What does it mean?
• Remember the word = re – present (to re present something)
• All media products re-present the real world to us; they show us one version of
reality, not reality itself.
• ‘THE CONSTRUCTION OF A REALITY’
• So, representation theory means thinking about how an institution represents
people, places or objects to an audience.
What is representation?
• How people/places/objects are represented or portrayed
• Think of AS exam – it’s all about looking at representation of the
MACRO by deconstructing the MICRO (how representation is
made by CAM SAM, MES, E, S)
• Consider ‘stereotypes’
– Simplistic, second hand, false, rarely change or do slowly
• Think about how ethnic minorities are represented in ‘border
patrol’ shows vs drama series – very different!
• How did you construct representation of people and places in your
Representation key points
• Representations become familiar through constant re-use and come to feel
'natural' and unmediated. A key concern is the way in which representations are
made to seem ‘natural’, despite the fact that they change over time.
• Representation is unavoidably selective, foregrounding some things and
• Representations require interpretation – meaning is often subject to individual
• Representation always involves 'the construction of reality' from a particular point
• Systems of representation are the means by which the concerns of ideologies are
framed to create ways of looking at texts; such value systems ‘position’ their
Theorist Their theory explained
Stuart Hall (1980)(same as audience)
• audience as active participants
• All about encoding and decoding
• producer does encoding ( constructs meaning through technical devices)
• -audience do the decoding (interpreting the meaning)
• quite often there is a difference between the producers intentions and the audience reads.
Hall states the audience can interpret texts in different ways:
1) preferred reading - as producer intended
2) negotiated reading - a combination of what producer intended but some oppositional
3) oppositional reading - a reading/ interpretation from the audience which is the opposite to what the producer
intended (because of their experience/knowledge)
• The idea is that every spectator has their own personal experience and knowledge and are able to
actively question or challenge a texts representation. Everyone's previous experience of media
texts and experience of the world shapes their interpretations of texts.
• OBVIOUS LINK TO REPRESENTATION – the meaning that audiences receive (do they understand your
intended representations (intended meanings)
• Stereotypes are often used as a cultural shorthand when represented by
• In the media, stereotypes are often products of assumption and/or
‘brand summaries’ of groups
• Therefore, stereotypes can brand groups (this can be good/bad)
• Dyer had argued that stereotypes are only used to reinforce peoples
differences and singling people out as this stereotype.
• Dyer had also argued that stereotypes are used to represent peoples
differences as natural.
• EG: Stereotypes about youth represents that they are all wreck less
and irresponsible - giving the brand of 'youth' to everyone.
• Denotation (literal meaning), connotation
(associated meanings or symbolism)
• Audiences interprets connotations from
denotations of signs based on their own previous
i.e. Colour red
• Denotation: the colour itself
• Connotation: love, passion, blood/murder
More Barthes (a bit complex)
• Meaning includes both denotation and connotation. 'Denotation' tends to be described as the
definitional, 'literal', 'obvious' or 'commonsense' meaning of a sign. The term 'connotation' is used
to refer to the socio-cultural and 'personal' associations (ideological, emotional etc.) of the sign.
These are typically related to the interpreter's class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Signs are
more 'polysemic' - more open to interpretation - in their connotations than their denotations.
• Barthes argued that in photography connotation can be (analytically) distinguished from denotation
As Fiske puts it 'denotation is what is photographed, connotation is how it is photographed'
• Related to connotation is what Roland Barthes refers to as myth. We usually associate myths with
classical fables about the exploits of gods and heroes. But for Barthes myths were the dominant
ideologies of our time.
• Like metaphors, myths help us to make sense of our experiences within a culture. They express and
serve to organize shared ways of conceptualizing something within a culture. Their function is to
naturalize the cultural - in other words, to make dominant cultural and historical values, attitudes
and beliefs seem entirely 'natural', 'normal', self-evident, timeless, obvious 'common-sense' - and
thus objective and 'true' reflections of 'the way things are'.
• It is possible to argue that all media representations relate to broader cultural myths and belief
• Related to Barthes ….
• 'denotation is what is photographed, connotation
is how it is photographed‘
• A female victim being killed
• Shot in a high angle, with an effect makes it
Laura Mulvey (1975)
• ‘THE MALE GAZE’
• ‘Male gaze’ is the idea that all spectators of mainstream cinema are
positioned from a male point of view, positions the audience as
• Camera gazes at the female on screen, frames the male character
watching the female
• Texts represent and encourage voyeurism & objectification of
– We watch the girl;
– we see male watching the girl
– We position ourselves within the text as a male objectively gazing at
• Mulvey distinguishes between two modes of looking for the film spectator: voyeuristic and
– Voyeuristic looking involves a controlling gaze and Mulvey argues that this has associations with sadism:
(getting pleasure from inflicting pain/humiliation/suffering on others)
– i.e. watching a female stripper could inevitably lead the audience to change how they see her; they are
watching her as though she knows you they controlling the situation, (for example, it could lead to them
exploiting her and laughing at her)
– i.e. you watch slasher horror films and look at the female characters by almost getting a pleasure from
watching her get hurt (females are often the victims!)
• Fetishistic looking, in contrast, involves turning a represented figure into a ‘fetish’ so it’s reassuring
and not ‘dangerous’
– This builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying.
– Fetishistic looking, she suggests, leads to over-valuation of the female image and to the cult of the female
– i.e. we look at female bodies and look at them as objects of beauty; watching female strippers, the audience
would look at her body and think it was beautiful
– i.e. when we watch a horror film and we see the female victim, we appreciate her beauty and define her as
beautiful from the way her body looks (SCOPOPPHILIA: the pleasure of watching other bodies)
• Mulvey argues that the film spectator dithers between these two forms of looking
• “Identities are not ‘given’ but are constructed and negotiated (exchanged).”
• i.e male magazines = social construction of masculinity
(society forms the ideal of what a man should look like so
therefore his representation is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED.
This changes depending on audience/context (ex time
period or type of audience)
– Male ideal different 50 years ago
– Male ideal different within different cultures or social groups (ex
• Similar to Gauntlett….
• Done through a study of teen girl magazines
“a kind of false sisterhood that assumes a common
definition of womanhood or girlhood”
By having this bond with each other creates the illusion of
the perfect woman/girl – that they ‘stick together’ – this
makes defines a part of being female (when in actuality
there is loads of complexities/facets to us!!!)
• “Female models addressed to women appear
to imply a male point of view”
• Almost like they look down on them and view
them from the perspective of males
• “look how amazingly attractive I am”
• (links to mulvey/gauntlett/mcrobbie)
Helen Mott (2009)
• Representation of gender
• Conducted research of representation of
gender in Cbeebies programmes
– Under representation of females and gender
• More male narrators
• More male lead characters
• Females more peripheral characters/roles (not key to
• “Gender is what you do, not what you are”
• Reinforcing Gauntlett's theory – gender is
• We define gender by our behaviours, not
because we have female parts
• i.e. girls chat at sleepovers, go shopping, etc
Theorist Their theory explained
Hall Preffered, negotiated, oppositional meanings
Dyer Stereotypes often brand groups - effects of stereotypes can groups
appear to be accurate/natural and form assumptions of them
Barthes denotation/connotation – connotations as ‘myths’ (dominate ideologies)
Fiske Denotation – what photographed, connotation – how photographed
Mulvey Male gaze – audience positioned as males who gaze/look
Gauntlett Identities are not ‘given’ but constructed and negotiated
McRobbie Sisterhood gives the illusion of ‘womanhood’ ‘ girlhood’ (forms
ideologies about femaleness)
Massaris Female models addressed to women appear to imply male POV
Mott Under-representation of females in kids TV
Butler Gender is what you do, not what you are
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