You are on page 1of 20

A Level Media Studies Theories

Key Theory / Theorist Explanation

This theory proposes that every sign and
symbol used by humans has a certain
meaning and the context that it appears
helps assign that meaning to the audience
who receive it

Hermeneutic code: Enigma code-an

element in a story that’s not explained fully,
and becomes an enigma for the reader,
raising questions that demand explication.
Proairetic code: Action code-an action that
Roland Barthes indicates something else will happen -
builds interest or suspense for the reader

Symbolic code: Binary oppositions or

themes - the deeper meaning of the text

Semantic code: refers to connotation within

the story that gives additional meaning
over the basic denotative meaning of the
Media word

Binary opposition: In structuralism, a binary

opposition is seen as a fundamental
organiser of human philosophy, culture,
and language. A relationship between
opposing ideas.

Examples of Binary opposites:

Good v Evil
Structuralism Male v Female
Claude Levi-Strauss Antagonist v Protagonist
East v West
Man v Nature
Young v Old
McDonalds v Burger King

Binary opposite is the central focus of a

narrative structure.

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
We use the internet and other media texts

Theory of identity to help us to create our identity. We now

have more of a variety of representations
David Gauntlett
to identify with.

Audiences think about their own identity,

attitudes, behaviour and lifestyle in relation
to those of media figures. Some may be
potential 'role models', others just the
opposite - individuals make decisions and
judgements about their own way of living.

It is for this reason that the 'role model'

remains an important concept, although it
should not be taken to mean someone that
a person wants to copy. Instead, role
models serve as navigation points as
individuals steer their own personal routes
through life.

Feminist theory States that feminism is a struggle to end
bell hooks the patriarchal (male) oppression and the
ideology of domination.

States that feminism is a political

commitment rather than a lifestyle choice.

States the idea that race and class, as well

as sex, determine the extent to which
individuals are exploited, discriminated
against or oppressed.

The fact that women are treated as second

class citizens, that if you are homosexual
or women of colour that you are the
underdog of society and that we are at the
bottom of the food chain. The fact that
society will be dominated by men  in
which she wants to live in a more equal
and fairer society.

The idea that feminism isn’t an issue that

effects women but it effects everybody,
men too, the idea that men should be
feminists also.

Bell hooks states that “Women in lower

class and poor groups, particularly those
who are non-white, would not have defined
women’s liberation as women gaining
social equality with men since they are
continually reminded in their everyday lives
that all women do not share a common
social status” portraying the fact that
feminism has been dealt with half-
heartedly, moreover the fact that you will
only have social power or status if you are
black or any person of colour  putting you
far down the social structure.

Feminist Theory Classification:
Liesbel Van Zoonen Liberal Feminism:
 Reformist approach to feminism
 Equal gender relations being
brought about by equal opportunities
 Doesn’t seem to question the power
dimensions in society that maintain
male superiority of status and
female inferiority
 Concentrates on sexual roles
stereotypes, prescriptions or sexual
behaviors, appearance, interests,
skills and self-perceptions
 Women shown in media are
perceived to be the wife, mother,
daughter, girlfriend and as working
traditionally female jobs or as sexual
 Possibly shown as usually young
and beautiful but not very well
 Social Liberal Feminism solutions:
 Women should be in more equal
positions of society and enter male
dominated fields
 Creating awareness about
 Women magazines should portray
women as independent and
assertive career women
Radical Feminism:
 Radical feminist have been seen to
be politicising issues formerly
considered as private
 Media strategies of radical feminism
are straightforward

He emphasises how important visual
representation is and how image is a sign
of modern culture.

It means to present or show something off

towards the media.

The studies on representation is to focus

Representation theory
on different social groups and how they are
Stuart Hall represented. Hall also expresses of the use
and advance in communication also
saturates visual representation and how we
are seen in the media.

Also Hall sees representation as an away

way to “stand in for us” for example political
figures stand in for us etc

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
Examines the long term effects of media
Suggests exposure to media cultivates, or
develops the viewer’s perception of reality

The idea is: the longer people spend “living” in

the world of media (e.g. television); the more
likely they are to believe that their reality aligns
Cultivation Theory
with the reality portrayed on television
George Gerbner
The images and messages communicated
through popular media heavily influence
perceptions of the real world

All types of media shape the way individuals

relate to each other

Reception theory This theory was first developed in his 1973 essay
Stuart Hall 'Encoding and Decoding in the Television
Discourse'. His approach, called
the encoding/decoding model of communication,
is a form of textual analysis that focuses on the
scope of "negotiation" and "opposition" by
the audience.

This means that a text is not simply passively

accepted by the audience, but that the
reader/viewer interprets the meanings of the text
based on her or his individual cultural
background and life experiences. In essence, the
meaning of a text is not inherent within the text
itself, but is created within the relationship
between the text and the reader.

The uses and gratifications theory was proposed
by Blumer and Katz, and consists of four main
points. When we choose a form of media it has
to (according to the theory) fulfil at least one of
the four, although there is a potential for
overlapping points

 Being able to recognise parts of yourself in
what you are seeing. E.g being able to
identify with particular characters.
 Aspiring to be like characters and seeing
them as role models.
Uses & Gratifications
 Seeing others who reflect your values.
Blumer & Katz Education
 Being given information and knowledge.

 We use media as a distraction from our
daily lives.
 We enjoy escapism to alternative ‘worlds’
or ‘stories’.
Social Interaction
 Media can create discussion between
 The media encourages the audience to
get involved with each other.

Tessa Perkins Nine Qualifications to what seems like common sense about stereotypes:

Tessa Perkins Nine Common sense about Stereotypes Condition Definition
The Irish tourist board propagates a positive stereotype
of Ireland. A land of friendly drinking, music, greenery
Positive Stereotypes are
and 'the crack'. This stereotype also helps to sell
not always negative
Guinness on St Patrick's day.

You can hold a stereotype of your own social group they

don't have to be about other people. Ie We could all use
t' ee by gum Yorkshire stereotype and we may even
Own recognise people we know in parts of it - we may even
identify with it and find identity/community in it. Certainly
when I'm in the company of Southerners I flatten mi
vowels like mi cap!
Stereotypes are not necessarily all about oppressed
social groups. We can have stereotypes of High Court
Judges. (Though they are in positions of power and
Oppressed could complain if they took offence.)

Audiences and Media producers can hold a stereotype

without necessarily believing it (or all of it) We all
recognise the 'Hallo Hallo' style Frenchman but we don't
believe it. Perhaps we are more likely to believe
Hold stereotypes when we can't readily 'reality check' them
i.e. if you've never been to France and never seen a
French film or met a Frenchman maybe you're more
likely to believe the stereotype.

Not all parts of all stereotypes are false. Cowboys do

wear hats - although the idea that they ride horses may
False now be out of date, they perhaps use quads to get
around? (Perhaps the true parts make you susceptible
to believing the false parts?)

Tessa Perkins Nine Qualifications to what seems like common sense about stereotypes:

Theory Condition Definition

Tessa Perkins Nine Common sense about Stereotypes

Stereotypes are not all simple. The example Perkins gives is

of the 'dumb blonde' she is childlike and knowing, innocent
Complex and Simple and manipulative.

Holding a stereotype and even believing all or part of it does

not necessarily make you act in ways that oppress other
social groups. In an extreme example, an audience might
Behaviour hold racist Asian stereotypes to be true but they are not
necessarily going to vote NF or abuse actual Asian people.

While it is true that stereotypes often lag behind the times

that produced them, it is not true that they are unchanging.
Unchanging They do adapt and develop as society changes and/or
audiences get bored.

Just as not all stereotypes are at the expense of oppressed

social groups neither are they all at the expense of minorities.
Minorities We have stereotypes of men for example.

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
the importance of money and status in
society and that your reputation is
governed by how much money you earn or
promotion of mixed sex relationships (male
+ female) and that the attraction and
keeping of a member of the opposite sex
helps build your reputation in society

the promotion of males as the dominant

PATRIARCHAL gender in society and that males should
assume more positions of power
the constant search to improve oneself in
status in society. This is normally the realm
BOURGEOIS of the professional middle class where your
job, marriage and family are statements of
your social success
the promotion of the family unit and the
FAMILIAL basis of a stable society. The family unit is
the building block of society

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
- This is where an Institution devises a
Construction product that should appeal to a set
- This is the actual watching, listening or
buying of the product.
The Audience is split into six social grades
Advertiser Social Grades from A-F so as to help marketers target
their audience more effectively
The audience is split into 5 groups based
upon their psychological needs:
Psychographics Emulators
Socially Conscious Achievers
Need Directed
This is used by marketers to target the
areas where people live when they are
targeting their audience for their products.
(e.g. is it a youthful urban audience, or a
more safety conscious middle aged
suburban audience?)
These set of 14 lifestyle types are again
Lifestyle Types used by marketers to help them define and
target their audience for their products
This theory has been very much linked to
how advertisers target the wants and
Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs needs of their target audience by appealing
to them on as many Levels as the pyramid
This states that audiences consume texts
in three ways
primary = we actively consume the text e.g.
secondary = we are aware of the text but
Audience Consumption Theory
not actively consuming (e.g. radio in the
Tertiary = we are not fully aware of the text
or actively consume it (e.g. billboard
This is a marketing theory that uses a
AIDA Principle process of four acts to promote products
from Action, Interest, Decision, Action

Key Theory / Theorist Explanation
This theory suggests that audiences only
Audience Consumption Theories

take the meanings from the media that the

Institution wants them to and do not actively
Passive Audiences
seek out what they would like to consume.
They are passive to the messages inherent
in the media.
- This a theory that suggests that the media
inject values and ideas into the audience via
Hypodermic Needle Theory their texts and that people will believe those
messages, values and ideas over a long
period of time.
This theory suggests that the glamourisation
of the world the media provides allows the
audiences to live out fantasy and escape
the mundanity of their existence. So the
media provides a ‘social service’ by allowing
The Safety Valve Effect people to take out their frustrations and
anxieties through the media. (e.g. the hatred
and vehemence shown towards a member
of the Big Brother House could help an
audience release their pent up anger at the
TV rather than another person).
The Effects Debate This theory raises issues of how much
ultra violent texts could lead to the media texts influences the audience. For
audience being desensitized to example ultra violent texts could lead to the
violence and therefore needing a audience being desensitized to violence and
higher rate of violence to be therefore needing a higher rate of violence
stimulated or satisfied. to be stimulated or satisfied.

This theory says that audiences are well

aware of the power of the media and are
able to make judgements about their media
Active Audiences consumption in a media savvy way.
Audiences are active in what the do or do
not want to consume. This theory is in direct
opposition to Passive Theories
Audience Reception Theory (Stuart Hall said that audiences choose to receive
Hall) texts one of three ways:
Preferred Meaning = we accept the
Institutions meaning
Negotiated Meaning = we accept, but not all
Oppositional Meaning = we reject all

The theory states that audiences get four
uses from the media. (Personal identity,
Uses and Gratifications Theory
social interaction, information and

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
The theory suggest that the media fulfills
the audiences wants and desires and
presents them with a generic world that is
Dyer’s Entertainment & Utopia
far superior and more exciting than their
own. (e.g. the glitz and glamour of X-Factor
is more exhilarating than the everyday
experience of working in a factory)
This theory suggest that audiences seek
media texts that present them with a world
Dyer’s Entertainment & Utopia that is worse and more depressing than
Theory Inverted their own which will give audiences a more
positive outlook on their own world and
make them feel better.
This is where films have less effect over
Audience spectators over time and repeated
Consumption viewings. This is linked to the Effects
Theories Debates where spectators become
desensitised to violence and therefore their
The Desensitisation Theory threshold becomes higher and therefore
they need more shocking images to get an
emotional response and there films get
more violent and that has been linked to
the increase of social problems in the last
two decades
This is a theory where Institutions repeat
similar films to try and increase their
revenue, but knowing that the repeating of
The Law of Diminishing Returns similar films will mean cheapening the
brand image of the films, but the revenue
will diminish over time, but it will be
cheaper to make

Key Concept Theory / Theorist Explanation
narrative is not seen as a linear structure
but a circular one. The narrative is driven
by attempts to restore the equilibrium.
Tzetvan Todorov
However, the equilibrium attained at the
end of the story is not identical to the initial
Vladimir Propp studied fairy takes and
recognised a set of STOCK
CHARACTERS in every story.
Vladimir Propp He also concluded that all the characters
could be resolved into only 8 broad
character types in the 100 tales he
Levi-Strauss claimed that stories can only
Claude Levi-Strauss exist with BINARY OPPOSITES, which are
elements that are against each other,
Roland Barthes explored how an audience
DECODES a text and outlined a list of
codes that we all use to construct meaning
from a text.
1. Enigma Code - anything that sets up
a question of a mystery
2. Action Code - actions and
behaviour in the text that are
universally understood (e.g. a fist
Roland Barthes fight)
3. Semic Code - the way characters,
events, settings are ascribed
meaning by the culture making the
4. Symbolic Code - use of binary
oppositions or psychological
5. Cultural Code -codes that are
understood throughout the world
Structuralism This theory was art of a movement from
the 1950s onwards that said that
everything has a structure within art,
linguistics and literature (e.g. narrative
theories by Propp and Todorov)

This theory was a rejection of Structuralism
and said that art, linguistics and literature
doesn’t have structure (e.g. Roland
Barthes narrative codes) and that signs
Post-Structuralism and symbols are interchangeable and can
be recombined with other signs and
symbols to create new meanings.Post-
Structuralism is quite similar to Post-

Wider Contexts
Wider Context Theory / Theorist Explanation
the application of one’s own cultural norms to that
of another. Some people have accused The
American media or presented a very Americanised
view of the world, with the Western world being the
‘good guys’ and the Middle East and other
‘foreigners’ being the bad guys!
Propaganda Model- the media aims to create fear
as a tool for consuming media texts. It could be
suggested that post 9/11, the western world lives
Chomsky in fear of attack and that encourages to watch
more political thrillers and programmes that deal
with the threat of terrorism, hence increasing
revenues for those types of texts
The Media demonises events to portray an unfair
reflection. Baker was saying that the media will
always aim to project a negative view of any group
in society to use Levi-Strauss’ binary opposites
theory where drama and conflict are easy ways to
Political Contextual

engage an audience.
Mass production of texts tend to a ‘dumbing down’

of audiences into being placated by the profit

making Capitalist model.
Adorno Adorno was saying that the media Institutions will
always simplify their texts and products so as to
appeal to the largest audience to increase their
The dominant ideology in media products, usually
supporting white, middle class and male
Hegemony viewpoints. This is the view that the world of media
is dominated by white middle class male
viewpoints in all its texts.
the belief that the audience can dictate the content
and construction of the media (Liberal
Pluralism is the political idea that all people within
a society have the chance to have their viewpoints
reflected, e.g. through democratic voting and
freedom of expression)
The Media manipulate the audience into believe
that they can dictate the content and subject of
Antonio Gramsci
media products (pluralism) when actually the
Concession Theory
hegemonic dominant ideology is still being

Wider Context Theory / Theorist Explanation
a theory that covers a nations wish to expand
its influence militarily or economically over
weaker nations and culture and seeks to bring
the weaker culture under the superior culture
of the conqueror. (e.g. The British Empire of
the 1700 and 1800s controlled one third of the
extu Cont Politi

world and the British culture was the most

dominant culture in terms of language and
identity. The USA is perceived to be the most
dominant culture in the world today.)
this theory highlights the change in a colonized

society after the end of the controlling


country’s Influence. (e,g. how the British

Empire’s colonies have developed since the
Post Colonialism fall of the British Empire at the beginning of the
20th Century). The theory states that colonies
try to look for areas of hybridity and
transculturisation between the Empire and
Colony to bring about a new cultural identity.

Wider Context Theory / Theorist Explanation
The Male Gaze Theory – media texts are
constructed from a ‘male point of view’ with
Laura Mulvey
emphasis on males as the dominant sex and
females as the subservient and object of desire
‘meaning is constantly being produced in every
social environment and place’.
Woodward This suggests that the media is constantly
adapting to the social changes going on , rather
then dictating them.
This theory states that social changes lead to
constant self evaluation of society and culture.
This means that the media has to take into
Context Theories

account sociological changes and cultivates


Anthony Giddens -
(pulls together) all these changes and then aims
Cultivation Theory
to represent and reflect these changes in their
texts. (e.g. the representation of ethnicity has
changed considerably as the UK has become
more multi-cultural)
A movement that sought to focus on making art,
literature and society being progressive rather
than traditionalist. This led to the development
of Impressionist Art and also the psychological
theories of Sigmund Freud who looked at the
Individual rather than society.
This was reaction to Modernism and sought to
bring new meanings by combining signs and
symbols from contemporary culture and mixing
Post Modernism
them with cultural references from the past to
make a more dynamic and complex way of
creating new cultural references.

Wider Context Theory / Theorist Explanation
This is the sociological stance of women from the
early 20th Century that looked to bring about equal
rights for women in society.
The movement really took off in the 1960s. Radical
Feminism has by its nature sought to put women into
more powerful roles than men and aimed to bring
about women’s power in society at the expense of
Contex Sociol

Liberal Feminism is a less aggressive approach

which seeks equality for women with men.
This theory was very much at the fore of society in
the 1990s where women abandoned their

aggressive stance on being sexualized in society

and sought to use the typical objectification and

sexualisation of women in society as a means of


power and progress. This meant women were at

ease with being objectified and used the glamour of
Post Feminism
objectification as a means of wealth and status,
which lead to rise of glamour models like Jordan.
There was also a brand of Post Feminism brought
about by ‘Girl Power’ with the Spice girls which
features a more aggressive approach by Post
Feminists, but still allowing their objectification and
sexualisation, but as a means of power.