Posts Tagged ‘representations’
Following from the previous post on sociological perspectives, this map on Media Representations demonstrates how useful these types of revision maps can be for organising student knowledge around quite diverse topics.
As with previous examples, this map is based around keywords illustrated by pictures and fleshed-out where necessary with short pieces of text.
Continuing the sociology of the media theme that began with moral and amoral panics, this series of posts looks at the idea of media representations from a range of different perspectives.
For traditional Marxism, economic power is a key variable; those who own the means of physical production are always the most powerful class and economic power brings with it the ownership of mental production – control over how different social groups are represented.
Cultural institutions such as the media are part of the ideological superstructure and their role is to support the status quo through the creation and maintenance of a worldview that favours the political, ideological and, above all, economic interests of a ruling class. How different social groups are represented within this worldview is a crucial aspect of ruling class domination and control – with the focus of explanation being the various ways a ruling class use their economic dominance to represent less powerful groups in ways that enhance and justify their power. While media representations are not in themselves a means of controlling behaviour, they are a means to an end. By representing different groups in particular ways the media allows a ruling class to act against such groups if and whenever they threaten their political, ideological or economic power.
This approach addresses the theoretical weaknesses of traditional Marxism by explaining media representations in terms of ruling class cohesion. The role of the media is not necessarily to divide or scapegoat the lower classes as a way of controlling their behaviour; rather, media representations are a way of creating and maintaining an elite’s sense of its own self-cohesion as a class.
Where traditional Marxism explains class cohesion in terms of common cultural backgrounds, neo-Marxism uses the concept of hegemony to suggest cohesion is maintained through representations of “the Other”; by defining those who are not “part of the ruling class” the media functions to define for the disparate members of the ruling class the thing they have in common that unites them – an opposition to other social classes. This explanation of the role of the media doesn’t rely on a ruling class being a cohesive entity prior to using its economic power to manipulate public opinion. Rather, how and why the media represent different social groups becomes the cohesive factor in ruling class consciousness; by defining itself in terms of what it is not, it comes to see itself in terms of what it is.
Inclusion – Exclusion
Hegemonic control operates in the context of inclusion and exclusion:
Inclusiveness defines the things a society “has in common”; from a sense of nationality, through shared religious beliefs and practices, to a common territorial origin, political and economic values and so forth. The mass media defines and propagates these inclusive characteristics and while their particular properties may shift and change, the basic principle holds; there are some fundamental characteristics that “define Us” (a ruling class) as opposed to “Them” (subject classes).
Exclusiveness, on the other hand, defines “Them” or “The Other” – people who for whatever reason exclude themselves or have to be excluded – in opposition to a ruling class.
While the focus for all kinds of feminism is on how and why media representations contribute to female inequality, different approaches produce different forms of explanation.
Liberal feminism generally focuses on how the mass media can be purged of sexist assumptions and representations, such that women in particular are neither stereotyped into a narrow range of roles nor represented in ways that disadvantage them in relation to men. Here, a combination of legal and social changes are the key to changing female representations; strong legal barriers to sexist representations coupled with moral changes in how we view male-female relationships and statuses are the means to ensuring the media represents gender in more-equitable and balanced ways.
Marxist feminism, drawing on its connections to Marxist economic analysis, focuses on the commodification of women under capitalism; the idea female bodies are represented as objects of desire; Gill (2003), for example, argues women are exploited by displays of naked female flesh because it represents them as consumer objects to be bought and sold by men. Commodification is also expressed in terms of how sexist stereotypes are used to sell a variety of consumer goods, from cars to newspapers.
Pluralist explanations recognise a variety of different media representations of categories such as gender. They also emphasise the importance of the role of the audience in interpreting such representations – ideas that relate to two dominant themes in pluralist explanations – diversity and choice.
In terms of diversity, contemporary media and audiences are characterised more by their differences than their similarities; wide differences within categories like class, age, gender and ethnicity makes the Marxist approach of reading audience responses from media representations increasingly problematic. Diverse audiences make diverse choices about what, when and how they consume different media – which puts the audience in control, rather than being controlled by that media. These ideas are brought into even sharper focus through contemporary forms of new media that increase the range and diversity of choices available to individual consumers.
For pluralists, the media follow the market; audiences are given the types of representation they want. For example, the kind of overtly racist, sexist and homophobic representations once found in British sitcoms reflected a society largely tolerant of such things; contemporary audiences are less tolerant and this type of television programme no longer exists because it would be commercial suicide. Media diversity is encouraged by changing audience tastes and higher levels of economic competition for audience share.
While Marxist and Feminist perspectives generally discuss media representations in terms of how and why they misrepresent particular groups, Baudrillard (1995) argues representations shouldn’t be considered in terms of whether something is fairly or unfairly represented; this follows because, he argues, how something is represented is its reality.
In this respect conventional approaches to understanding media representations suggest the media re-presents something like ‘news’ in a way that’s somehow different to the original event; ‘something happens’ that is then described (re-presented) to an audience. Conventionally, therefore, sociologists contrast ‘the real’ – the ‘thing’ that ‘happened’ – with its representation and examine the media to see if they can disentangle the real from the not real.
Baudrillard however argues “reality” is experienced differently depending on who you are, where you are and your source of information. Every audience, therefore, constructs its own version of reality and everything represented in the media is experienced as multiple realities, all of which – and none of which – are real; everything is simply a representation of something seen from different viewpoints. Thus, the ‘reality of anything’ can’t be found in any single definitive account or experience; that which we can “real”, therefore, has no definitive or essential features that distinguish it from how it is represented.
Interesting Ted-Talk about the portrayal of women through advertising and its possible effects.