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Structuralism v Post-structuralism

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Corrine Sharp

on 10 June 2015

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Transcript of Structuralism v Post-structuralism

Structural Theory
Semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism are theories that explore the way in which audiences gain meaning from media texts.
Semiotics
Denotation
: refers to the simplest most obvious level of meaning of a sign, be it a word, image, object or sound.

Connotation
: refers to the second order of meaning which a wider range of associations may rise.

Myths
: frequently told stories that a culture repeats in order to convey dominant values and ideologies of that culture.
Structuralism
Structuralism utilises a semiotic perspective in which societies, cultural practices and artifacts, such as media texts, can be analysed as languages or signifying systems.

Theoretical approaches based on structuralism however look for patterns across texts rather than focus on the individuality of a particular text.
For example, Barthes (1967) argued there are narrative codes that are identifiable across a range of media texts.
Post-structuralism
Post-structuralism challenges many of the assumptions of structuralism, most importantly the idea that a text has one single, identifiable meaning.

It plays down the role of the 'author' (writer or director) of texts and emphasises instead the range of different meanings and interpretations that different audiences can create.
Key Terms
Structuralism v Post-structuralism
Bibliography:
Andrew, M. & Stevenson, E. (2009). AQA Media Studies A2. Nelson Thornes: Cheltenham.
Blood, K. (2010). The Definitive Guide to Political Ideologies. Author House LTD.: Milton Keynes
MediaKnowAll. (2011). Representation of Race, Ethnicity and Colour. Available: http://www.mediaknowall.com/as_alevel/alevkeyconcepts/alevelkeycon.php?pageID=race. Last accessed 17/12/2014.
Semiotics is the study of codes or languages and the signs from which they are made, such as words in a spoken or written language.
Ferdinand de Saussure

Born: November 26, 1857
Died: February 22, 1913
Swiss Linguist
Considered the father of the 20th century linguistics
Saussure (1983) suggested that there are three levels on which we read media texts:

Syntactic Level

Representational Level

Symbolic Level
In groups find the definitions for one of these three levels ready to feedback to the class. Write the definition in your own words.
Barthes 1967 developed Saussure's ideas to analyse media texts in relation to culture.

He suggested that our understanding of many media texts rests not merely upon what the texts portray but on the texts relationship to frequently told
myths
in our culture.
Many media texts convey or tap into popular myths.

For example: Romantic Comedies often draws on the Cinderella myth.

Lets look at these three YouTube Clips and compare them.
Can you think of anymore examples of romantic comedies that incorporate this myth?
Barthes (1967) the final layer of signification in media texts relates to cultural meaning. In terms of the Cinderella myth - the cultural meanings or rather the ideologies and values conveyed are that a men are active and women are passive, that men are economically powerful providers and a women's key role is to be sexual alluring.
Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings
Look up the stories of each of the series of films mentioned above using the Internet Movie Date Base (IMDB.com) and Wikipedia.

The story lines have many similarities What myth do you think they may be using here?
Action Codes
:
This is where a series of actions facilitates a viewer to follow the details of a plot sequence, enabling the viewer to become absorbed in the narrative.

Enigmatic Codes
:
This involves structuring the plot sequence around a series of questions (major or minor) that maintain the audience's interest and fascination in the text.
Symbolic Codes:
The use of symbolic codes involves identifying a texts major structuring themes. Symbolic codes are often expressed in binary opposites (man and women, active and passive, public and private, criminal and police or
psycho-analytic themes.
(male emasculation anxiety or a father versus son competition)
Key Term:

Psycho- Analytic Themes:
Sigmund Freud argued that human actions are often motivated by repressed sexual fears and desires.
Lets apply a structuralist theoretical reading to the film Elf (2003)
Using the three levels put forward by Barthes. (1967)
Watch the trailer and use IMDB and Wikipedia to help you familarise yourself with the theme.
Post-structuralism challenges the notion that it is possible to identify clear structures in texts and emphasises the arbitary relationship between signifier's and the signified.

Post-structuralism suggests that many media texts contain floating signifier's that can be interpreted differently by audience members.

There are strong links between post-structuralism and post-modernism which is a theory that will be covered later on.
Post-structuralism was a response to structuralism that emphasised the fact that history and culture create biases that inhibit ones ability to properly interpret underlying structures in products of culture, and encouraged the study of these products to involve studying both the actual object and the cultural systems of knowledge that produced it.

Post-structuralists Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Julia Kristeva did some critical reading and uncovered that nearly every work they studied had its own internal contradictions. This discovery lead to the development of the idea that the real interpretations were up to the reader themselves, who will always carry their own biases that may not necessarily correspond to cultural structures.
This picture submitted by jazbeck on Cracked.com shows a viewer’s possible interpretation of “The Blind Side” based on his or her own biases or views.
Lets have a look at this Trailer of
The Blind Side (2009)
KEY THEMES FOR POST-STRUCTURALISTS

Post-structuralism can be thought of as what structuralism evolved into.

In some ways, it does not separate itself entirely from structuralism but is a critique of structuralism and questions the “stability” on which structuralism depends.

Post-structuralism does not shift it’s focus to a new subject of study but, like structuralism, continues to examine the nature of “meaning” in terms of language.

However, unlike structuralism, post-structuralism doubts that there is a reality “out there”.

Post-structuralism demonstrates the incoherence of the systems of discourse, the dual and chaotic nature of meaning, the falsity of universal truths, the malleability of human kind or that which makes us different, and the unpredictability of “systems.”

Whereas structuralism focuses on the structure and system themselves, post-structuralism focuses on the readers or speakers participating in that structure
Come back to these videos in you own time to further define post-structuralism...
Group Activity
In groups define one of the following terms and add it to the terminolgy bank.

1. Floating Signifiers
2. Faucault's Shifting Identities
3. Barthes' Death of the Author

Then give an example.
Floating Signifiers:

A signifier without a specific signified. Also known as an ‘empty signifier’, it is a signifier that absorbs rather than emits meaning.

For example, Fredric Jameson suggests that the shark in the Jaws series of films is an empty signifier because it is susceptible to multiple and even contradictory interpretations, suggesting that it does not have a specific meaning itself, but functions primarily as a vehicle for absorbing meanings that viewers want to impose upon it.
We often talk about people as if they have particular attributes as 'things' inside themselves -- they have an identity, for example, and we believe that at the heart of a person there is a fixed and true identity or character (even if we're not sure that we know quite what that is, for a particular person). We assume that people have an inner essence -- qualities beneath the surface which determine who that person really 'is'. We also say that some people have (different levels of) power which means that they are more (or less) able to achieve what they want in their relationships with others, and society as a whole.

Foucault rejected this view. For Foucault, people do not have a 'real' identity within themselves; that's just a way of talking about the self -- a discourse. An 'identity' is communicated to others in your interactions with them, but this is not a fixed thing within a person. It is a shifting, temporary construction.
Foucault's Shifting Identity
Barthes 'Death of the Author'
The death of the Author is the inability to create, produce, or discover any text or idea. The author is a “scriptor” who simply collects preexisting quotations. He is not able to create or decide the meaning of his work. The task of meaning falls “in the destination”—the reader.

The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.
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