Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-19, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 23 January, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2019.


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core definition

Iconology is the attempt to determine the intrinsic meaning or content of a cultural object.

explanatory context

Iconology is one of three levels of analysing a cultural objects. The other two are the descriptive and the iconographical.


The iconological level of analysis of cultural products is concerned with the intrinsic meaning or content of the object. It attempts to contextual the object in the sense of trying to show the relationship of the object (such as a painting) to the social milieu in which it was created. The iconological meaning is grasped by getting at the underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical persuasion as it is assimilated by a single person and encapsulated into a single work. In short, iconology is concerned with Weltanschauung and/or ideology.


Going beyond, for example, the iconographical assessment of the 'Last Supper' involves trying to understand the painting as a document of Leonardo's personality, or of a peculiar religious attitude, or of High Rennaisance civilization. In this sense the work of art is a symptom of something else.


In short, iconology is a method of interpretation which arises from synthesis rather than analysis. Iconological analysis has much in common with hermeneutic analysis of texts. It has been developed by Hadjinicolau in his theory of visual ideology

analytical review

associated issues


related areas

See also


Researching the Real World Section 5.12



copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2019


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