Media Representation

Representation refers to the construction in any medium (especially the mass media) of aspects of ‘reality’ such as people, places, objects, events, cultural identities and other abstract concepts. Such representations may be in speech or writing as well as still or moving pictures.

The term refers to the processes involved as well as to its products. For instance, in relation to the key markers of identity - Class, Age, Gender and Ethnicity (the 'cage' of identity) - representation involves not only how identities are represented (or rather constructed) within the text but also how they are constructed in the processes of production and reception by people whose identities are also differentially marked in relation to such demographic factors. Consider, for instance, the issue of 'the gaze'. How do men look at images of women, women at men, men at men and women at women?

A key in the study of representation concern is with the way in which representations are made to seem ‘natural’. Systems of representation are the means by which the concerns of ideologies are framed; such systems ‘position’ their subjects.

Semiotics and content analysis (quantitative) are the main methods of formal analysis of representation.

Key Questions about Specific Representations

Comparisons with related representations within or across genres or media can be very fruitful, as can comparisons with representations for other audiences, in other historical periods or in other cultural contexts.

Approaches to Teaching Representation

Television is... the most rewarding medium to use when teaching representations of class because of the contradictions which involve a mass medium attempting to reach all the parts of its class-differentiated audience simultaneously... Its representations of class can perhaps best be approached by teaching how class relations are represented and mediated within different TV genres and forms (Alvarado et al. 1987: 153)

Constructivism vs. Objectivism

Contemporary theories of representation stress the construction of particular realities. Teachers who focus on ‘bias’, ‘prejudice’ or ‘stereotypes’ risk implying that there is a single unchanging ‘true’ reality.

Four Key Themes in Racial Representations

(Alvarado et al. 1987: 153)

What key themes are there in relation to class, age and gender?

The study of specific examples is central in teaching about representation.

See also the section in the MCS site on Representation. For gay representation in film, see my list of 'gay-interest' films.


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