Based on this, also reminiscent of traditional thematic analyses (cf. Braun &c Clarke 2006; Terry et al. 2017), Gleeson created preliminary “pro-themes”, which she revisited various times to produce finalised themes. Following this, the relations between the various themes and higher-order overarching themes were established. Lastly, to answer her research questions, Gleeson selected the themes that “best [addressed] the research questions” for writing up.
Although the approaches adopted by Gleeson (2011) and Moran and Lee (2013) may sound simple and straightforward, this is exactly their strong point. Gleeson (2011: 328) has acknowledged that “there is nothing magical about [her] approach”; rather it follows common sense and “[draws] upon cultural knowledge and shared perception”. Moreover, Gleeson emphasised that in analysing the visual, there is no clear ‘rule book’ which can guide our interpretation - instead “we must fall back on a wider disparate range of texts and experiences to justify our interpretation of [an] image” (ibid: 316).
Critical Impetus and Qualitative Content and Thematic Analysis - Influences
My own position and desire to adopt an advocatory role within the debate on cosmetic surgery advertising are reminiscent of research conducted within the Critical Discourse Analysis/Studies (CDA/CDS)1 tradition which “openly professes strong commitments to change, empowerment, and practice-orientedness” (Blommaert & Bulcaen 2000:449). Moreover, relevant to this project, research within CDA examines social phenomena and is interested in the “dynamic between text production, the text itself, and text interpretation or consumption” (Coffin 2001: 99; cf. Wodak & Meyer 2016).
To aid a critical approach to the data, an analysis inspired by the- matic/qualitative content analysis was adopted; the data were coded in both a deductive and inductive manner. Drawing not only on themes present in the literature but also on themes that emerged from the magazine data, this meant that the coding framework evolved to reflect the data. As content analysis is often criticised for its “preoccupation with the manifest content of representations” (Gill 2007:10), the coding framework proposed here is not limited to this type of content but also includes a consideration of latent, context-dependent meanings.
Although aspects of context in which multimodal documents appear have been considered in previous literature, the variety of contexts and their respective influence has been largely neglected. In an attempt to challenge the relative disregard of context in previous literature, I include a far more detailed analysis of the context in which adverts for cosmetic procedures appear. This consideration of context is particularly significant in a discussion of advertising as it “acquires meaning not only by its content but also its context” (Hackley 2010: 57). In the case of lifestyle magazines, and contemporary media more generally, this context may not be independent or separate from advertisers’ interests. On the contrary, as the media have become more reliant on the profits generated from selling advertising space, rather than being able to depend on the revenue generated from selling their products, advertisers increasingly shape the media’s focus and perspective (Gill 2007: 73, 181).
The placement of advertising in a context that is congruent with its themes and message has been shown to have a positive impact on recall, consideration, and purchase intent (Adams 2015; Dahlen et al. 2008; Regan 2015). This is particularly relevant in the case of (lifestyle) magazines as they have clear brand identities that readers engage and associate with. The positive implicit values that are evoked by the familiar, well-liked, and trusted magazine are transferred to the advertised brands (Regan 2015); moreover, this ‘priming effect’ is greater for readers who have a deeper relation with the magazine - “either in terms of frequency/ regularity of readership or their love for it” (Penn & Harman 2015: 3). Relevant to this project, the context effect has been proved stronger when readers/viewers interact with a physical edition of a specific medium, such as a physical copy of a magazine (ibid: 5).
Before I discuss the contextual elements that I have considered for my analysis, it is perhaps useful to reflect briefly on what the concept of context denotes in linguistic analyses, as it is “a notoriously hard concept to deal with” (Mey 1993: 8). As context selection depends largely on the research aims and questions, varying degrees of attention have been paid to (diverse levels of) context. Nevertheless, Mey’s (1993: 38) inclusive explanation of context as “the surroundings, in the widest sense, that enable participants in the communication process to interact, and that make the linguistic expressions of their interaction intelligible”, may prove a helpful starting point. Although the latter part of Mey’s description may evoke questions, the idea of context as a surrounding in its widest sense - e.g. here it could encompass current societal interests in and presentations of gender and the body as well as the physical context of documents under analysis - is appealing. This is of course not to say that all studies should adopt the same level of contextual information; for any analysis, a demarcation of context needs to be determined dependent on the particular aims and questions defined for analysis.
As adverts are “parasitic upon their surroundings and other genres” (Cook 2001: 33), an analysis of intertextual relations between adverts, other genres, and the wider accompanying discourse of the advert is necessary. Moreover, the inclusion of a diachronic element to this analysis can be valuable considering that intertextual relations have changed over time; as Cook (2001: 223) has noted, “within the last  years [adverts] have shifted away from attempts to merge with accompanying discourses, to a tendency to keep separate, and then back again”. Native advertising, the latest attempt at blending advertising with editorial content, has proved particularly popular in the online sphere of news publications, where publishers customise content so that it approximates the tone, presentation, and functionality of the editorial content (Bakshi 2015: 6). The aim and result of this type of advertising is a source-based confusion that imbues the advert with credibility it might otherwise not achieve (ibid: 10). Although sometimes presented as a new development, various earlier studies have commented on the blurring of boundaries between adverts and editorial content where adverts share the editorial’s language, tone, colour, and style (McCracken 1993; Gill 2007).
In addition to intertextual and intergeneric relations, Fairclough (2003: 36) has drawn attention to the importance of a text’s external relations with wider social structures, social practices or social events. This is particularly relevant for the present study as I examine the changes in cosmetic surgery and (other) beauty adverts, especially surrounding the 2012 proposed Cosmetic Surgery (Minimum Standards) Bill. Although the Bill did not pass through Parliament, the public and industry debates it generated, alongside the formation of a special ‘Help Note’ on the marketing of cosmetic interventions by the ASA, has contributed to a change in the marketing of cosmetic procedures.
As indicated earlier, each linguistic study must define the contextual factors it includes for analysis depending on the study’s focus. In this section, I provide an overview of the relevant factors that are considered for this project. Overall, I adopt Cook’s (2001) classification of contexts relevant for the discussion of advertising.
Firstly, acknowledging the significance of the medium, Cook (2001: 4) proposes the concept of “substance”, which refers to “the physical material which carries or relays text”. For lifestyle magazines, it is important to consider the glossiness of the pages, for example, as these hold a ‘seductive power’ (cf. Kress and van Leeuwen 2001) over readers and encourage the idea of the magazine as a means to relax, escape, or as a treat (Regan 2015: 3). In addition to a focus on substance, Cook argues that pictures, participants, situation, and function of a text may all provide relevant context for interpretation (ibid). Moreover, Cook (2001: 4) also draws attention to paralanguage, the “meaningful behaviour accompanying language”, and to co-text and intertext, which both address “text”2 linked to the document under analysis. Whereas “co-text” is described as “text which precedes or follows that under analysis, and which participants perceive to belong to the same discourse”, “intertext” is defined as “text which the participants perceive as belonging to other discourse, but which they associate with the text under consideration, and which affects their interpretation” (Cook 2001: 4). Although co-text and intertext may prove valuable, their scope is a little unclear - is there a cut-off point where preceding or following text can no longer be regarded as co-text? Or can an entire magazine be considered to be a text’s cotext? Moreover, if the identification of co-text and intertext is entirely dependent on an individual reader’s perception, any classification created for the purpose of analysis would be subjective. However, this subjectivity is inevitable as any discussion of language relies, to some degree, on interpretation; this need not be a weakness provided that the analyst offers transparent insights into his/her considerations and decisions.
As it is my aim to compare advertising for cosmetic procedures with other beauty- and body-related content found in lifestyle magazines, the context here comprises the latter type of advertising and editorial content related to beauty or appearance. All editorial material on grooming and beauty products and services is included for FHM and the Gay Times, as the men’s beauty market is still emerging and the number of articles is limited. Women’s lifestyle magazines, however, contain a great number of articles on beauty; hence I only included editorial items on cosmetic procedures. The articles and adverts collected are considered in light of the overarching context, or background, of the overall magazine brand/ personality as, despite some apparent contradictions within a magazine, the brand always presents “a coherent ideological position” (Machin & Thornborrow 2003).
Before proceeding to discuss the methods used for my study, a final question with regards to context must be addressed, namely whether the placement of adverts for cosmetic procedures in lifestyle magazines, regardless of their content, in itself already normalises cosmetic procedures. As the majority of lifestyle magazines address the quest for a better body, presenting cosmetic surgery in this environment may frame cosmetic procedures as comparable to other products and services that are discussed and promoted in the editorial content and adverts in the magazine. I will return to this issue in later chapters.