Advertising; A form of persuasive communication designed to encourage an audience to take some kind of action – most commonly associated with consumerism.

Agency; The study of agency is to investigate where the influential action is in media studies. Agency refers to the active participant in media and that can be human, technological, software or something else.

Agenda setting; The theoretical arguments that consider that media can and does have a strong effect on what people think about. By highlighting and listing certain events repeatedly, they create a sense of urgency about those issues even though this is not always an accurate reflection of reality.

Audience; This is one of the terms employed to describe an aggregate of receivers of media texts. These can also be described in demographic terms such as location TV channel choice or age etc. Audience commodity refers to the attentive capacities of audiences as paying consumers of media texts. See also receivers and users.

Behaviourism; The psychological movement that regards human behavior as something that can be manipulated.

Biotechnology; When not merely augmenting bodies through technologies, but instead modifying and mediating them at the design stage – as the word suggests an amalgam of biology and technology.

Codes; Codes are systems of meanings.

Commons; types of assets held in collective or communal ownership rather than as private commodities. Assets in this context does not necessarily mean tangible commodities but can include assets like internet/cyber spaces where media can be commonly shared.

Communication; At its most simplistic, communication is the exchange of information and meaning. Communication, through its repetition, enables the dissemination and development of culture.

Consumer; In the context of media it refers to receivers and audiences as economic participants.

Consumer cultures; Refers to a theory according to which human society is strongly subjected to the learned behaviours and schemas of consumerism.

Consumption; The flip side of production is consumption – see also consumer cultures.

Convergence; Convergence is a feature of recent media environments where texts cross multiple media platforms and audiences travel between them with ease.

Critical model; A critical model of communication studies views any theoretical perspectives as open to challenge. 

Culture; Cultures are defined by the learned behaviours and schemas that distinguish one group of people from another.

Cultural superstructure; Within Marxist theory there is a base as well as a superstructure. The base comprises the functional economic and material activities. The ideological and cultural superstructure exists because the base activities are fulfilled, nevertheless, the superstructure may influence the base.

Cybernetics; The mechanics and flow of information.

Decoding; In semiotics decoding is reading the text by unpacking the signs it is made of.

Demographics; The measurement of a population with regard to particular traits, for example, age, location, wealth, media habits and so on.

Denotation/denotics; In semiotics, refers to that aspect of the sign that has a direct relationship with something real (the referent).

Determinism (technological); When particular technologies have specific impacts which directly result of their form –and so is thought to directly determine society. See also economic determination.

Discourse; A form of communication, including visual, which conforms to the rules, as well as reflects, a particular social practice or ideological position.

Dramaturgy; A sociological perspective on identity that employs a theatrical metaphor to explore issues of identity formation, reformation and performance, and as such, assumes a place, a moment, and an audience to whom the identity is being presented.

Economic determination; Is the theory of history that looks for economic conditions to explain society and culture. In Marxist terms that means that owners, capitalist, workers, proletariats and so on form the economic foundation over which the social and political superstructure is constructed.

Economics; Economics is the social science that studies how individuals, groups, organizations and societies manage resources.

Encoding/decoding model; Any piece of information can be encoded in multiple ways, and every message has more than one meaning – meaning-making is not in nature but is cultural.

Fan/Fandom; A fan (from ‘fanatic’) is someone who is attached to a particular media text. Fandom, then, can be the collective social world that fans ‘inhabit’.

Fourth Estate; most commonly refers to the news media. More recently this has developed to include new media under titles such as ‘Networked Fourth Estate’, which differs from the traditional ‘press’ to include the internet and involves a diverse set of participants, potentially everyone, in a many-to-many scenario.

Framing; The production and dissemination of messages and texts highlight, emphasize or obscure some aspects of the message over others. Episodic framing is where an issue is approached in terms of a specific event or episode. Thematic framing approaches an issue as part of a continuing topic or theme, rooted within wide social trends or functions.

Gender; Gender refers to socio-cultural constructs that lead us to think of men and women in a particular way. It is not the biological sex of the person and so is a cultural construct.

Globalization; The organization of activities on a global scale is called globalisation. It involves interdependence and often these activities are in real time.

Hegemony; Power systems – can refer to prevailing ideologies, social and political groups.

Hypodermic needle model (sometimes known as the “magic bullet” model); The theoretical model where the mass audience is regarded as passive recipients of the message that was injected (or shot) by the media. This theoretical perspective holds that by this means audiences can be manipulated to react in a predictable, unthinking and conditioned manner.

Identity; Refers to how meaning is internalized by the receiver or audience, or more broadly an identity is constructed out of the characteristics that a receiver regards as important to their self image/understanding.

Ideology; Ideas gathered to support a particular stance or movement in the social world and can be related to a particular power aspiration.

Impressions management; Impressions management refers to the overt and the unconscious strategies we, as social individuals, deploy to try and influence how others perceive us. See also Identity.

Index/indexical; In semiotics it is the sign that stands in for the real object.

Infotainment; A useful word when information and entertainment becomes the same thing. A news programs can be regarded as infotainment if you consider that the news is presented as entertainment.

Institutions; Social, cultural, and political structures, called institutions, are created as a way to govern and maintain society – they are structures that hold together social life. Each institution reflects and supports the values of the society in which it is located.

Intertext/ intertextual; The multiplatform context where different media texts and technologies interact with each other.

Liberal Democracy; a form of government in which representative democracy serves the liberal principles protecting the rights of minorities and the individual. Neo-liberal variations tend to emphasise the individual.

Looking-glass-self; The looking-glass-model considers the self as constantly reworking itself through a three-step process of imagining how we appear to others, how others judge that appearance, and then developing the self in light of that (hypothetical) judgement.  The point of difference (with impressions management and why this is a psychological rather than a sociological concept), is that this process is entirely in the mind of the individual.

Marxist/marxism; Marxism is concerned with a materialist understanding of societal development. Fundamental to it are the economic activities that human society employs to provide for its needs. This base is essential to, and influences, the social, legal, moral and ideological systems that form the superstructure. The superstructure in turn can influence the economic base.

Mass media;  A context where media can be understood as both a one-to-many model of communication as well as a one way model.

Media; From the Latin ‘medium’– meaning middle. The media is the communication mechanism, ‘in the middle’, that conveys aspects of the world and society to the receiver/audience. To mediate is to alter or highlight an event through conveyance in the media

Media effects; The theoretical perspective that sees a Causal relationship between media and audience, where the media in some way influences audiences.

Minimal effects model; A variety of media effects where the influence is not powerful enough to entirely overturn audience reaction. The flipside of this is the strong effects model where the media influence is strong enough to alter audience reactions.

Model; A tool for describing how systems function.

Myths; The stories employed by societies to reinforce their self belief.

Narrative; The presentation of story information. See also Story and Plot.

New/digital media; The media context, usually digital and online but not essentially, where one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many forms of discourse prevail. Newspapers, radio and TV are regarded as examples of old media.

Neuroplasticity; Neuroplasticity explores how the brain changes throughout life. It challenges the idea that the brain is a physiologically static organ.

Phenomenology; The science (description and classification0 of phenomena

Plot; The directly presented information in a narrative structure. see also Narrative and Story.

Political ecology; Explores the connection between nature, culture and media, the ways in which human relations and politics affect and impact upon the environment, which in turn conditions our understandings of nature. A political ecology of media seeks to explore the multiplicity of ways in which media condition our preconceptions of what nature is.

Political economy; This perspective considers that politics and economics are not separate entities, but are best understood as being entangled. In media studies it is an approach where the focus is on the ways in which media is produced, distributed and consumed, rather than on analysing the interpretations of the signs and symbols found within texts.

Pragmatics; Pragmatics is the relationship of the sign to the person reading or understanding that sign.

Production; Within media studies production is the creation of meaning.

Propaganda; Media texts whose purpose is not to inform rational critical societal debate, but to normalize a particular ideology.

Prosumers; The combination of producer and consumer and describes the notion that today’s audiences are interactive participants within a digital convergence culture.

Public sphere; The public sphere is the area of social life where public opinion can emerge.

Receivers; Related to audience and users, but where ‘receivers’ describes passive readers of media texts.

Reception studies; The study of receivers of media texts.

Referent; In semiotics the referent is the real world object that the sign references and the index stands in for.

Regulation; The forces which constrain the production, distribution, and consumption of media texts.

Representation; Media always constructs images as representations of the real

Rhetorics; Communication as discourse – who is communicating to what purpose and in what context.

Schema; Outline of the commonalities that form a culture.

Semantics; The mechanics of semiotics – concerned with this relationship between a signified and signifier – the sign and what it stands in for.

Semiotics; Is the study of signs and their meaning in society.

Signifier/signified; The signifier is the thing, item, or code that we ‘read’ – so, a drawing, a word, a photo. The signified is the idea or meaning being expressed by that signifier.

Signs; A sign is something which can stand for something else – in other words, a sign is anything that can convey meaning. Iconic signs are signs where meaning is based on similarity of appearance.  Indexical signs have a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the sign and the meaning of the sign. Symbolic signs are signs that have an arbitrary or conventional link.

Social constructivism; The impacts of technologies are socially and culturally constructed by the ways in which they are employed by humans.

Society; Societies at their simplest can be defined as groups of interacting individuals. Not the same as culture – however, see also culture.

Sociocultural; The model that views media and communication as a replication and reinforcement of social and cultural order.

Socio-psychological; An approach to media and communication that takes into account human behaviour.

Story; All the narrative information, both directly presented as well as inferred, in order. See also narrative and Plot.

Symbolic interactionism; The concern with the construction of identity within a social context, how an identity is presented and re-presented within a given social or communicative situation.

Syntactics; This refers to structural relations such as language and grammar. However, syntactics in semiotics refers to the formal relationship between signs that becomes sign systems.

Technology; One of the features which distinguish media from other types of communication is the technology that is necessary. These range from pen and paper, through printing presses, film, video, radio, television to digital technologies associated with the Internet.

Text; Any system of signs that can be read such as photos, films, books, dress, language and human mannerisms.

Two-step flow of information; A communication model where there is an intermediary between the sender of a message and the audience.

User; An active agent who uses available tools to interact with information, can be sender and receiver, audience and producer, or engaged in interpersonal communication that is also public performance. See also audience and receiver.

Uses and gratifications model; A theoretical model that emphasizes audience uses of media texts.  This paradigm views audiences as active seekers who may choose texts to suits their expected reactions.


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Media Studies 101 Copyright © 2014 by bernardmadill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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