Theories 1

Tess Perkins' stereotyping theory

Tess Perkins’ says that stereotypes are not always negative and not always about minority groups. She also says that they can be held about one’s own group, that they are not rigid or unchanging and that they aren’t always wrong.

Roland Barthes semiotic theory

This is the idea that texts communicate their meanings through a process of signification and that constructed meanings can come to seem self-evident, achieving the status of myth through a process of naturalisation. It is also the idea that signs can function at the level of denotation, which involves the ‘literal’ or common-sense meaning of the sign, and at the level of connotation, which involves the meanings associated with or suggested by the sign.

Tzvetan Todorov narratology theory

This is the idea that all narratives share a basic structure that involves a movement from one state of equilibrium to another, that these two states of equilibrium are separated by a period of imbalance or disequilibrium and that the way in which narratives are resolved can have particular ideological significance.

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Theories 2

Stuart Hall reception theory

Stuart Hall claimed that media texts go through stages of encoding and decoding. This theory states that media texts are encoded by the producer and that the texts contain only the ideologies of the people who made the media text. Decoding is when an audience views the text and interprets their own ideologies into the text. Not all audiences will respond in the same way, and in some cases, not how the producer intended. The theory is an active audience theory which sees the audience as being actively engaged in the interpretation of media texts, rather than passive consumers. The idea is that individuals interpret texts in different ways. It demonstrates that even though one message is sent out, that not one understanding is received. When a producer creates a text it is encoded with a meaning or message that they want to convey to a mass audience. This is called preferred reading. Sometimes the producer can encode a message that is not correctly understood by an audience making the message not effective. Numerous factors add to whether we take the dominant, oppositional or negotiated reading. The areas are as follows: life experience, mood at time of viewing, age, culture, beliefs and gender. Hall included three different types of audience decoding of text: dominant (audience agrees with the message the producers of the media text are trying to show), negotiated (the audience agrees with the text but disagree with other areas they have their own views on) and oppositional (audience rejects the encoded meaning and interprets the media text in a different way than was supposed to show).

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Theories 3

David Morley reception theory

From the 1970s, researchers from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) researched into the relationship between texts and audiences. One of these was The Nationwide Project by David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon. The Nationwide Project was a media audience research project where Morley conducted research with  people from different educational and occupational backgrounds. He observed different responses to a video clip to see whether the audience would receive it with dominant, oppositional or negotiated readings. The initial conclusion was that decoding cannot be solely due to the socioeconomic status of the decoder, as people  from the same class location produced different readings. However, a media critic's re-analysis of the project's findings suggests that 'audience's social positions structure their understandings and evaluations of television programmes in quite consistent directions and patterns.' Also, middle class viewers produced negotiated readings, while working class viewers produced dominant or oppositional readings dependent on their gender and race. Morley's audience theory found that people from different social backgrounds, occupations and surroundings receive media texts differently. The producers of these media texts would have intended a meaning which the audience would receive differently depending on these social factors. Morley's research stemmed from Stuart Hall's development of reception theory. It is a theoretical approach of how media messages are produced, disseminated (spread), and interpreted. His model claims that TV and other media audiences are presented with messages that are decoded, or interpreted in different ways depending on an individual's cultural background, economic standing, and personal experiences. Hall presented the idea that audience members can play a role in decoding messages as they rely on their own social contexts, and might be capable of changing messages themselves. 

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Theories 4

Steve Neale genre theory

This is the idea that genres may be dominated by repetition, but are also marked by difference, variation and change. It is also the idea that genres change, develop and vary as they borrow from and overlap with one another and that genres exist within specific economic, institutional and industrial contexts.

Claude Levi-Strauss Structuralism theory

This is the idea that texts can be best understood through an examination of their underlying structure, that meaning is dependent upon (and produced through) pairs of oppositions and that the way in which these binary opposites are resolved can have particular ideological significance.

Jean Baudrillard Postmodernism theory

This is the idea that in postmodern culture the boundaries between the ‘real’ world and the world of the media have collapsed and that it is no longer possible to distinguish between reality and simulation. It is also the idea that in a postmodern age of simulacra we are immersed in a world of images which no longer refer to anything ‘real’ and that media images have come to seem more ‘real’ than the reality they supposedly represent (hyperreality).

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Theories 5

Stuart Hall representation theory

This is the idea that representation is the production of meaning through language, with language defined in its broadest sense as a system of signs and that the relationship between concepts and signs is governed by codes. It is also the idea that stereotyping, as a form of representation, reduces people to a few simple characteristics or traits, and that stereotyping tends to occur where there are inequalities of power, as subordinate or excluded groups are constructed as different or ‘other’.

David Gauntlett Identity theory

This is the idea that the media provide us with ‘tools’ or resources that we use to construct our identities. It is also the idea that whilst in the past the media tended to convey singular, straightforward messages about ideal types of male and female identities, the media today offer us a more diverse range of stars, icons and characters from whom we may pick and mix different ideas.


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Theories 6

Bell Hooks Feminist theory

Hooks says that term racism keeps white people in the centre of the discussion and argued that feminism pays too little attention to race and class, and too much attention to middle class white women. The theory is critical of the way white women are shown as skinny and fit the view of beauty, and Hooks’ argued that black women are objectified and sexualised, reflecting the colonialist view of black women. The theory says that mediated representations of black women promote the white supremacist, patriarchal ideologies. Hooks’ defines feminism as ‘a struggle to end sexist oppression’, focusing attention on the ideology of domination that permeates western culture and dispelling the myth that feminism is anti-male, and uses ‘imperialistic white supremacist patriarchy’ to describe our nation’s political system. The theory is the idea that feminism is a political commitment rather than a lifestyle choice, and also that race and class, as well as sex, determine the extent to which individuals are exploited, discriminated against or oppressed.

 Judith Butler Gender Performativity theory

This is the idea that identity is performatively constructed by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results (it is manufactured through a set of acts), and that there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender. It is also the idea that performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual.

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Theories 7

Paul Gilroy Ethnicity and Postcolonial theory

This is the idea that colonial discourses continue to inform contemporary attitudes to race and ethnicity in the postcolonial era, and that civilisationism constructs racial hierarchies and sets up binary oppositions based on notions of otherness.

Curran and Seaton Power and Media Industries theory

This is the idea that the media is controlled by a small number of companies primarily driven by the logic of profit and power and that media concentration generally limits or inhibits variety, creativity and quality. It is also the idea that more socially diverse patterns of ownership help to create the conditions for more varied and adventurous media products.

Sonia Livingstone and Peter Lunt Regulation theory

This is the idea that there is an underlying struggle in recent UK regulation policy between the need to further the interests of citizens (by offering protection from harmful or offensive material), and the need to further the interests of consumers (by ensuring choice, value for money and market competition). It is also the idea that the increasing power of global media corporations, together with the rise of convergent media technologies and transformations in the production, distribution and marketing of digital media, have placed traditional approaches to media regulation at risk.

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Theories 8

David Hesmondhalgh Cultural Industries theory

This is the idea that cultural industry companies try to minimise risk and maximise audiences through vertical and horizontal integration, and by formatting their cultural products (e.g. through the use of stars, genres and serials). It is also the idea that the largest companies or conglomerates now operate across a number of different cultural industries, and that the radical potential of the internet has been contained to some extent by its partial incorporation into a large, profit-orientated set of cultural industries.

Albert Bandura Media Effects theory

This is the idea that the media can implant ideas in the mind of the audience directly, and that audiences acquire attitudes, emotional responses and new styles of conduct through modelling. It is also the idea that representations of transgressive behaviour can lead audience members to imitate those forms of behaviour.

George Gerbner Cultivation theory

This is the idea that exposure to repeated patterns of representation over long periods of time can shape and influence the way in which people perceive the world around them (cultivating certain views and opinions), and that cultivation reinforces mainstream values (dominant ideologies). 

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Theories 9

Henry Jenkins Fandom theory

This is the idea that fans are active participants in the construction and circulation of textual meanings, and that fans appropriate texts and read them in ways that are not fully authorised by the media producers (textual poaching). It is also the idea that fans construct their social and cultural identities through borrowing and inflecting mass culture images, and are part of a participatory culture that has a vital social dimension.

Clay Shirky ‘End of Audience’ theory

This is the idea that the internet and digital technologies have had a profound effect on the relations between media and individuals. It is also the idea that that the conceptualisation of audience members as passive consumers of mass media content is no longer tenable in the age of the internet, as media consumers have now become producers who ‘speak back to’ the media in various ways, as well as creating and sharing content with one another.

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Theories 10

Liesbet van Zoonen Feminist theory

This is the idea that gender is constructed through discourse, and that its meaning varies according to cultural and historical context, and also the idea that the display of women’s bodies as objects to be looked at is a core element of western patriarchal culture. It is also the idea that in mainstream culture the visual and narrative codes that are used to construct the male body as spectacle differ from those used to objectify the female body.

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