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PART II: Media content and the power of interpretation
Transcript of PART II: Media content and the power of interpretation
Media content and the power of interpretation
Phase 4: negotiated media influence
end of the seventies: emergence of
social formations and history itself by forming images of reality in predictable and patterned ways
people in audiences construct their own versions of reality in interaction with the symbolic resources offered by the media
ready-made (often stereotypical) meanings
- a '
'normal' view of social reality
audience members do not necessarily adopt meanings offered by the media but can enter in a process of '
negotiation of meaning
qualitative and ethnographic methods
focusing on the way meanings are constructed start to play a bigger role
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
Man is an ideological animal by nature / it is always-already there (even before birth) / it never says it is 'ideological'
Ideology as representation and practice
Ideology is a 'representation' of the 'imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence
an un-orthodox Marxist philosopher (not a specialist in communication studies)
anti-humanist interpretation of Marx, builds on the work of Louis Lacan and Antonio Gramsci & Baruch Spinoza
we find Étienne Balibar, Jacques Rancière, Pierre Macherey, Dominique Lecourt, Jacques Derrida, en Michel Foucault.
s: ISA's (Ideological State Aparatus), RSA's (Repressive State Aparatus), interpellation, subject position, ideology, subjectivity
left-wing catholic who became communist, probably in a German prison-camp, physical and mental problems, murdered his wife, declared partially unaccountable, psychiatry, ...
Althusser's was read and partially accepted by one of the key figures of cultural studies: Stuart Hall
of Althusser is way
too coherent and stable
ubject is also way
too unitary and commanding
ISA's and RSA's
I shall then suggest that ideology 'acts' or 'functions' in such a way that it '
' subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or '
individuals into subjects (it transforms them all)
by that very precise operation which I have called interpelation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace of everyday police (or other) hailing: 'Hey you there'
's: work massively and predominantly through violence and repression (e.g. government, prison, courts, police, army) - centralized
's work massively and predominantly through ideology (religious ISA - the system of different churches; the family ISA; the legal ISA; trade union ISA; communications ISA; cultural ISA) - multiple, distinct, relatively autonomous, marked by contradictions
It is ultimately the
that is realized in the
as well as in the
To my knowledge no ruling class can hold state power without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses
are not just the
, but also the
sites of ideological struggles
always a dominant ISA
(e.g. the Church in the Middle Ages; the school system today)
Apologizing to the 'rare' teachers who teach 'against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped', Althusser describes 'the school' as an ISA
from early class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most 'vulnerable', squeezed between the family State apparatus and the educational State apparatus, it
drums into them
, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of
'know-how' wrapped in the ruling ideology
(French arithematic, natural history, the sciences, literature)
ruling ideology in its pure stat
e (ethics, civic istruction, philosophy).
Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of
children are ejected 'into production'
: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the 'intellectuals of the collective laborer', the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced 'laymen').
ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfill in class society
(with a 'highly developed', 'professional', 'ethical', 'civic', 'national', and apolitical consciousness; the
role of the agent of exploitation
(ability to give the workers orders and speak to them: 'human relations'),
of the agent of repression
(ability to give orders and enforce obedience 'without discussion', or ability to manipulate the demagogy of a political leaders rhetoric), or of the professional ideologist (ability to treat consciousnesses with teh respect, i.e. with the contempt, blackmail and demagogy they deserve, adapted to the accents of Morality, of Virtue or 'Transcendence', of the Nation, of France's World Role, etc.)
always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is
Althusser refers to religion in order to exemplify the
materiality of ideology (as practice)
'Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe'. (Althusser quoting Pascal)
you and I are always already subjects
, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects.
works through the processes of
the example of Christian religious ideology given by Althusser
Althusser lets Christian religious ideology 'speak'
in a fictional discourse - in order to address the
general structure of ideology
: I address myself to you, a human individual called Peter (every individual is called by his name, in the passive sense, it is never he who provides his own name), in order to tell you that God exists and that you are answerable to him. It adds: God addresses himself to you through my voice (Scripture having collected the Word of God, tradition having transmitted it, Papal Infallibility fixing it for ever on 'nice' points). It says: this is who you are: you are Peter! This is your origin, you were created by God for all eternity, although you were born in the 1920th year of Our Lord! this is your place in the world! this is what you must do! By these means, if you observe the 'law of love' you will be saved, you Peter, and will become part of the Glorious Body of Christ! Etc. ...
do not only
subjects, it can only do so by
opposes subjects to a Subject
par excellence - e.g. I am that I am / Consciousness / Freedom
duplicate mirror-structure of ideology
(1) the interpelation of 'individuals' as subjects
(2) their subjection to the Subject (e.g. God, Freedom, Class, Consciousness, the Boss, Big Brother ...)
(3) the mutual recognition of subjects and Subjects' recognition of each other, and finally the subject's recognition of himself
(4) the absolute guarantee that everything really is so, and that on condition that the subjects recognize what they are and behave accordingly, everything will be all right: Amen - 'So be it'
individual is interpellated as a (free) subject
in order that he shall submit freely to the commandments of th Subject, i.e. in order that he shall (freely) accept his subjection, i.e. in order that he shall make the gestures and actions of his subjection 'all by himself'. There are no subjects by and for their subjection. That is why they '
work all by themselves
does not mean 'not real' but 'pertaining to an image
ideology adapts individuals
to their social functions by providing them with an imaginary model of the whole, suitably schematized and fictionalized for their purposes
, including socialist insurrection, is
carried out within ideology
more 'split' and multiple
is therefore more chancy and
than Althusser lets on
Althusser does not give us an account of
what happens if we fail to recognize ourselves
in (a) dominant ideology -
what about interpretation
There is no account of
why we would accept this particular type of subjectivity and ideology over another
- and what about combinations (e.g. socialist and christian / liberal and feminist / ...)
What about non-class ideologies
? Althusser's theory is still
Where did the idea of negotiated media influence come from?
cultural studies & audience studies responding to:
different types of structuralism and constructivism in psychology, semiotics, Marxism and so on
media effect studies of various kinds
debates over 'the politics of representation'
in order to understand the shift towards studies of 'negotiated media influence', we need to take a
closer look at
the issue of
Where do we find meaning? In texts? Images? Interviews? In people's minds?
How is meaning shaped? How do we make sense of the world?
Do meanings exist independently of people, groups, societies, signs, media?
What is the link between implicit and explicit meaning?
Is meaning something we have or not have?
How is meaning linked to different layers of context?
key philosophical questions that are relevant to all students of communication
Question: what is the meaning of these posters of Suit Supply?
Mentimeter Code: 184686
What is a sign and how does it signify?
not a coherent theory rather an analytical or theoretical perspective with vast implications
structuralism is a trans-disciplinary category in the social sciences but originated in linguistics
Allisson Assister identified four characteristics of structuralism:
the structure determines (the meaning of) the elements in a whole
every system has a structure
structural laws deal wit co-existence rather than change
structures are the real things that lie under the surface of appearances
in structuralism there is limited room for human agency and reflexivity - structuralism is often associated with 'the death of the subject' or 'the death of the author'
structuralism has been severely attacked and many so-called structuralist authors (e.g. Barthes, Michel Foucault) explicitly rejected the label
one needs to understand structuralism as an important background for the development of cultural studies
structuralism and the culturalism are the two approaches between which cultural and audience studies oscilate
In the hands of Barthes, semiology assumed that society and culture were texts that could be analyzed for their structures, significance and effects (Kellner and Gigi Durham 2001)
in spite of the fact that structuralism is often met with critique some of its key notions continue to influence contemporary approaches to meaning and communication
de Saussure was a linguist but he also envisioned a more general 'science of signs' called semiology
Saussure on Semiology
investigate the nature of signs
laws governing them
. Since it does not yet exist, one cannot say for certain that it will exist But it has a right to exist, a place ready for it in advance. Linguistics is only one branch of this general science. The laws which semiology will discover will be
laws applicable in linguistics
, and linguistics will thus be assigned to a clearly defined place in the field of human knowledge
the science of signs is usually called
caveat: within semiotics there is no consensus about models, theories, notions, methods etc. ...
Saussure's structuralist approach to signs and meaning
continues to resonate
in many disciplines in spite of the critiques
Saussure on Language
one branch of semiology
- he focused mostly on language
' and '
: the system of rules and conventions that exists before individual use of a language
: speech / concrete utterances
signs make sense within a wider structure
rules or structures:
pole: rules for combining signifiers
pole: determines the range of choices we can make (rules of substitution)
underlying structures and rules of a semiotic system as a whole
rather than specific performances or practices which are merely instances of its use" (Chandler 2002, 9)
the prioritization of structure over usage fails to account for
changes in structure
- e.g. how do languages change?
the Marxist linguist
Voloshinov rejected the priority of langue over parole
The sign is part of organized social intercourse and cannot exist, as such, outside it, reverting to a mere physical artefact
of a sign
has to be understood in the context of its use
rather than in relation to other signs within the system
Volosinov saw language as an arena of class struggle
Saussure was attacked for his a-historical perspective
, even by people such as Roman Jacobson who are also labeled structuralists
no longer treated as the closed, static and stable system envisioned by Saussure
do work with
his idea that
signs acquire meaning through difference
Saussure's concept of the sign
link between a thing and a name
sound pattern (signifier)
. The sound pattern is not actually a sound; for a sound is something physical. A sound pattern is the hearer's psychological impression o a sound, as given to him by the evidence of his senses. This
sound patten may be called a 'material' element only in that it is a representation of our sensory impressions
. The sound pattern may thus be distinguished from the other element associated with it in a linguistic sign. This other element is generally of a more abstract kind: the concept
signifier, signified + the unity of both
: a sound pattern/image (writing being a sort of derivative) - today usually interpreted as the material or physical form of the sign
: the concept, a mental construct, not a thing but a 'notion of a thing'
consists of the unity of signifier and signified (both can only be distinguished analytically)
sense as part of
a formal, generalized and abstract
system (or structure)
relational, differential, non-referential notion of meaning
no sign makes sense of its own
but only in relation to other signs in the paradigmatic structure of the system
what distinguishes a sign from another sign is what constitutes it
: language is a
value of a sign
is determined by the relationships between the sign and the other signs within the system as a whole
Saussure's notion of the sign
Saussure on the arbitrary nature of the sign
signifier and signified is arbitrary
is a universal
design feature of language
that accounts for its versatility
the psychoanalist Lacan would argue that signifieds slide under signifiers
and that the link is
merely a temporary social fixation of meaning
helps to explain
why signs have multiple rather than single meanings
and why signifiers m
ay have many signifieds
even in a single language
arbitrariness is ontological, not social or historical
: the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss points out that the sign is arbitrary a priori, but ceases to be so a posteriori:
arbitrariness of the sign does not mean that the link is a matter of individual choice
The individual has no power to alter a sign in any respect once it has become established in the linguistic community
To individuals language comes as a 'given'
remarks on Saussure today
The work of
outdated in linguistics
notions such as '
' and '
' and the
idea that meaning operates through difference
relevant until this day
's work played a big
role in the development of constructivism
(the idea that our dealings with ourselves, each other and 'reality' are based on semiotic constructs)
poststructualist political theory of Ernesto
is based on Saussure's notion of the sign:
as a s
truggle over empty signifiers
such as democracy, freedom etc.
actors try to slide their own preferred signified under these signifiers
in order to make their definition of reality the dominant one
Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1937)
Italian un-orthodox Marxist, first leader and co-creator of the
Partito Comunista Italiano
hugely influential when translated into English - big impact on unorthodox Marxism, Cultural Studies and Essex style discourse theory and poststructuralism
imprisoned as member of parliament, sent for 10 years to the prison colony of the isle of Ustica by Mussolini, died in the year after his release
wanted to understand why it was fascism and not socialism / marxism that won the ideological battle in Italy and in other parts of Europe - suspicious of 'scientific' Marxism
the notion of
beyond the idea of 'leadership of a state at the international level or of a social class'
Gramsci usually uses the notion of hegemony in order to refer to 'the
ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates
', and sometimes to cover '
both consent and coercion together
includes ideology but is not reducible to it
A ruling group or class may secure consent to its power by ideological means, but it may also do so by, say, altering the tax system in ways favorable to groups whose support it needs, or creating a layer of relatively affluent, and thus somewhat politically quiescent, workers. (Eagleton 1996, 112)
Hegemony is not just exercised through the state, but mostly, through
civil society institutions
(TV, boy scout, family, church, media, ... between state and citizen)
Hegemonic apparatuses bind individuals to the ruling power by consent
rather than through coercion, it operates through the construction of 'common sense' for a whole social order (not just a particular group)
To win hegemony, in Gramsci's view
, is to establish
moral, political and intellectual leadership in social life by diffusing one's own 'world view' throughout the fabric of society as a whole
, thus equating one's own interests with the interests of society at large. Such
is not, of course, peculiar to capitalism; indeed one might claim that any form of political power, to be durable and well-grounded must evoke at least a degree of consent from its undelings.
ideologies can compete for hegemonic status
Ideology is a matter of
lived everyday practice
, it operates through
. Individuals must feel 'free' if they are to 'consent'.
Ideology is not necessarily determined by the economy, history and intellectuals play a big role
The dominant ideology is
always the ideology of the dominant class
An 'organic ideology' is not a false mode of consciousness, it is an ideology adequate to a specific political and historic moment
Gramsci considers Maxism as the form of historical consciousness adequate to the moment
Organic ideologies need to be developed by organic intellectuals
An organic intellectual
emerges from a social class
not a free-standing intellectual
lend their classes some homogeneous self-consciousness
in the cultural, political and economic fields
Organic intellectuals are not necessarily academics but
artists, writers, philosophers, lawyers, ...
They engage in the
praxis of organizing, constructing, and persuading
. Philosophical activity becomes a political practice.
Organic intellectuals help to
unify theory and practice
and therefore have to
contradictory and politically backward '
They also need to
construct a new common sense
that informs a democratic solidarity
All men and women are in some sense intellectuals because all action requires some kind of intellectual activity.
function of the organic intellectuals
in other words, is to forge the links between 'theory' and 'ideology',
creating a two-way passage between political analysis and popular experience
. And the term ideology here 'is used in its highest sense of
a conception of the world that is implicitly manifest in art, in law, in economic activity and in all manifestations of individual and collective life
. Such a 'world view'
cements together a social and political bloc
, as a unifying, organzing, inspirational principle, rather than a system of abstract ideas. (Eagleton 1996, 120)
Believe themselves to be 'independent' and 'autonomous' and do not link up with an emancipatory project
In practice, they are dependent upon the status quo and support the current hegemony.
They can include clerics, philosophers, academics, etc. ... .
traditional intellectuals may once have been 'organic intellectuals' but they are no longer so
A brief overview
the idea of negotiated media influence was developed largely in the context of a new field of inquiry called cultural studies
cultural studies deal with issues of meaning representation, ideology, hegemony and power
in the lessons to come we will move towards a discussion of the work of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and its key author Stuart Hall
BCCC - very brief
The Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies was inaugurated in 1964
In the classical period of British Cultural Studies (1960s-1980s), it drew on:
insights into the study of ideology and culture developed by Gramsci and Althusser
insights from structural linguistics and structuralism (even though structuralism was an object of attack)
culturalism (e.g. Richard Hoggarth and Raymond Williams)
It played a key role in the establishment of the so-called New Left and contributed to debates about representatios and ideologies of class, race, gender, ethnicity and nationality in cultural texts with special attention for meia texts
The center was also among the first to study the way messages and meanings constructed in popular media were (not) decoded by different types of audiences
in order to understand where BCCC came from we have to make some detours via authors such as Saussure, Gramsci, Althusser and Barthes
What are the codes that you need to draw on in order to make sense of these images?
How do you shape your interpretation? Where does meaning begin?
What is the difference between meaning and ideology?
How does signification work? Why is there debate?
Overview upcoming Lessons
Cultural Studies & Phase 4 of Media Research
negotiated media influence
Althusser on Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
Structuralist linguistics and semiology
sources of inspiration for cultural studies
we will first cover the following theories and approaches
Antonio Gramsci on ideology and hegemony
Gramsci and British Cultural Studies
British Cultural Studies wanted to move away from the idea of a passive audience (cfr. Frankfurt School)
It developed in a period marked by active protests and oppositional movements in the 1960's and 1970s
British cultural studies were developed to understand how people were controlled ideologically but also how they could resist
Many authors in this field - most notably Stuart Hall - drew on Gramsci's model of hegemony to analyze the hegemonic ruling forces and countehegemonic practices of contestation
Gramsci allowed these authors to think of ideology in a more productive way
Althusser and cultural studies
Althusser's framework is a rather good example of structuralism in Marxist theory
Its model of subjectivity does not leave a lot of room for resistance and freedom
Students of cultural studies are not so much inspired by his bleak vision of Man, but rather by his theory of ISA
Also, the idea that ideology is an imaginary phenomenon that shapes subjectivity and identity is key to cultural studies
Authors in cultural studies are usually not economically deterministic and pay attention to many different types of identity formation
Cultural studies is interested in mainstream messages and processes of interpellation but also in the process of (critical) de-coding of messages
a source of inspiration & object of critique for cultural studies
a source of inspiration & object of critique for cultural studies
a source of inspiration & object of critique for cultural studies
Repressive and Ideological State Apparatuses
Cultural and Audience Studies
(British) Cultural Studies
CS and audience research
a psycho-analyst who believed that the unconscious was structured like a language
this has vast implications for the way the psyche or the self is conceptualized
the 'I' becomes a signifier whose signified is constantly shifts and changes unable to grasp its 'true' nature
the anthropologist who coined the term structuralism
most known for his structuralist approach to kinship systems and myths
people have universally shared mental characteristics / structures
they all have the need to classify reality, to impose order on nature and on relations between people
inspired by Saussure he argued that opposition is a universal characteristic of classification
binary oppositions can be found in all cultures even though their concrete forms may vary (good/evil, white/black, dark/ light, young/old, high/low)
binary oppositions convert differences of degree to differences in kind
in his analyses of myths he showed that seemingly different myths nevertheless have similar structures. differences occur when key elements are kept and:
positive elements are converted into negative elements
the order of the elements involved is changed
male heroes are being replaced by female heroes
structuralist analyses can also be applied to modern stories, myths, practices circulating in (mass) culture media
a collection of
on cultural phenomena analyzed
by Roland Barthes
in terms of
signs, language and code
the essays were written in the period
and are rather accessible. They focus on
phenomena such as
wrestling matches, Romans in films, Citroen commercials, striptease, etc.
in which he outlines what he means by myth and what his theory of the sign looks like appears
at the end of the book
the book was highly
because it focuses on
contemporary cultural phenomena
that were considered not worthy of study
Mythologies was an early
attempt to apply structuralist principles to the domain of everyday culture
In 1970 Barthes clarified that the goal of this work was two-fold:
an ideological critique of the language of so-called mass culture
an attempt at a semiological analysis of the mechanisms of this language
Barthes was of working-class origins and for him, the '
' was the
distributed through mass culture
I had just read Saussure and as a result acquired the conviction that by treating 'collective representations' as sign-systems, one might hope to go further than the pious show of unmasking them and account in detail for the mystification which transforms petit-bourgeouis culture into a universal nature
Barthes on Myth
Barthes is interested in the
myths of petit-bourgeois (lower middle class) culture
and sets out to analyze the meaning of everyday signs
Myth is a '
language' in the semiological sense
: it may make
of photography, cinema, reporting, shows or publicity
Myth is a
mode of signification
that functions much like the way Saussure imagined language to function
We shall therefore take l
anguage, discourse, speech
, etc., to mean
any significant unit or synthesis
verbal or visual
: a photograph will be a kind of speech for us in the same way as a newspaper article; even objects will become speech, if they mean something. (Barthes 1957/2000)
This does not mean that one must treat mythical speech like language,
the province of
a general science
, coextensive with linguitsics, which is
part both of semiology
inasmuch as it is a formal science, a
nd of ideology
inasmuch it is a historical science: it
studies ideas in form
That which is a
sign in the first system becomes a signifier in the second
Myth as a second-order semiological system
the semiologist can treat writing and pictures in the same way because both are signs, both can reach the level of myth - the way signs are embedded in sign systems matters though
sign is taken to stand for a specific concept
(e.g. the saluting black person becomes an
of French imperialism) - there is no ambiguity involved in this reading
(2) you can also distinguish meaning and form, undoing the signification of the myth (the saluting black person becomes an '
' of French imperiality - this is a reading of
people who understand the distortion taking place in myth
ambiguous / innocent reading
: the myth exists from the precise moment when French imperiality achieves the natural state - myth is read
as a factual system
whereas it is but a semiological system
Barthes writes that myths can be read in three different ways
transforms history into nature
- it is
(speech that presents social reality as natural)
experienced as innocent speech
: not because its intentions are hidden - if they were hidden, they could not be efficacious - but because they are naturalized
In a later phase of his writings, Barthes would
move towards post-structuralism
the death of the author
', he would claim that meaning does not reside in the author
author does not have final authority over the meaning
of his / her work
the death of the author is therefore a polemical death that goes hand in hand with the
re-birth of the active reader
french literary critic & cultural commentator
key author in the development of semiology / semiotics
a contemporary of Althusser, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault
important author for structuralism and poststructuralism
. It includes the study of social identities in other domains of culture as well
moved in the direction of
concerns with sub-cultures, multiculturalism, colonialism, racism, and other types of ideology.
is thereby treated as
a material everyday practice
, differences exist in the way this practice is conceptualized
, culture was conceptualized as an everyday and common phenomenon and a matter of practice and experience
Hall would re-think this notion of culture
on the basis of
with implications for the study of 'the media'
The work of the BCCC (
Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies
) was seminal for this approach. Today, cultural studies are practiced across the globe.
In the field of Media Studies,
Cultural Studies would lead to Audience Studies
and to the
concepts of negotiated media influence
new way of thinking about culture
emerged in Britain in the works of Richard
Williams in the fifties and sixties
as a '
' and '
thing rooted in everyday practice
no longer exclusively
a matter of '
' bourgeois culture and art
re-valuation of popular culture
Stuart Hall on culturalism
as well as on structuralists such as
to challenge culturalism
and its disregard for the way cultural experiences and practices get structured through discursive codes and ideologies
experience was the ground - the terrain of the lived - where consciousness and conditions intersected,
insisted that 'experience' could not, by definition, be the ground of anything, since one could only 'live' and experience one's conditions in and through the categories, classifications and frameworks of culture. These categories, however, did not arise in or from experience: rather experience was their 'effect'. (Hall 1980: 66)
would continue the
investigation of everyday culture
but would provide this study
with a more 'critical' spin
Culture is a key category for Hall. He
the economic reductionism of
Recognizing the importance of structure, he nevertheless also acknowledges that there is always
room for agency
working class background
a the Workers Educational Association he noticed the following:
We were very interested ... by the fact that our
came and usually they
learned about 'classical literature'
in almost the Leavisite sense, but they
lived in another world
... they lived in the world of newspapers and magazines and radio (not television at t the time) and pop songs.
also working class background & experience with social mobility -
as a matter of '
' that is not the monopoly of any class
focuses on the
links between literature, politics and an industrialized class-based society
borrowed from Marxism bud
did not agree with orthodox Marxism
(he would refuse the label until the late sixties):
agreed that bourgeouis culture
linked to economic and political power
to accept the
' and the idea that intellectuals are necessarily the vanguards of the masses
the idea that the
to speak of was the
culture of the bourgeoisi
recognized the ugliness of
did not reject it
because its products (e.g. electricity, contraceptives, canned food) improved everyday lives of common people
The working people, in town and country alike, will not listen (and I support them) to any account of our society which supposes that these things are not progress: not just mechanical, external progress, but a real service to life. Moreover, in these new conditions, there is more real freedom to dispose of our lives, more real personal grasp where it matters, more real say. Any account of our culture which implicitly or explicitly denies the value of an industrial society is really irrelevant; not in a million years would you make us give up this power.
Why did a culturalist perspective emerge in post-War England?
own 'critical' intelligentsia or discipline
(critical sociology in the US / critical theory in Germany) before WWII.
academics who fled to the UK
found a haven of
stability, continuity and order
infiltrated most disciplines
economics and literary criticism.
Critiques of mass culture
in the thirties existed but were mostly formulated in the context of English studies (Leavis & Leavis)
a notion of
culture as an 'art of life'
to speak of
'working class culture' was an oxymoron
England was a society marked by
permeating everything: the way you spoke, dressed, walked, consumed were all indicators of class.
affluent working class emerged.
Authors such as
Hogarth and Williams
would realize that
working class culture is not shallow or depth-less
. They discovered that the masses did not really exist and instead, people emerged (much as in the US)
Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy: aspects of working-class life
account of the everyday lives of the majority of British people in the fifties
about working class people
who were not particularly politically active
working class culture as rooted in a generations-long experience of exploitation
- an experience that
that express a collective attitude to the world
working-class pleasures tend to be mass-pleasures
, over-crowded and sprawling. Everyone wants to have fun at the same time, since most factory buzzers blow within an hour of each other. Special occasions - a wedding, a trip to the pantomime, a visit to the fair, a charabanc outing - assume this, and assume also that a special splendour and glitter must be displayed (Hoggart 1957, 145).
Hoggart would be considered overtly optimistic and romantic but Hoggart did play a role in taking
'culture' out of the grip of upper-class elites
The book also
way working class people in the fifties distinguished an 'us' from a 'them'
(the agents of official culture & the apparatus of authority)
'They' are 'the people at the top', 'the higher-ups', 'the people who give you your dole, call you up, tell you to go to war, fine you, made you split the family in the thirties to avoid a reduction in the Means Test allowance, 'get yer in the end', 'aren't really to be trusted', talk posh', 'are all twisters really', 'never tell yer owt' (about a relative in hospital), 'clap yer in clink', 'will do yer down if they can', 'summons yer', 'are all in a click (clique) together', 'treat yer like muck' (Hoggart 1957)
criticised mass-produced pulp literature
did value the genuine popular culture
of the working classes distinguishing it from mass culture
fifties life was looking a lot better
Hoggart pointed out that this was not from a greed for possessions but because working class people saw daily life as constant struggle
'to keep your head above water'
final notes on Hoggart
valuation of everyday culture
would remain a
also visible in Media and Audience Studies
There is a distinct working-class way of life
- not only because I was raised in it, for I now, in certain respects, live differently. I think this way of life, with its
emphasis on neighborhood, mutual obligation, and common betterment
the great working-class political and industrial
, is in fact the
basis for any future English society
. As for the
arts and learning
, they are in a real sense a national inheritance which is, or
available to everyone
when the Marxists say we are living in a dying culture, and that the masses are ignorant
, I have to ask them
where on earth they have lived
. A dying culture and ignorant masses are not what I have known and see. (Williams 1985)
There are in fact no masses, there are only other ways of seeing other people as masses
captain America controversy
Williams on culture
Williams on Working Class Culture
Williams on Communication, Culture and Society
communication today is either authorative (USSR), paternal (BBC) or commercial
a fourth alternative is democratic communication: 'we have to think of ways which would disperse the control of communications and truly open the channels of participation'
BCCC - very brief
The Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies (
) was inaugurated in
succeeded him as director of the BCCC in
In the classical period of British Cultural Studies (1960s-1980s), it
insights into the
study of ideology
and culture developed by
insights from structural
linguistics and structuralism
(even though structuralism was an object of attack)
(e.g. Richard Hoggarth and Raymond Williams)
It played a key role in the
establishment of the so-called New Left
and contributed to
representations and ideologies of
class, race, gender, ethnicity and nationality
in cultural texts with s
pecial attention for media 'texts'
The center was also among the first to study the way messages and meanings constructed in popular media were decoded by different types of audiences
cultural studies generated key insight for so-called reception and audience studies in the wider field of media studies
on Stuart Hall
cultural theorist, sociologist, left-wing activist and co-founder and main editor of 'New Left Review'
born in 1932 in Jamaica where he received a 'very classical' education modeled after the British school system
moved to the UK in 1951, became director of the BCCC in 1968
expanded the topical and theoretical scope of cultural studies
left the BCCC in 1974
in the context of the feminist debates - a 'painful affair' he said. His key
for media studies included:
(television as) popular culture
worthy of study
a new interpretation of the
in the field of cultural studies - including notions of hegemony
re-introduction of agency, interpretation and power in media studies
, Hall made significant contributions to thinking about critical race theory, identity, multiculturalism etc. ... .
Growing up as a member in a Jamaican family of African, Indian and British descent + the fact that he was darker skinned than the rest of his family in the 'pigmentocracy' of the colonial West-indies provided a lived experience for his re-thinking of the 'politics of representation' and 'identity' taking minority concerns into account
Stuart Hall died in 2014.
a very brief biography of Stuart Hall
issues of ideology, hegemony, power and interpretation
Hall on Communication
Applying the principles of the encoding/decoding model
some final remarks on audience studies
the work of the BCCC opened up the way for a
(partially) positive revaluation of popular culture and (mass) media
was that the
moment of 'encoding'
(the question of cultural production) was
gradually lost of sight during
left side of CS
one looked with a critical eye to the new celebration of popular culture and the active audience
authors critical of the BCCC would claim it to be engaging in a type of '
audience studies have become ever more complex
audiences have increasingly become media producers
online forums, social media and apps have become s
paces where cultural production and consumption are becoming increasingly intertwined
the question of the different ways in which people and groups en- and decode their messages on the basis of semiotic and ideological structures in a power-infused world is more relevant then ever.
In communication studies, Stuart
is most known for his
model of communication
of the text published in 1973 and in 1980. The first version rested more on structuralist semiotics and the second version more on structuralist Marxism - while taking distance from both
These texts partially
explain the preference for qualitative and interpretive research methods
in cultural and audience studies
They have been written as part of an
attempt to integrate semiotic and (neo-) Marxist insights
analysis of media messages and their reception
The texts are relatively accessible, short and programmatic in nature.
these texts is to understand
processes of encoding and decoding developed by Hall
from what these terms meant in the communication model of
Shannon & Weaver
Superficially both models seem similar but their conceptual context is completely different: Hall's model draws on semiotics and Marxism and reacted to the then dominant mode of positivist communication studies that worked with a rather simplistic version of signs, messages and meaning.
Encoding and decoding in the television discourse (1973) & Encoding / Decoding (1980)
Hall's text was first written as a
dominant sociological approach to media messages
in communication studies: the American traditions of
The foundational communication
studies that combined 'administrative' and 'critical' research
in the 1940s (e.g. Lazarsfeld, Merton) had become rather
The text was
a critique of mass communication research as conducted in Leicester
: Halloran's Centre for Mass Communication Research and its use of positivist content analysis, and survey-based audience research were the targets
Hall: literary studies / a (neo-) Marxist framework; Halloran: sociology / a positivist (non-critical) mode of social science.
So the paper ... has a slightly polemical thrust. It's positioned against some of those positions and it's positioned, therefore
against a particular notion of content as a performed and fixed meaning or message
. ... The encoding/decoding model was not a grand model. I had in my sights the Centre for Mass Communication Research - that was who I was trying to blow out of the water.
Key points in the 1973 text
argument for a semiotic decoding
of the elements
of (televised) popular culture
treated as texts, messages and practices of signification
decoding as a process of
opening up what is hidden or disguised in
systematically distorted communication (Habermas)
of popular culture
Hall relies on the semioticians
(and therefore Saussure) and Umberto
of the encoding / decoding text is
heavily inspired by (structuralist) semiotic analysis
would move away from the semiotic approach and deal
with (structural) Marxism instead by relying chiefly on
to apply it
, the 1973 text is a provisional programmatic text
the main question informed by Hall's model was
weather TV audiences decoded TV messages as intended
The encoding / decoding model
would inform the first qualitative audience and reception studies
of the BCCC
The 1973 text also demonstrates a clear
the question of
actively interpreting audiences
Hall on encoding / production of TV messages (1973)
messages and images are treated as
a language or as a code
in the structuralist sense (Saussure / Barthes / Eco)
Hall seeks to go
beyond classic structuralism
I shall adopt a
, I do
regard this as indexing
a closed formal concern with the immanent organization of the television discourse
alone. It must
concern with the 'social relations' of the communicative process,
and especially with the various kinds of '
' (at the production and receiving end)
in the use of that language
Hall treats the
TV message as a sign
in the Saussurean sense as:
sign-vehicle, or rather
sign-vehicles of a specific kind
, like any other form of communication or language,
through the operation of codes
, within the syntagmatic chains of a discourse.
encoding and decoding are mere moments
in a communciation process, the
they draw on
topics, treatments, agendas, events, personnel, images of the audience, 'definitions of the situation', from the wider socio-cultural and political system of which they are only a differentiated part
Stuart Hall on the Communication of TV messages
before a message can have any kind of effect it must be 'meaningfully de-coded'
We are now fully aware that this
re-entry (of the message) into the structures of audience reception and 'use' cannot be understood in simple behavioural
terms. Effects, uses, 'gratifications' are themselves formed by structures of understanding, as well as social and economic structures which shape its 'realization' at the reception end of the chain, and which permit the meanings signified in language to be transposed into conduct or consciousness.
is marked by a
lack of fit between the codes used in encoding and decoding
messages: this accounts for '
systematically distorted communication'
For Hall the long-standing interest in effects and the unproblematic treatment of media messages in positivist and behavioral media studies is highly problematic.
signifiers embedded in codes
preferred meaning is suggested in the dominant code
but this code is
not necessarily shared by the audience
visual symbols are iconic symbols (Peirce) that share some properties with what they refer to
TV images of violent acts may be relatively clear at the level of denotation
the codes of production and reception provide such images with a range of associative connotations though
it is at the level of connotation that 'misunderstandings' tell us something about social relationships - this is the level of ideology-as-common-sense (Gramsci).
Hall relies on semiology but criticises it
the interpretive work carried out by the '
consumers' / decoders of media messages
there is no single 'correct' way of decoding a media message but there is a
preferred or intended reading
suggested by the designers of the message
a media message at the level of connotation or ideology is rather
a matter of inserting signifiers into an alternative code
Hall quotes Terni in order to make his point:
By the word
we mean not only the capacity to identify an decode a certain number of signs, but
subjective capacity to put them into a creative relation between themselves and with other signs
: a capacity which is, by itself, the condition for a complete awareness of one's total environment
(Terni quoted by Hall 1973)
Encoding/decoding in 1980
A (partially) new text of only ten pages without references to the debate with Halloran and his communications department
The new text is more heavily placed within a Marxist/class-based problematic - the emphasis and theoretical basis of the model shifted
Messages are seen as products generated in the production process of communication
encoding/decoding was also a model developed in order to conceptualize resistance and struggles against hegemonic structures of meaning
Introduction: on encoding and decoding
Hall on connotation and denotation
In the first version of his text, Stuart Hall draws on the distinction between connotation and denotation developed by Roland Barthes
is, however, also
a connotative sign
. And it is so pre-eminently with the discourses of modern mass communication. The level of connotation of the visual sign, of its contextual reference, of
its position in the various associative fields of meanings
, is precisely the
point where the denoted sign intersects with the deep semantic structures of a culture, and takes on an ideological dimension
advertising discourse, for example
, we might say that there is almost no 'purely denotative' communication.
Every visual sign in advertising 'connotes'
a quality, situation,value or inference which is present as an implication or implied meaning, depending on the connotational reference.
of this order are, clearly,
structured enough to signify, but they are more 'open' or 'open-ended' than denotative codes
. ... They
refer to the maps of meaning into which any culture is organized
, and those 'maps of social reality' have the whole range of social meanings, practices and usages, power and interest 'written in' to them.
Barthes has reminded us, 'have a close communication with culture, knowledge, history
, an it is through them, so to speak, that the environmental world invades the linguistic and semantic system. They are if you like, the
fragments of 'ideology'
Stuart Hall - quotes on connotation and denotation in the 1973 text
For Hall the question of semiotics is closely intertwined with questions of ideology, interpretation and resistance
Encoding and decoding - implications for interpretation and resistance
Misunderstanding at the level of denotation is often a matter of clashing codes. It is not merely a matter of selective attention/retention of information etc. It is an indication of: structural conflicts, contradictions and negotiations of economic, political and cultural life.
Hall distinguishes between:
decoding according to the hegemonic code
decoding according to a negotiated code (a mixture of adaptive an oppositional elements)
oppositional decoding that is antagonistic to the hegemonic code
The way you decode (TV) messages and signs depends (partially) on the codes at your disposal and these codes differ depending on the (sub-) culture or reference group you identify with.
Hall's critique of structuralist semiotics
decoding media messages and the code in which they are embedded can be a creative and critical activity practiced by the audience(s)
Hall on the importance of connotation
relation of an audience to the ideological operations of television
remains in principle
an empirical question
: the challenge is the attempt to develop appropriate methods of empirical investigation of that relation
(Morley 1980 cited in Ang 1991)
politics of empirical audience research (1993)
, reflecting on the differences between Critical Cultural Studies and the Uses & Gratifications approach to audience activity.
emphasis on the
welcomed in U&G
research but he was also accused of having
re-invented the wheel
(e.g. James Curran)
argues that every approach can be critical but that
between the way the
audience is dealt with in critical CS and in U&G
use of the term 'critical'
being critical implies that one acknowledges that the production of knowledge is bound up with the establishment of power relations (cfr. Michel Foucault)
being critical also implies a self-reflective attitude with respect to the research practice itself
being critical is not tied up with a specific tradition (e.g. the critical approach of the Frankfurt school)
critical and empirical research are not necessarily incompatible
To begin wit there are some
epistemological (even ontological) differences
that intertwine with deeply ideological assumptions about society and individuality:
uses and gratifications researchers
generally operate within a
liberal pluralist conception of society
individuals are seen as ideally free
, that is,
unhindered by external powers
, following Marxist / (post) structuralist assumptions,
people are conceived as always already implicated in, and necessarily constrained
by, the web of
relationships and structures
witch constitute them as social subjects.
doesn't mean that they are stripped of agency
like pre-programmed automatons,
, or the negotiations subjects undertake in constructing their lives is
(i.e. neither predetermined nor underdetermined) by the concrete conditions of existence they find themselves in.
Notions of the active audience also differ at the theoretical level:
From a cultural studies point of view, evidence that audiences are 'active' cannot simply be equated with the rather triumphant, liberal pluralist conclusion, often displayed by gratificationists, that media consumers are 'free' or even 'powerful' - a conclusion which allegedly undercuts the idea of 'media hegemony'.
The question for cultural studies is not simply one of 'where the power lies in media systems' (Blumer et al 1985: 260) - i.e. with the audience or with the media producers but rather how relations of power are organized within the heterogenous practices f media use and consumption.
Ang points out that
U&G and Cultural Studies approaches differ at the political level
most audience research
knowledge production in function of specific interests
for purposes of political or commercial elites (e.g. through market research or effects research)
no theory is value neutral
, there is always a 'politics of interpretation' involved: 'material obtained by ethnographic fieldwork or depth-interviews with audience members cannot simply be treated as direct slices of reality,
viewers' statements about their relation to television cannot be regarded as self-evident facts
or transparent reflections of their lived realities.
Both CS and U&G deal with differences in audience activity but
deal the interpretive meanings of these differences
xplaining them in their social, cultural and historical contexts
- mere classification is not enough.
Morley's 'Nationwide' study
Morley investigated the
way audience members decoded the current affairs
with viewers with different social and economic backgrounds:
an 'ethnography of reading'
(in the semiotic sense)
the sort of qualitative and interpretive research conducted by Morley quickly
gained popularity in mainstream and critical media research
Morley applied Hall's encoding/decoding model
he showed fragments of the '
' (on government spending) of the program Nationwide to
different occupational categories
tended to decode the message following the hegemonic code
and university arts students engaged in negotiated decoding
engaged more frequently in oppositional decoding
class & occupation alone did not predict all
different types of
, other social characteristics played a role too. For instance, many
black university students
were significantly less interested in the whole issue of budgets (having
other struggles & focal points
in the UK context of the eighties)
boom of audience studies in the 1980s
was a reaction against overly structuralist approaches to meaning and communication in the seventies
The work of Hall and Morley was a
reaction against the structuralist approach
to film and television in the magazine Screen
In Screen style theory, media texts are seen to construct subject positions that viewers are bound to take up if they are to make sense of the text (cfr Althusser).
(1978) was carried out within the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies by researchers such as
David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon
in order to apply the encoding/decoding model
study has to be understood as
a response to structuralism
and to the so-called
disappearance of the public
The boom in empirical media audience research in the 1980s was, in part, the result of the critique of overly structuralist approaches, which had taken patterns of media consumption to be the always-already-determined effect of some more fundamental structure - whether the economic structure of the cultural industries (Murdock and Golding, 1974), the political structure of the capitalist state (Althusser, 1971), or the psychic structure of the human subject (Lacan, 1977).
cultural studies approaches to audiences
take an intermediate position
between agency and structure
oriented approaches to interpretation
encoding / decoding was something to be taken seriously
On CRITICAL audience studies
U&G authors would pick up semiotics-informed notions
such as 'text' and 'reader'. Many also
idea that critical thinkers gave up their suspicions regarding empirical research
Ang argues that U&G
and the type of ethnographic audience research proposed in
cultural studies converge only in part
. Epistemological, theoretical and political differences remain.
the politics of audience research
CS & U&G
epistemological and ontological differences
these differences are deeply political and ideological
in spite of a shared interest in the audience tensions remain
Morley's Family Television (1986)
analysis of gendered television viewing habits in the UK from a CS perspective
based on interviews and observations
the study showed that
men and women related differently to television
different viewing styles
watched less attentively combining TV with other activities such as talking or household tasks (eighties)
preferred viewing attentively in silence, without interruption, 'in order not to miss anything'
Morley does not reduce these differences to 'essential' or natural differences
between men and women. As Brunsdon noticed,
it seems possible
to differentiate a male - fixed, controlling, uninterrupted gaze - and a female - distracted, obscured, already busy - manner of watching television. There is some empirical truth in these characterizations, but
to take this empirical truth for explanation leads to a theoretical short-circuit
(Brunsdon 1986: 105)
From a CS perspective, the
question is why these gendered differences take the form they do
. It is not enough to point at the differences.
Morley and Brunsdon do not explain these differences with respect to 'needs'
(as is often the case in U&G) or processes of socialization
is treated as
a domestic cultural form with different meanings for men and women
. For men it has become the central symbol of relaxation, for women there is a more contradictory relationship involved
The social relations between men and women appear to work in such a way that although the men feel OK about imposing their choice of viewing on the whole of the family, the women do not. The women have developed all sorts of strategies to cope with television viewing they don't particularly like. The men in most cases appear to feel it would be literally unmanning for them to sit quiet during the women's programs. However, the women in general seem to find it almost impossible to switch into the silent communion with the television set that characterises so much male viewing. (Ang 1993)
TV viewing habits
prove to be
bound up with issues of power in the family and in society
Ang points out that
not mere expressions of different needs, uses or readings but connected to the way social subjects are structurally positioned in society and to each other
in the nuclear family the habits of men and women shape each other
TV watching is a collective practice but not a harmonious practice
struggles take place oer program choice, program interpretatin, viewing styles, etc.
viewing habits are the temporal and changeable outcome of (gendered) viewing habits
this type of analysis is not neutral
either. It is decidedly
. But from a CS perspective,
all research is always political
Why do husbands and wives in the nuclear family watch TV differently?
a CS inspired explanation of gendered viewing habits
a CS inspired explanation of gendered viewing habits