Ray Drainville: Research and Education

Hi! I’m Ray Drainville, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo’s, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business based in Stratford, Ontario. This page gives you a little more information about my work than is possible in a standard CV or cover letter. It provides information about my educational background, thesis, grants, publications, interviews, talks, teaching experience and competence, languages, and non-academic work history.


PhD Visual Studies 2019: Manchester School of Art / Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) Thesis title: “Algorithmic Iconography: Intersections between Iconography and Social Media Image Research” (see below).

MA Information Studies 1996: University of Sheffield, Department of Information Studies (UK). Thesis title: “The Use of Internet Technologies as Alternative Resources for Teaching the History of Art”. The thesis argued for the adoption of new paedogical techniques arising from networked media and other contemporary technologies, including virtual reality recreations of artworks.

MA History of Art 1995: Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University (USA).

BA History of Art 1992: Department of Art History, New College of Florida (USA). Thesis title: “Imago Meditationis: the Role of Devotional Practice in Fifteenth-Century Flemish art”. The thesis argued for an expansion of affective intepretations beyond standard iconographic readings based in part upon parallels between the emotive responses demanded by contemporary devotional texts and the immediacy derived from the so-called “realism” of contemporary image-making practices.

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PhD Thesis: “Algorithmic Iconography: Intersections between Iconography and Social Media Image Research”

Awarded 2019. The thesis develops a methodology to use iconography in conjunction with social media data. It centres upon a bespoke dataset analysing visual and textual themes in the top 1,000 most shared Twitter posts of Alan Kurdi (the Syrian refugee child found drowned on a Turkish beach) and other refugees in the period 2–14 September 2015, after Alan was found. It links the pictures people shared, along with their textual commentary, with the history of image-making, demonstrating that many themes in the data stretch back millennia. Methodologically, it provides a new paradigm for researching imagery on social media, arguing that pictures and text need to be seen in context with one another—investigating one without the other misses a lot of intercontextual richness.
Supervisors: Dr Simon Faulkner (History of Art, Manchester School of Art/MMU), Prof Jim Aulich (Head of Postgraduate Arts and Humanities Research Centre, MMU/Manchester School of Art), Prof Farida Vis (Digital Media, Manchester School of Art/MMU).

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(2018). [with An Xiao Mina]. “Trump has Twitter. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Winning Instagram”. On FastCompany.com.
Abstract: With her adept use of Instagram’s affordances (such as disappearing stories, anecdotes, and fan art), the political newcomer from the Bronx is trailblazing a new path in political communication.

(2018). “Outraged by Kavanaugh Confirmation, Social Media Users Cite the Vengeful Women of Art History”. On Hyperallergic.com
Abstract: After Bret Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, women on social media started sharing very specific pictures from art history. Echoing the Renaissance canon of “virtuous women”, social media users presented their own canon: women who fought back and sought their revenge.

(2018). [with An Xiao Mina]. “Images of Truth from Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony and What They Mean”. On Hyperallergic.com.
Abstract: A series of images emerged from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the Kavanaugh hearing. This is an exploration of the themes in those images.

(2018). [with An Xiao Mina]. “Dictator Selfies and a Superhero Trailer: Glimpses of the New Propaganda from Trump’s Recent Summits”. On Hyperallergic.com.
Abstract: An Xiao Mina and Ray Drainville in a joint discussion about the “Petulant Trump” photo from the 2018 G7 summit in Canada and the propaganda video from the Trump administration for the 2018 North Korean-US summit in Singapore

(2018). “Iconography for the Age of Social Media”. In Humanities 7(12). doi:10.3390/h7010012
Abstract: An iconic photograph of Ieshia Evans’ arrest at a Black Lives Matter protest went viral on Twitter. Twitter users’ textual and visual responses to it appear to show recurring patterns in the ways users interpret photographs. Aby Warburg recognized a similar process in the history of art, referring to the “afterlife of images”. Evaluating these responses with an updated form of iconography sheds light upon this tangled afterlife across multiple media. Users’ response patterns suggest new ways to develop iconological interpretations, offering clues to a systematic use of iconography as a methodology for social media research.

(2016). [with An Xiao Mina]. “An Art-Historical Perspective on the Baton Rouge Protest Photo that Went Viral”. On Hyperallergic.com
Abstract: This is an outreach article for an online arts website. Jonathan Bachman’s photo of Ieshia Evans standing up to armoured riot police was hailed as instantly iconic. How so? Images go viral for a reason, and the authors look at the chain of confrontational imagery stretching from cinema back to the iconography of the arrest of Christ.

(2016). “The Visual Propaganda of the Brexit Leave Campaign”. On Hyperallergic.com
Abstract: This is an outreach article for an online arts website. How could a vote on the UK’s membership in the European Union spark a 500% increase in racist abuse throughout the country? A brief analysis of the iconology of the Leave campaign’s graphics.

(2015). “On the Iconology of Aylan Kurdi, Alone”. In: Vis, F. and Goriunova, O. (eds.) The Iconic Image on Social Media: A Rapid Research Response to the Death of Aylan Kurdi. pp. 47–49. Sheffield: Visual Social Media Lab.
Abstract: Iconography and iconology have traditionally been restricted to interpreting works of “high” art. Here I use them to explore the impact of the Alan Kurdi images [at the time, the child was identified as “Aylan Kurdi”]. By examining iconographically their conceptual and formal antecedents, as well as the pictures that social media users have made in response to those images, we might come to understand their interpretations of this event in a broader visual context. A joint iconographic and iconological exploration might provide an insight into why they resonated within a broader European context to such an extent that they shifted the debate about the status of refugees.


(2022) “Linguistic and Visual Dogwhistles”. [with Jennifer Saul]. In L. Anderson and E. Lepore (eds), Oxford Handbook of Applied Philosophy of Language, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Abstract: Dogwhistles are typically understood as a linguistic communicative phenomenon, even though paradigmatic examples have crucial visual components. This talk examines visual dogwhistles and develops a framework to describe forms of sub rosa communication instantiated in broad swathes of images from the history of art, popular culture, and memetic imagery. We argue that dogwhistles can be transmitted overtly, that is, by carefully using developed codes, or covertly, that is, by the unconscious transmission of codes. In addition, visual stories intended for specific audiences can be conveyed both intentionally and unintentionally.

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(2021). “Ex Nugis Seria: The Internet Meme as Contemporary Emblem”
Philadelphia, USA: Association of Internet Researchers, 15 October 2021.
Abstract: This highlights a number of significant formal and conceptual parallels between Renaissance emblems and modern Internet memes. I argue that academic discussions of memes discount the visual side of their subject. The result is that we struggle to notice parallels with close parallels from a past that equally attempts to express something heartfelt, make a performative statement, or simply share an in-joke.

(2021). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
HaLO|5: Disinformation, Epistemic Vices & Online Harm. Berlin, Germany: Leibniz-Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS), 7 May 2021
Abstract: A presentation of our forthcoming chapter on visual dogwhistles (see above).

(2021). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
Invited talk. Pittsburgh, USA: University of Pittsburgh, 8 April 2021.

(2021). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
Regina, Saskatchewan: University of Regina, 26 March 2021.

(2020). “Patterns of Bias in Machine Learning”
WIPS talk. Stratford, Ontario: Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, University of Waterloo, Canada, 19 November 2020
Abstract: This analyses a series of examples of content identification from convolutional neural networks to establish patterns of bias.

(2020). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
Invited talk. Pittsburgh, USA: University of Pittsburgh, 8 April 2021.

(2021). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
Invited talk. London, UK: King’s College London, 11 November 2020.

(2020). “Visual and Linguistic Dogwhistles” [with Jennifer Saul].
Invited talk. Montréal, Quebec: Université de Quebec à Montréal, 16 October 2020.

(2019). “Exploring the Lives of Images: Alan Kurdi on Social Media”
Valencia Philosophy Lab, University of Valencia, Communitat Valenciana, Spain, 17 April 2019.
Abstract: An introduction to the iconography of resonant, “iconic” photographs as captured in text and pictures. The talk focused upon the response on Twitter to the death of Alan Kurdi.

(2018). “Streets, Communities, Protests, and Seeing the City Anew” [with Jennifer Saul].
On the Streets Sheffield, UK: University of Sheffield, 1 December 2018.
Looking back upon the Sheffield Tree Campaign, Jennifer Saul reflects upon how the classic phrase “taking to the streets” took on a very different meaning as various communities came together to defend their environments. By crossing it with Zeynep Tufekci’s ethnography of networked protest, Ray Drainville sees the memories of the campaign’s efforts as making the notion of psychogeography an active endeavour which inscribes new meaning on, and a new-found feeling of ownership of, the city’s streets.

(2018). “Algorithmic Iconography: Method and Practice”.
Stratford, Ontario: the Stratford School of Information Design and Business, University of Waterloo, 22 August 2018. (Presentation available)
Abstract:. This is a presentation summarising my methodology and my research, concentrating upon the shared imagery of Alan Kurdi and Ieshia Evans.

(2018). “Pathosformeln and Visual Habitus in Times of Conflict”.
Pictures of War: The Still Image in Conflict since 1945. Manchester, UK: Manchester Metropolitan University, 24 May 2018. (Presentation available)
Abstract: The art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929) famously proposed a theory of affective gestures, called Pathosformeln. They were reproduced throughout time, via works of art, photography, and ritual. In the resurgence of interest in Warburg’s work, it is insufficiently acknowledged that his theory was evolutionary in nature, and as such was predicated upon two notions: that gestures in works of art are mimetically accurate, and that the gestures in question are universal. Images of conflict lie at the heart of this issue, as pictures showing aggression and defence are arguably depictions of evolutionary responses to external pressures.
However, Warburg’s approach appears untenable in the wake of subsequent findings from different disciplines: first, iconographic research noting the reliance upon conventional gesture in art; and second, anthropological and neurological research upon the cultural boundaries of affective display.
In this talk, I propose that the theory of Pathosformeln can be updated by appealing to the very conventionality of artistic representation and social behaviour. I argue that imagery has a type of agency that propels gestures, and their understanding, forward in time. This mixture of convention in representation and behaviour may be termed a “visual habitus”, where the practical becomes symbolic through repetitive accretions. I provide a number of visual examples of this visual habitus in action over time.

(2017). “The Iconography of Social Media Image Analysis: Exploring the Potential of Methodological Transversals in Practice”.
Panel: New Theories and Methods for the Study of Social Media Images Within and Beyond Academia. San Diego, USA: 67th Annual International Communication Conference, 26 May 2017. (Presentation available)
Abstract: The field of social media image analysis is still in its infancy. Two approaches currently widely in use are firmly based upon computational methods: image-based, focusing upon image properties such as hue and brightness as the foundation of study; and text-based, focusing in part upon hashtags and keywords, with the accompanying images collated manually. However, there is another side to imagery: the less clear motivation of social media users to share them, coupled with the interpretations they place upon these images. Quantifiable methods are often of less help here. Coupled with clues gleaned from hashtag analysis, Sociology, and the history of imagery, this paper suggests using Iconography, an interpretative method borrowed from Art History. Iconography can provide some insight into why some imagery resonates with social media users. The paper uses the reactions to the death of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee drowned off the coast of Turkey in 2015 as an example of the method in action. It does this within the context of a rapid response report published by the Visual Social Media Lab in December 2015, which emphasized the need for interdisciplinary, risky and innovative approaches to big data image analysis of the refugee crisis, bridging the gap between academia and industry. Images circulate within a global digital public sphere, crucial in shaping public understanding, encouraging civic support and finding political solutions to the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The report brought together 15 contributions, drawing on the analysis of nearly 3 million social media posts featuring contributions from the Visual Social Media Lab team, the wider research community, as well as leading practitioners from industry. A fundamental section in this report, comprising of three chapters, drew on Iconographic approaches. This presentation builds on this work by mapping out a research agenda for the further development and incorporation of such approaches within Media and Communication Studies and connected disciplines.

(2017). “Iconography of Social Media Imagery: Introduction to Method” (plus practical workshop).
Developing New Approaches for Analysing Social Media Images. Barcelona, Spain: Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), 18 February 2017. (Presentation available)
Abstract: An introduction to the use of a Warburgian-influenced iconographic approach to imagery shared on social media. It was given to a diverse group consisting of academics, journalists, practicing photographers, and arts students. It was followed by a “hands-on” approach inspired by Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas whereby the audience, subdivided into groups, organised artistic responses arising from the death of Alan Kurdi.

(2016). “Fig Leaves and Brexit Ads: The Coded Images of the UKIP and Vote Leave Campaigns”. Culture and the Politics of Data. Sheffield, UK: University of Sheffield, 10 October 2016. (Presentation available)
Abstract: This presentation explores how iconographic elements from the “Leave” campaign’s imagery worked along lines similar to speech acts that simultaneously call people to objectionable action and provide deniability for having done so.

(2016). “On the Iconology of Alan Kurdi: The Emergence of Sympathy”. The Impact of an Image. Oslo, Norway: Forskerkollektivet, 2 September 2016. (Presentation unavailable due to sensitive material)
Abstract: A general introduction to iconography as a way to understand the imagery of Alan Kurdi shared on Twitter. It demonstrates that imagery of individual refugees are used for sympathetic purposes, whilst imagery showing groups are frequently used in order to inspire fear.

(2016). “Interdisciplinary Research and the History of Art: Reflections on an Origin of a Discipline”.
Picturing the Social, Manchester, UK: Manchester Metropolitan University, 21 June 2016. (Presentation available)
Abstract: The presentation calls for interdisciplinary participation of art historians for the study of imagery shared on the Internet, and invokes Aby Warburg as a forerunner whose interests spanned high & low culture and the use of modern technology.

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(2017). “Ray Drainville on the Images We Use.” In The New Floridian. Available here.
A discussion with Jennifer Lawson of about the ethics of showing disturbing pictures, the ways in which photographs can distort the truth, the ambivalent position of social media for conveying truth and experience, the Fear Of Mising Out, Black Lives Matter, and the accretion of resonances in iconic photographs.

(2015). “Alan Kurdi—Iconography in Action.” University of Sheffield YouTube Channel.
An interview from the University of Sheffield about modern instantiations of iconography in the image of Alan Kurdi, the necessity of blurring distinctions between “high” art and “low” art, and the ephemerality of social media phenomena.

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Teaching: Experience

“Cross-Cultural Digital Business II”, University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business (2020–2022). The course focuses upon the development of a prototype based upon one of the UN’s Sustainability Guidelines. I ran the visual design section of this team-taught course, providing them rigorous training in composition, typography, colour choice, branding, and ethical design techniques. Student deliverables included intensive weekly applications of design principles; these exercises contributed to the development of an advanced prototype at the end of term.

“Cross-Cultural Digital Business I”, University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business (2021). I ran the User Experience (UX) Research section and coordinated this team-taught course, covering methods for the successful development of web and mobile phone projects, user research, surveys, interviews, personas, stakeholder maps, journey maps, project ideation, mental models and human behaviour, red-teaming, prototyping, usability testing and test analysis. Students were to design a project, create materials presenting the project after the manner of the RSA design competition in London, build a working prototype of the project, and create a final “pitch” presentation. In the recent-most iteration of this course, a student group submitted their project to the RSA’s design competition and were awarded second place. For my work in this course over the pandemic, the students nominated me for a University of Waterloo Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Introduction to Digital Media Design, University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business (2021). This is a first-year undergraduate course. This course provide students with the rigorous background necessary to make informed design decisions. Lectures covered design history, Gestalt Theory, effective use of photography as an asset, grids and other composition forms, typography, colour & branding; interactive design patterns, microinteractions, affective design, iconography & the potential role of mirror neurons. Student projects included designing an advertisement similar to those given junior designers in a graphic design company; a movie poster, including photography for the poster; the design of a logo, including a mood board to help track their design decisions and a client debrief of their design; and a microinteraction for a mobile phone app. Students were also provided with a library of practical videos instructing them in the use of multiple popular design applications, and I led a “logo workshop” to teach them how to convert theoretical concepts into concrete designs.

“Introduction to Digital Culture”, University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business (2019). This is a second-year undergraduate course introducing students to concepts prevalent in contemporary digital culture including a history of the development of digital culture as a subject, isolation, FOMO, the changing representation of the self, big data, surveillance, digital divides, fake news, online activism and slacktivism, cyborgs, ethics in technology, unintended consequences, and conceptions of the singularity. Student deliverables on these subjects include written, visual & audio formats.

“Digital Imaging of Online Applications”, University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business (2019). This is an intensive second-year course (Fall 2019). It combined design principles and their practical application in the development of websites and apps on handheld devices. Students were trained in HTML5 and CSS3, alongside concepts such as Progressive Enhancement. Student deliverables included lab practice, the development of personal sites, group & project management, and the redesign of pre-existing sites.

Teaching Assistant, “Media Cultures”, Manchester Metropolitan University (2016–2018). This is a second-year undergraduate course under Dr Andrew Warstat at the Manchester School of Art. I conducted seminars with students every two weeks and marked 1,000– and 3,000–word essays. In the seminars, my approach was to revise the presented concepts, demonstrate their broad-based applicability across different creative disciplines, and then open the floor to discussion.

“Researching Social Media”, University of Sheffield (2017). This was a postgraduate course under Dr Farida Vis at the Information School. I gave a guest lecture, “Image Analysis using Iconography” to an audience with extremely diverse backgrounds, and guided groups of students into an image-categorisation exercise inspired by Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. I was responsible for marking both 1,000– and 2,000–word essays.

Teaching: Competence

In addition to the above, I would be able to teach mid- and upper-level courses on visual research methodologies, general digital methodologies, media theories, and a broad spectrum of the history of art (with a concentration on Western & Near-Eastern art). I would be comfortable teaching lower-level courses on visual design methods and researching digital dociety.

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Fluency in English, French and Italian.
Varying levels of proficiency in German, Spanish, Arabic, Catalan, Dutch, Greek, Mandarin & Latin.

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  • 2019: Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship/Arts & Humanities Research Council North-West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership. The project, “Viewed in Context: Can AI Recognise the Ways in Which Text and Image Reinforce Each Other?”, aimed to identify the conceptual models necessary for training Artificial Intelligence to perform contextual tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. This was accompanied by a grant of £16,118.
  • 2015–2018: Annual bursary of £12,000, for the period of my PhD research

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Non-Academic Work History

Proprietor & Designer, Ardes 1999–2017

In 1999 I started a web and graphic design freelance company, called “ArDes” (originally “Argument from Design”). My graphic design work included the creation of logos, brochures, catalogues, adverts, illustrations, photography, virtual reality & more. I created and developed several websites using Ruby on Rails & PHP frameworks, primarily focusing upon front-end & User Interface (UI) development, and project-managed programmers for multi-year development projects on behalf of companies primarily in the manufacturing & higher education sectors.

New Media Designer, Rare Design Co. 1998–1999

I created web sites, presentation material and various multimedia applications for various national and international commercial organisations. I was also responsible for desktop publishing, illustration, 3D design and other graphics work for the company.

Information Officer, Department of Computing Services, University of York 1997–1998

I provided high-level expertise for the department and the University in general regarding graphic design, multimedia work and web site design and production. I was responsible for the department’s desktop publishing, ran classes on using the Internet for staff & students, created and distributed user documentation and finally redesigned, developed and maintained the department’s extensive web site.

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