media theories

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  • Created on: 30-04-18 18:11

Narratology – Todorov

Narratology is the study of narrative; in this case, of narrative structure – how the parts fit together to make a whole.

All narratives can be seen as a move from one state of equilibrium (where nothing need occur) to another, new equilibrium. The disruption to the equilibrium is what drives the narrative towards a new equilibrium.

The movement from the initial equilibrium to the new equilibrium entails a transformation (e.g. the hero expresses their heroism and defeats the villain) – this transformation expresses what the narrative values. 

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Semiology – Barthes

Semiology is the study of signs. Signs consist of a signifier (a word, an image, a sound, and so on) and its meaning – the signified.

The denotation of a sign is its literal meaning (e.g. the word ‘dog’ denotes a mammal that barks).

Denotations signify connotations – the associations of the denotation (e.g. ‘dogness’ – the thoughts and feelings associated with dogs).

Denotations and connotations are organized into myths – the ideological meaning. These make ideology seem natural. For example, a Bulldog might activate a myth of Britishness.


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Genre Theory – Neale

Genre theory is about what genres are, and about how and why they are created, change endure or decline.

Neale argues that genre is a process by which generic codes and conventions are shared by producers and audiences through repetition in media products.

This means that genres are not fixed, but constantly evolve with each new addition to the generic corpus (the body of products in a genre), often playing with genre codes and conventions or becoming hybrids with other genres.

Generic codes and conventions are not just established in media products but in products that refer to these products such as critical writings or advertising and marketing material, what Neale referred to as ‘the intertextual relay’. 

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Structuralism – Levi-Strauss

Structuralism is the study of the hidden rules that govern a structure.

Levi-Strauss thought that the human mind could be investigated by studying the fundamental structure underlying myths and fables from around the world (which he saw as one unitary system). He developed the idea of the ‘binary opposition’ – that the system of myths and fables was ruled by a structure of opposing terms, e.g. hot-cold, male-female, culture-nature, raw-cooked.

Many writers have analyzed media products using the idea of the binary opposition, but seeing the overall system as ‘ideology’ rather than ‘human consciousness’.


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Postmodernism – Baudrillard

Postmodernism is the idea that society has moved beyond modernism – either modernism in art and culture (early 20th century) or modernism in the sense of a belief in progress, which dates back much further.

Baudrillard argued that, as modern societies were organised around a production of goods, postmodern society is organised around ‘simulation’ – the play of images and signs.

Previously important social distinctions suffer ‘implosion’ as differences of gender, class, politics, and culture dissolve in a world of simulation in which individuals construct their identities.

The new world of ‘hyperreality’ – media simulations, for example, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasy lands – is more real than the ‘real’, and controls how we think and behave. 

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Theories of Representation – Hall

Representation is not about whether the media reflects or distorts reality, as this implies that there can be one ‘true’ meaning, but the many meanings a representation can generate. Meaning is constituted by representation, by what is present, what is absent, and what is different. Thus, meaning can be contested.

A representation implicates the audience in creating its meaning. Power – through ideology or by stereotyping – tries to fix the meaning of a representation in a ‘preferred meaning’. To create deliberate anti-stereotypes is still to attempt to fix the meaning (albeit in a different way). A more effective strategy is to go inside the stereotype and open it up from within, to deconstruct the work of representation. 

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Theories of Identity – Gauntlett

The media have an important but complex relationship with identities. In the modern world, it is now an expectation that individuals make choices about their identity and lifestyle. Even in the traditional media, there are many diverse and contradictory media messages that individuals can use to think through their identities and ways of expressing themselves. For example, the success of ‘popular feminism’ and increasing representation of different sexualities created a world where the meaning of gender, sexuality and identity is increasingly open.

The online media offer people a route to self-expression, and therefore a stronger sense of self and participating in the world by making and exchanging. These media are places of conversation, exchange and transformation: ‘a fantastically messy set of networks filled with millions of sparks – some igniting new meanings, ideas and passions and some just fading away.’ People still build identities, but through every day, creative practice. However, this practice would be improved by better platforms for creativity. 

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Feminist Theory – Van Zoonen

In patriarchal culture, the way women’s bodies are represented as objects is different to the representation of male bodies as spectacle.

Gender is performative – our ideas of femininity and masculinity are constructed in our performances of these roles. Gender is ‘what we do’ rather than ‘what we are’. Moreover, Gender is contextual – its meaning changes with cultural and historical contexts.

Van Zoonen disagrees with arguments that the internet, being based on collaboration, is a technology that is true and close to women and femininity. These views are too simple and based on the idea of an essential femininity, whereas there is a rich diversity of ways that gender is articulated on the internet. 

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Feminist Theory – Bell Hooks

Feminism is a movement to end patriarchy: sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

‘Intersectionality’ refers to the intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality to create a ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’, whose ideologies dominate media representations. She argues that black women should develop an ‘oppositional gaze’ that refuses to identify with characters – the ‘gaze’ is political for black Americans, as slaves were punished for looking at their white owners. 

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Theories of Gender Performativity – Butler

Gender is created in how we perform our gender roles – there is no essential gender identity behind these roles, it is created in the performance. Performativity is not a singular act but a repetition and a ritual that becomes naturalised within the body.

Any feminism concerned only with masculinity and femininity excludes other forms of gender and sexuality. This creates ‘gender trouble’ for those that do not fit the heterosexual norms.

Butler is an important postmodern writer and has influenced Queer theory – theory which deconstructs and aims to destabilise apparently fixed identities based on gender and sexualities.


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Theories Around Ethnicity, and Post-Colonial Theor

The African diaspora caused by the slave trade has now constructed a transatlantic culture that is simultaneously African, American, Caribbean and British – the ‘Black Atlantic’.

Britain has failed to mourn its loss of empire, creating ‘postcolonial melancholia’, an attachment to an airbrushed version of British colonial history, which expresses itself in criminalising immigrants and an ‘us and them’ approach to the world founded on the belief in the inherent superiority of white western civilisation. 

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Power and Media Industries – Curran and Seaton

A political economy approach to the media – arguing that patterns of ownership and control are the most significant factors in how the media operate.

Media industries follow the normal capitalist pattern of increasing concentration of ownership in fewer and fewer hands. This leads to a narrowing of the range of opinions represented and a pursuit of profit at the expense of quality or creativity.

The internet does not represent a rupture with the past in that it does not offer a level playing field for diverse voices to be heard. It is constrained by nationalism and state censorship. News is still controlled by powerful news organisations, who have successfully defended their oligarchy. 

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Regulation – Livingstone and Lunt

Livingstone and Lunt studied four case studies of the work of Ofcom.

Ofcom is serving an audience who may be seen as consumers and/or citizens, with consequences for regulation: consumers have wants, are individuals, seek private benefits from the media, use the language of choice, and require regulation to protect against detriment; citizens have needs, are social, seek public or social benefits from the media, use the language of rights, and require regulation to promote the public interest.

Traditional regulation is being put at risk by: increasingly globalised media industries, the rise of the digital media, and media convergence.


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Cultural Industries – Hesmondhalgh

Cultural industries follow the normal capitalist pattern of increasing concentration and integration – cultural production is owned and controlled by a few conglomerates who vertically integrate across a range of media to reduce risk.

Risk is particularly high in the cultural industries because of the difficulty in predicting success, high production costs, low reproduction costs and the fact that media products are ‘public goods’ – they are not destroyed on consumption but can be further reproduced. This means that the cultural industries rely on ‘big hits’ to cover the costs of failure. Hence industries rely on repetition through use of stars, genres, franchises, repeatable narratives and so on to sell formats to audiences, then industries and governments try to impose scarcity, especially through copyright laws.

The internet has created new powerful IT corporations, and has not transformed cultural production in a liberating and empowering way – digital technology has sped up work, commercialised leisure time, and increased surveillance by government and companies. 

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Media Effects – Bandura

The media can influence people directly – human values, judgement and conduct can be altered directly by media modelling. Empirical evidence best supports direct influence rather than the alternative models of media effects: two-step flow, agenda-setting, no effects, or the media reflecting existing attitudes and behaviour.

Media representations of aggressive or violent behaviour can lead to imitation.

The media may influence directly or by social networks, so people can be influenced by media messages without being exposed to them.

Different media have different effects. The ‘new’ media offer opportunities for self-directedness. 

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Cultivation Theory – Gerbner

Exposure to television over long periods of time cultivates standardised roles and behaviours. Gerbner used content analysis to analyse repeated media messages and values, then found that heavy users of television were more likely, for example, to develop ‘mean world syndrome’ – a cynical, mistrusting attitude towards others – following prolonged exposure to high levels of television violence.

Gerbner found that heavy TV viewing led to ‘mainstreaming’ – a common outlook on the world based on the images and labels on TV. Mainstreamers would describe themselves as politically moderate. 

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Reception Theory – Hall

Hall’s ‘encoding-decoding’ model argued that media producers encode ‘preferred meanings’ into texts, but these texts may be ‘read’ by their audiences in a number of different ways:

 The dominant-hegemonic position: a ‘preferred reading’ that accepts the text’s messages and the ideological assumptions behind the messages

 The negotiated position: the reader accepts the text’s ideological assumptions, but disagrees with aspects of the messages, so negotiates the meaning to fit with their ‘lived experience’

 The oppositional reading: the reader rejects both the overt message and its underlying ideological assumptions. 

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Fandom – Jenkins

Fans act as ‘textual poachers’ – taking elements from media texts to create their own culture.

The development of the ‘new’ media has accelerated ‘participatory culture’, in which audiences are active and creative participants rather than passive consumers. They create online communities, produce new creative forms, collaborate to solve problems, and shape the flow of media. This generates ‘collective intelligence’.

From this perspective, convergence is a cultural process rather than a technological one.

Jenkins prefers the term ‘spreadable media’ to terms such as ‘viral’, as the former emphasises the active, participatory element of the ‘new’ media. 

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‘End of Audience’ Theories – Shirky

In the ‘old’ media, centralised producers addressed atomised consumers; in the ‘new’ media, every consumer is now a producer. Traditional media producers would ‘filter then publish’; as many ‘new’ media producers are not employees, they ‘publish then filter’.

These amateur producers have different motivations to those of professionals – they value autonomy, competence, membership and generosity. User-generated content creates emotional connection between people who care about something. This can generate a cognitive surplus – for example, Wikipedia can aggregate people’s free time and talent to produce value that no traditional medium could match.

‘The Audience’ as a mass of people with predictable behaviour is gone. Now, behaviour is variable across different sites, with some of the audience creating content, some synthesising content and some consuming content. The ‘old’ media created a mass audience. The ‘new’ media provide a platform for people to provide value for each other.

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