Matthias Händler

Proceedings opened: 28 September 2016

Dissertation colloquium: 20 February 2017


Biographical information

  • 1986: born in Lübben (Spreewald)
  • 2006: Abitur at the Theodor-Fontane-Gesamtschule Burg (Spreewald) with GOST
  • 2006 – 2012: Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena; Master of Arts (M.A.) in Media- and Communication Studies, Modern History and German Literary Studies
  • 2012: Accepted as a PhD student in the Department of Fine Arts at the Universität Kassel
  • Since 2013: Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Research Assistant and PhD Student at the Research Training Group 1808: Ambiguity - Production and Perception


Research interests

  • picture- and mediatheory
  • communication theory
  • radical constructivism
  • ambiguity research
  • fictionality
  • aesthetics
  • semiotics



»Ambiguity and Image: Cause, Effect and Treatment of a Core Problem of Visual Communication« (working title)

This dissertation investigates the special phenomenon of visual ambiguity. Due to the fact, that this topic has widely been excluded from previous research, my thesis raises the question of how visual ambiguity is produced, recognized and how it can be avoided. In this respect the exclusion of the topic from research is remarkable considering the constant increase of pictures surrounding us and the intermedia entanglement of pictures and texts in the new media. This positively provokes the question how precisely the interpretation and understanding of this medium works. In this regard the controversial question whether a picture is a sign or not has widely been considered until today but almost none of the available studies has explicitly addressed the question of the relation of interpretation and cognition of pictures. My aim in this project is the closure of this academic void. The main thesis for this project is the following: The medium of the image is a genuine text in a semiotic sense which always includes different possibilities of interpretation and therefore ambiguity. In the context of his personal and contextual knowledge the recipient has to recognize the image as such trough an ascription of similarity in which he decides for one reading of the image and ignores another.

To achieve the aims of the project just described, it is necessary to develop an interdisciplinary model to answer the multifaceted question 'What is visual ambiguity?' in a satisfying way which includes semiotics and communication science as well. Therefore it is mandatory to apply oneself to the more general question 'What is an image?' in addition to both of the highly controversial key questions related to this issue: 'What is a sign(process)?' and 'How is this process connected with the reception of images?'. Contrary to previous and mostly mono-causal research on this topic I want to develop an integrative approach composed of different theories, including disciplines like e.g. philosophy (signs and knowledge), cognitive science (memory and cognition), sociology (behavior and action), communication studies (symbolic interaction) or literary studies (fictional).

This methodological procedure has the purpose to enable a model which defines the terms and definitions in a reciprocal way so that the main thesis can be proved: The recognition of an image is an act of communication which gradually includes ambiguity.





  • "Das Bild in der Interaktion". Lecture on September 26, 2014, at the "14. Internationalen Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Semiotik (DGS)" from September 23 to 26, 2014, in Tübingen.
  • "Zur semantischen Unbestimmtheit von ikonischen Zeichen - Vagheit und Ambiguität bei Bildern". Tandem lecture with Prof. Winfried Nöth on November 27, 2014, ath the RTG 1808, Eberhard Karls Univerität Tübingen.
  • "Ambiguität in der Printwerbung: Kommunikative Strategien zwischen Schrift und Bild". Lecture on February 8, 2015, at the Graduiertentagung of the RTG 1808 in Blaubeuren.
  • "From Icons to Images: An Attempt for a Classification of Initials in Literary Texts" Lecture on March 26, 2015, at the "10th International Symposium on Iconicity in Language and Literature", from March 26 to 28, 2015, in Tübingen.
  • "The digital Image as a hybrid: Aspects about the „new“ of new media from a multi-perspective view". Lecture at the "Sixth International Conference on the Image. Clark Kerr Conference Center, University of California at Berkeley", from October 29 to 30, 2015, in Berkeley, California.