There are two main theories aboutrepresentation.They seek to explainwhy there are morethan one representationof a person or groupand why some of theseare more dominant thanothers.
THEORY 1: PLURALISMPluralism states thatthe media is apassive mirror – itsimply reflects whatis out there withoutinterfering with ormanipulatingmaterial in any way.
The fact that different representations existreflects the fact that different views about aperson or group exist within society.The media is, therefore, a kind of neutral record ofthe range of views about a person or group
How would pluralismexplain, then, that someviews are more commonor are more powerfulthan others?Pluralism would argue that a dominantrepresentation is one that more people insociety hold or accept, whereas an alternativerepresentation is one that fewer people hold.In this way, whether a representation isdominant or alternative is simply a barometerof its popularity!
Pluralism imagines that the media is like ademocracy – it exists to reflect the views of thepeople rather than impose its own!
THEORY 2: HEGEMONYHegemony is the theory linked to Marxisttheorist Antonio Gramsci. Hegemony states that power in society is vested in a small elite group. Amongst other things, this group controls the representations of people and groups that appear in the media.
This elite group (white,middle class, middleaged males), accordingto hegemony, use theirpower to promote apositive view of their owngroup and a negativeone of other groups.Over time, through repeated exposure to theseimages in the media, the aim was for theseimages and the ideas they encode to becomeseen as “normal”.
The repeated occurrence of these images wasintended to “brainwash” the other groups toaccept this power imbalance as normal (i.e.the fact that some groups have more powerand privilege than others)
The ultimate aim and hidden agenda of hegemonyis for the elite ruling group to keep themselves in aposition of superiority through ideology rather thanthrough civil strife and armed repression.In other words, if you can persuade thedowntrodden that it is natural and right for themto be worse off than the rich elite, then theyprobably will accept their lot and abandon therevolution!
Hegemony, unlikepluralism, sees themedia as a dictator -it seeks to control andinfluence how we seeothers and supposesthat the audience arepowerless to resist.
In terms of hegemony, dominantrepresentations are those foisted on society bythe ruling elite to further their own ends.
Alternativerepresentations becomethe voice of the oppressedunderclass seeking to beheard. They challenge theviews of the ruling group.Because they aresubversive, the ruling groupmay seek to deny thempresence in the media.This is entirely possible to achieve because oftenthe creators of alternative representations lackpower and access to the media.
Hegemony sees every act of representationas a political act: The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling classes (Marx) Those groups with more power are, in the main, able to exercise their influence culturally rather than by force (O’Sullivan, Dutton and Rayner)
The two theories differ in their idea aboutwhere the real power behind representationlies: PLURALISM assumes power lies with society and is not held by the media. HEGEMONY assumes that power is held by the media and those who control her
They also differ in how they regard therole of the media: PLURALISM sees the media as entirely neutral HEGEMONY sees the media as entirely biased
There are no definitive answers aboutwhich theory is right. Both have theirsupporters and detractors.As you explore representation, try towork out what YOU think aboutpluralism and hegemony!
Thinking It Through:Can you explain how someonewho supports the hegemonic viewmight explain how adverts forbeauty products work?•Consider what ideologies theypromote•Consider what effect they mighthave?•Consider who might want topromote these views?
How would a pluralist explain the prevalence ofbeauty ads in women’s magazines?
And what about thesame beautyideologies at workhere?