Reading Question 3/13

“And third, there are those who insist that the most important site at which the meaning of an image is made is not its author, or indeed its production itself, but its audiences, who bring their own ways of seeing and other knowledges to bear on an image and in the process make their own meanings from it” (Rose 23).


In this section, Rose discusses the ways of seeing and the sites, “at which the meanings of an image are made” (16). Although she does not directly discuss ethos in this section by calling it such, she does address the credibility of the author/creator of a particular image. With her perspective of meaning making in mind, how does this theory of knowledge production translate to quantitative images (graphs and charts)? For example, if different individuals released two graphs and each image represented the same set of quantifiable information differently, what would be the author’s role in the image reception? What if one author was Neil deGrasse Tyson and the other was a graduate student in physics? In this case, would the authors still not contribute as much meaning to the image as the audiences themselves? [LW]


  1. I think you’re on to something here, Lauren. Perhaps the ethos of the author would play a role if the author is actually known to the audience. In the case you mention, the authors’ credibility may help hype the image because the reputation of the authors would bring notoriety to the images. However, this may not be true in instances where the audience is unfamiliar with Tyson or the graduate student mentioned. If the audience recognizes the name of the author, then the image’s credibility may increase. Contrariwise, if the audience doesn’t recognize that same author, then the author’s image may be perceived the same, regardless of the “brand name,” in Tyson’s case, associated with the image.

    1. I think the notoriety of the author definitely plays a role in the reception of an image. But, if both authors were unknown, and the images were different, then an interpretation would have to come through some other criteria. I think this would be especially true if the data representations were in disagreement of some sort. This would require the audience to perform more work in the interpretation. For example, they may judge credibility based on the location of the image. If two different organizations presented these images, the organization may be the focus of an analysis toward ethos.

      If the author is unknown, I imagine the audience would ask for the identity of the author or at least the author’s sponsor. Validation of credibility would be demanded by an audience which would force the author into the discussion.

      Depending on the reception of the author, then the audience would perhaps take control of the image. Though this would look different from different perspectives.

  2. I agree that ethos would be operating in such a case, no less. But the physicist who may be prolific with numbers might not be especially fluent with graphical representations. This explains why scientific communication is oftentimes accomplished in teams but also why the graphical display of quantitative information is not quite the same thing as the quantitative data itself. Notably, too, the production of graphs is vulnerable to being an afterthought or an automatic, uncritical operation, one that doesn’t seem to the quantitative researcher as a powerful, impactful rhetorical dimension of how the research gets communicated.

  3. Credibility absolutely plays a role. In my psychology classes, we were constantly warned about faulty charts and graphs. We see these “hard” visuals and trust them because, as a society, we trust numerical data. However, many of the scales and ratios of these graphs are manipulated to prove the author’s point. It’s a serious problem! I think we always need to double-check the reputability of our graphics, especially in an age where the media is so distrusted. We are in an ethos crisis, I guess.

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