1. Key Concepts - representations
Representation – the process by which images, words or sounds are used
to indicate issues or debates beyond what they literally mean.
The most common form of representation is that of social groups, and
debates arise that analyse both the positive and the negative aspects of
representation. Debates tend to arise when a stereotype is either
explored or exploited.
Stereotype – an oversimplified definition of a person or type of person.
It is to place a person into a narrow definition that allows little or no
opportunity for change. It is frequently, though not always, a result of
A film character, for example, has importance because of their place
within the story world, but we could also extend their importance by
defining the social, political or racial group of which they are part and
then begin to discuss how that group is being treated within the film and
society. Audiences often respond to different representations actively
and bring their own thoughts about society and the world to that
1. Representation in soaps.
Media texts use representation to varying degrees and for various
reasons. For example, the representational potential of a soap character
can be established in a number of ways.
If the character is of a different ethnic minority than others in
the soap, or is part of an ethnic group, the issues concerning the
depiction of ethnic minorities might be debated. You need to
remember, however, that representation can be positive as well as
negative. It is important that you are aware of just who it is that
deems the stereotypes on display as positive or negative.
The focus of an episode or a series of episodes might be the
sexuality of a certain character and may deal with the responses of
other characters to that sexual orientation.
The gender of a character might be highlighted in an episode by
the experiences they have the treatment they receive, therefore
encouraging viewers to consider the depiction of men or women.
2. Key Concepts - representations
A character’s age might be a focus and their attitudes or behaviour
contrasted with those of other age groups. From this we might
consider the treatment of different age groups within society.
Social class is another area of possible representational debate,
and discussion may ensue from the problems characters have that
are connected with their socio-economic status.
An individual character or group of characters does not have to be part
of a minority in order to warrant representational debate.
2. Representation in newspapers
Any piece of photojournalism, even before it has appeared in a newspaper,
will have potential representational qualities. This discussion can be
extended when w consider the following factors:
The caption added to any image within a newspaper aims to fix the
audience’s potential reading of that image. The caption will help us
to consider not only the basic representational qualities of the
image, but also what the newspaper wishes us to understand from
An image will be chosen to highlight a particular aspect of the
story it has been chosen to illustrate. We use the text of the story
to extend any discussion of the representational debate evident in
The specific newspaper in which we see the image is also important
when discussing image representation. The newspaper’s political or
socio-economic leaning will have an impact on the way images are
used within it and will therefore inform our consideration of
The position of the image on the paper or within the newspaper is
another important point to consider. Newspapers are composed
through a hierarchy of importance, with the lead story on the
front page. The importance of the image and the representational
debate it explores can be understood when the positioning is
These factors help us to consider not just what is being debated, but also
how it is being debated.
Processes of representation can be analysed by considering all of the
factors that surround an image, sound or word. Remember to consider
where something has been placed, how it has been composed, the type of
3. Key Concepts - representations
publication, programme or film which is its context, the media institution
that has produced it, the current social debate surrounding it, and also
your own response to the way in which something is being represented.