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Mass communication & media literacy 03
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Mass communication & media literacy 03


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  • 1. Mass Communication & Media Literacy 03
  • 2. The Greek word ‘logos’
    indicates a rational principle
    and order to explaining phenomena
    Semiology seeks to identify how the content of media messages come to have significance and mean what they do
    ‘sem’ comes from the Greek for sign
    and is found in words such as semaphore
    and semantics
  • 3. Semiology
    The study of meaning and the different systems that make meaning possible
    Bodily gestures
    Media forms in all their variety
  • 4. Rhetoric
    Draws our attention to what someone is saying, along with the setting, the way they speak, etc.
    Why do specific things (a ‘posh’ accent, a black face, a suit and tie, a grey backdrop, the street rather than the studio, mean what they do?
    How is meaning created?
    Not in the mind of the reader ...
    Not in the text ...
    In the interaction between reader and text
  • 5. ‘Psychologically, what are our ideas, apart from our language? They probably do not exist. Or in a form that may be described as amorphous. We should probably be unable according to philosophers and linguists to distinguish two ideas clearly with the help of language’ (Saussure, 1993)
    Language doesn’t describe the world ... it constitutes it!
  • 6. Key thinkers
    Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913)
    Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914)
    Roland Barthes (1915-1980)
    Umberto Eco (1932 - )
  • 7. Core ideas
    Media texts are constructions
    Not natural but manufactured
    Meanings are the result of social convention not any ‘essential’ property in things or the relationship of words or other signs to the things or concepts depicted
    Meanings are socially determined, the organisation and rules of language
    Meaning is as much a result of conventions as it is the intentions of those who produced the texts
  • 8. The meaning of a song is not fixed by the songwriter or singer
    Meanings are produced by the conventions of used both by media workers and the listeners who consume it
    Hidden meanings/sub-texts
  • 9. Why stop at red?
    Signifier = physical properties of a sign
    Signified = the conceptual aspect of the sign
  • 10. The picture of dog presents us with the sign ‘dog’. The signifier (the image itself, with 2D physical properties) presents the signified of both ‘dogness’ and this particular dog (Sparky) in the image.
  • 11. I took my dog to the vets on Friday.
    I’m dog-tired.
    I’m going to kill that dog of a boyfriend of mine.
    Don’t focus on the analysis of signs at the level of signifier and signified as the basis of understanding.
    Stay at the level of the sign as a way of understanding how language works
  • 12. From linguistics to media studies
    Saussure was a linguist who realised that his analysis of language could be applied to any form of communication or signifying system.
    So, we can extend the semiological approach to identify the signs in
    Computer games
    TV programmes
    Magazine articles
    Pieces of music
    And this will take us deeper than rhetoric allowed
  • 13. Semiology: tools & techniques
    Signs combine together to create meaningful text
    Single word signs – sentences – paragraphs – stories
    Written elements – typeface – images – photos
    Facial features – hairstyles – clothing – backgrounds
    Meaning is determined by the selection of signs and their combination in text
    Semiology makes sense of the process and the signifying results of that selection and combination
  • 14. Langue
    Paradigm or syntagm
    The whole system of signification and its elements
    Any particular utterance derived from the system or langue
    Principles or rules of how language or any signifying system is put together. Paradigm is the vertical relationship: syntagm is the horizontal relationship
    Study or meaning making at a particular time
    Changes in language over time
  • 15. Verbal and visual signs
    Don’t be fooled!
    Once an object is captured by a signifying system (a dog in digital photographic form or on filmic celluloid) it is no longer an innocent object. It now exists as a sign – something selected and embraced within a system of communication
  • 16. Texts made out of complex signs
    What are the most significant elements of this text?
    Which signs are most meaningful and how are they meaningful in the hierarchy of the text?
  • 17. Denotation & connotation
    Barthes took up Saussure’s work and used them to think about the social context and role of the media
    Any sign will be associated with an initial aspect of signification but that this will trigger further associations
    Literal meaning – denotation
    Further associative meanings - connotation
  • 18.
  • 19. Sign-object relationships
    Pierce suggested three possible relationships between signs and the objects to which they refer:
    Iconic relationship
  • 20. Organisation of signs in texts
    Different signs combined differently create different readings – connotations change
    Polysemy – we read signs differently depending on our particular social context especially in relation to power
  • 21. Eco and code
    Polysemous readings are possible because of the notion of ‘code’
    a means of converting information into a special format in order to communicate it
    A set of rules for doing so
    If the code that is used by the reader is a different one to that used to create a text then a reading different to that intended by the creators will result.
    Preferred readings
    Aberrant readings
    Media producers want to keep aberrant readings to a minimum.
    How do they do that?
  • 22. Semiological analyses
    How do you know that any such analysis is valid?
    Demonstrating inter-subjective reading
    Providing detailed structural support for our analysis
    Ultimately, how persuasive can we be?