A pictorial challenge: Deconstruction / Denotation / Connotation

I’ve been thinking about deconstruction (a term first introduced by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida) and its applicability to software testing lately. According to wikipedia, this is

an approach used in literary analysis, philosophy or other fields to discover the meaning of something to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded – showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible

Deconstruction is also an essential part of semiotics and media studies, where it is used to pick images apart through the use of fine detail. We are surrounded by images in every day life, and we think we are able to read and understand everything we see, taking our visual literacy and cognitive abilities for granted. Deconstructing can help us to understand our decoding processes and how we derive meaning from all that surrounds us.

Within deconstruction, we have denotations and connotations

  • A ‘denotation’ is the first level of signification, a literal meaning on a basic, dictionary level. This is the ‘obvious’ or ‘commonsense’ meaning of something for someone: this thing is pink, it is a bicycle.
  • The term ‘connotation’ is at the second level of signification. It refers to ‘personal’ associations (ideological, emotional) and is typically related to the interpreter’s class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Connotations are numerous, and vary from reader to reader. The above mentioned bicycle is rather small, so it probably belongs to a teenager. It is pink, so perhaps it is a girl’s. But it is flashy and eyecatching too and might therefore connote that its owner is just an extrovert. If you once fell off a bicycle, you may even associate this bicycle with negativity and pain.

I think a large part of what we do as testers is deconstructing, in a way. We try to make sense of something by uncovering meaning (intended or unintended). We aim to derive meaning from different angles. We deconstruct by applying factoring (Michael Bolton defined this as “listing all the dimensions that may be relevant to testing it”) to objects, images and software – it can be useful to list as many different hypotheses as possible.

So, what about *your* deconstructing skills?

Since testers do seem to like challenges – here’s one for you all to enjoy.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger picture.

What can you find out about this picture?

What does it tell you?

What story does it tell?

Can you derive context?

What are you assuming? Why?

Which heuristics did you use?

I’m not revealing the copyright details just yet – no spoilers. Additional info will be added later. Enjoy!

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3 thoughts on “A pictorial challenge: Deconstruction / Denotation / Connotation”

  1. I have been pondering this issue for quite some time; you are onto something, but at the same time wrong…

    Deconstruction is about finding the true meanings, or the true contradictions:
    “showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible.”

    In software testing, we should rather embrace contradictions, because the multitude of software usage is contradictory (security vs. usability is a classic example)
    At the same time, analysing and understanding these things, in order to get a sense of what needs to be tested is also necessary.

    Factoring is one word for it, ISTQB uses test analysis; all I know is that it is important and needs further elaboration.

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