Monday, 19 April 2010

Contexts of Reception

The audience's act of reception of a text is always situated within a socio-cultural context the nature of which provides the frameworks on/from which the meaning (or meanings) of the text is constructed. The text does not posses meaning in & of itself. Rather it's meaning lies in it's use within a given set of rules of use in a given setting. The text will be encoded with meaning by the producers and medium of the text but the acceptance (or otherwise) of that preferred reading is an act of the audience not of the text producers or its medium (although it must not be forgotten that the creators of the text and its medium are a part of and or have an effect on the socio-cultural context of reception and so are more involved in the act of reception than in just the provision of an encoded text to be worked on by the audience; see below).

This Wittgensteinian point has been made by Stuart Hall (Encoding/Decoding), David Morely (Family Television & Nationwide), Roland Barthes (Denotation-Connotation), and other proponents of Reception Theory.

The heart of the matter lies not with the text (although it's 'encoding' is a part of the act of reception it is not necessarily essential) but with the socio-cultural context. It is that context that provides the arena in which the text is used and it is in that use that its meaning lies.

This meaning need not be just of the text and its elements (i.e. of plot etc) but of the text in context. The meaning of a TV drama (for instance) can be constructed to show a range of ideological, narrative, representational messages but its meanings also involve its quality as entertainment or as group interaction (family time or as part of a friendship) or indeed as interpersonal communion (a date). The range of meaning of the text within its socio-cultural context also involves distinction (from Bourdieu), social-status, phatic communication (what the USA calls the 'water-cooler moment'; it gives something to talk about), the establishment of social solidarity (i.e. from Durkheim) in that it can create a connection between people, finally we could consider the range of communities that could be formed around the text ('fandom').

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