A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies

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Would you also like to submit a review for this item? You already recently rated this item. Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: 1 2 3 4 5. Preview this item Preview this item. It provides guidelines for how to think about, plan, and carry out studies of media in different social and cultural contexts. Find a copy online Links to this item Table of contents Table of contents Table of contents dawsonera.

Show all links. Allow this favorite library to be seen by others Keep this favorite library private. Find a copy in the library Finding libraries that hold this item This title offers a comprehensive review of earlier research and a set of guidelines for how to think about, plan, and carry out studies of media and communications.

It will be the standard reference work for students and researchers. Read more Reviews Editorial reviews. Publisher Synopsis 'An authoritative, stimulating and rigorous survey of diverse research traditions in media and communications. User-contributed reviews Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. Be the first. Add a review and share your thoughts with other readers. User lists with this item 6 Communication research measures 9 items by lbadal!

Linked Data More info about Linked Data. The introduction and one further chapter probe changing conceptions on mass and interpersonal, online and offline communication — in research as in everyday life. Three new chapters have been added to exemplify different forms of research employing multiple methods to study multiple media in multiple contexts.

Note on the text. The production of entertainment media.


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The study of news production. History media and communication. Indeed, its text-centrism was re-emphasized with the rise of structuralism and semiology, which in many literary departments now have taken the place of New Critical 24 A handbook of qualitative methodologies theory and analytical principles. While having distinctive origins, structuralism served to accelerate the shifting of emphases in the humanities from the metaphysical Word to the structured Text. Structuralism and semiology Rooted in early linguistics and the Russian Formalist school of aesthetics, structuralism and semiology represent a general theoretical reorientation which came to affect much work in humanistic and socialscientific disciplines in the twentieth century.

Structuralism could be perceived, in certain periods, as offering the constituents of a unified science of the sign. Whereas structuralism may be said to characterize a number of human, social, and natural sciences, assigning, according to Jean Piaget, attributes of wholeness, transformation, and selfregulation to the structures being studied Hawkes, , semiology is engaged more specifically in the analysis of signs and their functions, thus influencing both the humanities and the social sciences.

Semiology represents a break with humanistic tradition in several respects. Semiology went beyond the New Criticism in its insistence on examining not just the literary work itself in order to account for aesthetic pleasure, but its underlying formal structure. It can also be argued that the rise of a pervasive formalism was related to the crisis of representation in the arts which had been signaled by the rise of Impressionism in the s, partly as a response to the spread of photography, and which continued in the formal experiments of the various twentieth-century -isms see Hughes, ; also Pelfrey, The representation of social conflict and change in the press, in particular, had to be negotiated by journalists and their readers.

These new forms of verbal and visual representation came to pose important objects of analysis for twentieth-century textual research efforts. If Saussure had laid the groundwork for these efforts in linguistics and semiology, it remained for two later developments to refine and apply his insights.

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First, in linguistics, formalization reached a climax in the models of language production advanced by transformationalgenerative grammar Chomsky, A key assumption of this school has been that the human capacity for language can be attributed to an innate deep structure which, by complex transformations, produces the surface structures that we speak and write. While this research has tended to stay at the level of grammatical form in individual sentences, later linguistics has developed a contextual approach to language use— a pragmatics which examines the variations of form and content with reference both to the social context of language and to the context made up of connected discourse, whether everyday conversation or other textual genres Coulthard, ; Halliday, Such discourse analysis represents an important methodological contribution of the humanities to mass communication research, whose relevance is discussed further below.

It may be added that some linguistics relies on computers, increasingly so, for the analysis of language structures Garside et al. In some cases the purpose is the study of large quantities of linguistic data, for example a corpus of grammatical forms; in other cases the aim is to simulate general processes of language use and structuration, as in the growing field of artificial intelligence for discussion of its potential and pitfalls, see Hofstadter and Dennett, The computer as a heuristic model may also be seen to underlie the influential transformational-generative grammar above.

Mostly, however, the computer has not been central to the development of humanistic methodologies proper. This is, of course, in contrast to the social sciences, where also qualitative studies have 26 A handbook of qualitative methodologies recently begun to employ computer software for the organization and categorization of data see Chapter 2. The second development of the Saussurean framework has elaborated his vision of a science of signs.

Including complex modes of communication and culture among the objects of analysis, semiology of the s and later has produced a rearticulation of disciplines such as anthropology and literary criticism for a survey, see Culler, The ambition of some studies has been to discover deep structures not just of language, but of social mythologies and, indeed, of human culture. This, further, led to the construction of models of the matrices which could be seen to underlie narratives—models which, while often based on standardized genres, appeared to be applicable to a range of textual forms Greimas, ; Jakobson, ; Todorov, Studies in this tradition were also among the first to include popular culture in the area of inquiry, not least advertising and television Barthes, ; Leymore, ; Silverstone, ; see also Chapter 6 in this volume.

A final extrapolation of structuralist principles has been made in studies of social institutions. Beyond noting the discursive structure of social life and historical change, these studies have explained capitalist social structures—their wholeness, transformation, and selfregulation—with reference to the constituent types of institutions and practices Althusser, This approach is comparable, in some respects, to functionalism as developed in the social sciences.

The conceptual points of contact between structuralism and traditional sociology have been noted, critiqued, and elaborated in recent work on the relationship between social structure and agency Giddens, The status and legacy of semiology are still uncertain. On the one hand, some textbooks, while recognizing certain distinctive features, tend to include semiology as one of the procedures in the toolbox of mass communication research McQuail, — On the other hand, it can be argued that the constructivist epistemology of semiology, along with an implicit hermeneutics of interpretation, is incompatible with the analytical framework of social-scientific communication research Carey, Ch.

For the further development of mass communication research, Humanistic scholarship 27 which requires a theory of signs and discourse, it is important to distinguish semiology from semiotics. Semiology grows out of the logos tradition in the West. Indeed, the elementary sign, as defined by Saussure, consisting of signifier sound-image and signified concept , recalls the classic dualisms from Greek philosophy through Christian metaphysics to the Cartesian worldview—the mind-matter, spirit-body, subject-object dyads.

Truth and beauty, it is implied, may reside in the signified the Word as interpreted by a mind the Spirit. Cultural studies The borderland between textual and social research has been given an innovative, if somewhat eclectic, articulation in cultural studies. Research in this tradition has contributed particularly to extending the concept of texts beyond high-cultural masterpieces by including both popular culture and everyday social practices among the objects of textual analysis.

Whereas theory and methodology have been developed in a number of countries in Europe and North and Latin America, drawing on nineteenth-century classics Durkheim, Marx, Weber as well as modern European and American pioneers such as Adorno and Horkheimer , Carey , Gans , Hoggart , and Williams , it is fair to say that British cultural studies have led the way over the last two decades.

In summary, a BirminghamParis axis was established and, later on, re-exported to the American market , which served to assimilate French social and psychoanalytic theory, including versions of structuralism and semiology, to the critical study of contemporary social and cultural issues Hall et al.

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This concept serves to emphasize a cultural dimension in, and a holistic perspective on, social life, further recognizing the scope for intervention by social agents and the role of meaning for orienting social action. The center of research, thus, is located outside texts and media, which are said to be embedded, along with audiences, in broad social and cultural practices. As part of this framework, studies have examined particular cultural institutions and subcultural groups, and the concept of interpretive communities Fish, has been introduced to suggest that audiences are characterized not simply by socioeconomic background variables, but simultaneously by their discursive modes of interpreting cultural forms, which give rise to different constructions of social reality see also Jensen, ; Lindlof, ; Radway, For the humanities and social sciences alike, this work serves as a reminder that the relationship between culturaldiscursive and demographic-social formations is not well understood.

The analytical practice of cultural studies is rooted in literary analysis-cum-interpretation, but it emphasizes extratextual frameworks of explanation. Nevertheless, while the categories of analysis are thus grounded in theories of subjectivity and social context, the primary medium of the research remains the interpreting scholar. Furthermore, the focus has tended to be placed on the overarching discourses of culture, rather than their local, empirical producers and recipients.

Consequently, although cultural studies refer to the genre in question, its implied reader positions, and associated social uses, the tradition is still preoccupied with the message or discourse of communication. This is in spite of habitual, sometimes ritualistic references to the concreteness, specificity, and difference of cultural practices. The social system is conceived of as a context of diverse discourses which derive from subcultures and interpretive communities based on gender, class, or ethnicity, and which mediate the flow and interpretation of mass communication.

In general, though, cultural studies have thrived on the combination of a text-centered methodology with socialsystemic theories of discourse. The theoretical framework rests on two types of assumptions: structuralism and culturalism Hall, The lack of public control over, in classic Marxist terms, the means of production, does not in itself entail a similar lack of influence on or through the means of discursive reproduction.


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  4. The decisive theoretical issue, of course, is the degree of this relative autonomy, which raises major political issues. Whereas people may draw on frames of understanding outside the dominant social order, both as producers of their own cultural practices and as recipients of mass-mediated culture, in order to assert their difference; the question is whether this discursive difference will make a social difference so as to reform macrosocial institutions or deep-seated everyday practices. Unable to answer this classic question of effects, the structuralist and culturalist trends of cultural studies tend to coexist uneasily.

    The question of effects suggests other broad issues in the politics of culture. Cultural studies have served an important function within the humanities by re-evaluating popular culture as a both pleasurable and worthy discourse and as a relevant social resource, labeling, for example, television as a modern bard Fiske and Hartley, By focusing on the social use and value of literacy and other modes of communication, the humanities have come full circle since the rise of Greek literacy.

    Thus, cultural studies have reiterated the question of how social and discursive levels of structuration are interrelated—which is perhaps the main question for an interdisciplinary field of mass communication research. Rewording the humanities As a final element of this historical overview, some recent challenges to the prevailing notions of discourse in humanistic theory and methodology should be mentioned.

    First, it has already been noted that poststructuralist and deconstructivist theory has challenged the 30 A handbook of qualitative methodologies implied metaphysics of semiology and more generally of the logos tradition for a survey, see Eagleton, Ch. This challenge is still in effect for representative positions, see Baudrillard, , and Lyotard, , although deconstructivism has not reconstructed a concrete alternative approach to the study of culture and meaning production in their social context.

    A second, related challenge comes from feminist research on the relationship between gender, culture, and textual production, which has argued that masculine and patriarchal forms of understanding are enacted, for example, through the mass media for a survey, see Moi, ; for key texts of this tradition, see Marks and de Courtivron, At its best, however, feminism helps to differentiate other social and discourse theory. One feature which tends to unite these contributions is the primary attention given to meaning and culture as orienting action in specific social contexts. Oral history, for one, is a reorientation of historical science which has given greater scope for everyday and bottom-up perspectives on history Thompson, Psychology, then, shares the predicament of mass communication research, being poised between qualitative and quantitative conceptions of science.

    The predicament is also shared by anthropology, which may be defined institutionally as either a social-science or humanities subject. The humanities seek—and find—facts. However, there are also important limitations to the scope and explicitness of the empirical approaches to be derived from the humanities. The strengths and weaknesses become especially clear in literary criticism, which has been an important influence on qualitative research about mass media. The meaning of each constitutive element of a text is established with reference to its con-text—the rest of the text as a whole.

    The wider significance of the text may then be established by considering also the social context of historical and psychoanalytical factors, which offer cues to understanding specific literary periods, authors, readerships, or discursive themes. Yet, particularly in studies that draw on phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions see the overview in Eagleton, Ch. As a result, the analysis normally cannot meaningfully become the object of intersubjective dis agreement in a scientific community or public forum.

    On the other hand, literary studies start from the fundamental insight that language, as employed also in cultural and everyday practices, is not transparent, but requires detailed analytical attention in order to be interpreted. Reading qualitative studies through the eyes of a humanist, one is sometimes struck by the inattention to the actual language that informants use.

    If the humanities, notably modern linguistics, have one lesson to contribute to interdisciplinary qualitative studies, it is this: mind the language! Because language is a constitutive element of most qualitative studies, one may build a typology of qualitative methodologies around their characteristic uses of language Jensen, Table 1. First, language is normally the main object of analysis, whether in the form of basic linguistic analysis of interview transcripts and any other type of language data or further textual criticism of historical sources and literary works.

    Second, language is a primary tool of data-gathering in interview and observational studies. Communicating through language, the interviewer and respondent s negotiate an understanding of the subject matter in question, which subsequently, Humanistic scholarship 33 in the form of tapes and transcripts, becomes the object of linguistic analysis and textual interpretation.

    In the case of observation studies, where interviewing normally is an integrated element of research, this use of language is primarily a tool for gathering further information, whereas the interview discourse mostly is not documented through transcripts or analysed in its linguistic detail. This is in spite of the fact that field notes and other accounts of observation represent a discourse which lends itself to categories of linguistic analysis; see van Maanen, Textual criticism, finally, as practiced by disciplines from history to literary criticism, is applied to written source materials as objects of analysis.

    Whereas written accounts may not be seen as tools of data-gathering as such, any existing textual sources will be used routinely for cross-reference with other types of evidence. The language of textual sources, then, from legislation and business memoranda to newspapers, offers cues to how, for example, political and cultural rights have been conceived in different social and historical settings.


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    Admittedly, linguistics is itself a specialized discipline; this is one further argument for the field to undertake more genuinely interdisciplinary group projects. Nevertheless, linguistics does offer a number of analytical procedures which can be applied by scholars across the field. The most important level of linguistic analysis in this context is pragmatics, which studies the uses of language in social context Crystal and Davy, ; Halliday, ; Leech, The study of language, which traditionally, as in classical philology, had been preoccupied with form, over the last two decades has turned to the social uses of language in everyday life.

    Linguistic discourse analysis The New Critical tradition had served to highlight language as the concrete vehicle of literary communication. Semiology, similarly, had focused scholarly attention on the formal properties of discourse.

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    Together, these two schools drove home the point that language is not a transparent means of access to reality, and that linguistic details have important implications for the communicative functions of texts. Both semiology and the New Criticism, however, tended to concentrate 34 A handbook of qualitative methodologies on monologic, aesthetically complex texts, leaving aside the uses of language in daily conversation and a multitude of other everyday practices. Linguistic discourse analysis, in charting this extremely complex area of inquiry, has identified three main levels of analysis.

    First, the most fundamental elements of discourse are utterances or statements of various types, what are referred to as speech acts Austin, ; Searle, Each statement is defined literally as an instance of linguistic action. Language does not simply, or even primarily, work as a descriptive representation; through language, people perform a variety of everyday acts. Among the obvious examples are rituals a marriage ceremony and other institutionalized procedures a sentence pronounced in a court of law , where the very pronouncement accomplishes a socially binding act.

    In addition, by uttering promises, questions and answers, and arguments, people also perform speech acts. Even statements which may appear purely descriptive will in most cases be performative in the sense that they are designed to produce a specific effect in the recipient s. The typologies of language as action are still being worked out, but by relating language and social action, speech-act theory has offered one of the most important reformulations of humanistic theory since Wittgenstein , specifying his dictum on language that meaning is use.

    At a second level, language serves to establish a mode of interaction between communicators, most clearly in the case of interpersonal communication, such as interviewing. Both parties introduce and develop particular themes while closing off other aspects of the discursive universe. In negotiating a form of common understanding with the interviewer, respondents can be seen to build semantic networks that are indicative of their worldviews.

    Also observational studies establish complex forms of interaction which lend themselves to linguistic analysis. For both observational and interview studies, mass communication research may draw on linguistic research about everyday conversation and classroom interaction see the examples in Antaki, , and Sinclair and Coulthard, It should be added here that the interactive dimension of language has several practical implications for the conduct of qualitative research. For one thing, linguistic analysis of an interview transcript, Humanistic scholarship 35 for example, can suggest how conceptual distinctions and interrelations are established during the interaction.

    Conducted by another researcher, this evaluation of interviewer performance can help to address the intersubjectivity of qualitative findings. Thus, discourse analysis, in complementing traditional measures of reliability and validity in the administration and coding of interviews, may reopen the field for discussion of the criteria for producing valid knowledge.

    For another thing, an understanding of the interactive dimension of qualitative methodologies may help in the planning of specific designs and the training of interviewers or field-workers. For better or worse, qualitative researchers emphatically interact with their object of inquiry. Third, it is at the level of discourse that the various linguistic categories can be seen to come together as a coherent structure, a text with a message to be interpreted. Both respondents and historical sources tell stories and develop arguments in forms which are comparable, in many ways, to literary or rhetorical genres.

    Whereas some aspects of discursive coherence are attributable to formal features Halliday and Hasan, , other aspects derive from the functional interrelations between the speech acts and interactive turns of a specific discourse. Such interrelations must normally be interpreted with reference to the discursive context and the context of use see Jensen, Ch. Other components of discursive coherence are presuppositions and implicit premises, which refer to what is taken for granted and not otherwise elaborated in a discourse Culler, ; Leech, Because humans seem to be constantly telling stories or arguing about something, whether in formal scientific discourse, daily conversation , or public debate, any typology of discourse is of necessity complex.

    Bruner has suggested that one may distinguish two modes of experience and discourse: the narrative mode and the paradigmatic or argumentative mode. To be sure, further differentiation of the theories and models of everyday discourses is required; narratives work as arguments and arguments develop into narratives. Still, discourse analysis does suggest that stories and arguments draw on a relatively fixed repertoire of linguistic strategies combining premises and conclusions, assertions and substantiations, 36 A handbook of qualitative methodologies scenes, actors, and themes, even if the uses of the repertoire in different social contexts may be quite diverse Coulthard and Montgomery, Linguistic discourse analysis on everyday and literary discourses, in sum, offers a promising avenue for developing and applying humanistic methodology to the study of mass communication see especially its development in Potter and Wetherell, Stories on, and in, history A final contribution of humanistic methodology stems from its historical awareness of texts.

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    Beyond the historical and linguistic affinity between story and hi-story, we learn about history primarily through narratives including this chapter , just as narratives serve to articulate a current historical setting. A major contribution of the humanities to mass communication research derives from its attention to the long waves or deep structures of society and culture—the relationship between text and context. This may be so because, traditionally, the humanities have not been exclusively focused on the social institutions of modernity and industrial capitalism, which have constituted the naturalized matrix of much social-scientific theory— and sometimes the outer limits of its theoretical imagination.

    See further Chapter 10 on the historical frameworks of mass communication theory. The concept of genre helps to indicate what it means to communicate in and on history. As noted by Williams , three features serve to characterize a genre: formal composition; appropriate subject matter; mode of address.

    Painstaking studies have been conducted of the form of composition and the conventional subject matter of various genres; less attention has been given to their mode of address. Addressing their readers, genres imply both a subject position from which they may be interpreted and a set of appropriate social uses of the contents.

    The discussion above of news, novels, and encyclopedias suggested how genres construct and are constructed by a historically specific social order. Through language, reality becomes social; through genres, social reality becomes the object of specific forms of story-telling, argument, and action. Genre may be the analytical level where social-scientific and humanistic modes of inquiry can be said to converge, with implications for both theory and methodology.

    Whereas it remains difficult to specify how different modes of understanding complement each other within interdisciplinary communication research, genre might serve as a conceptual interchange between discourse studies and socialscientific research designs. On the one hand, genre has long been key to the study of communication as representation, expression, and ritual—with an emphasis on textual form; on the other hand, genres, in particular their mode of address, motivate and structure the transfer, uses, and impact of communication in contexts of social action.

    For the social sciences, this may imply an extended concept of genres of social action. How to approach these interrelated aspects of genre in methodological terms may be discussed in a framework of social semiotics. Before considering the origin of social semiotics and its relevance for further research, a brief look at visual communication will serve to summarize some main points of the humanistic perspective on culture as communication. Moreover, social-scientific communication research may have found it difficult to characterize visual communication processes, because the categories of content analysis and survey methodology are better suited to capture the discrete, digital elements of alphabetic communication than the analog coding of images.

    It is, indeed, striking that research methods have not been able the match the proliferation of visual media in the contemporary media environment see Jensen, forthcoming. Raising classic issues of epistemology, the question tends to divide studies into two camps. First, one position holds that visual communication may be easy to understand because it approximates the perceptual processes of everyday vision Hobbs et al.

    Central aspects of human perception and, by analogy, much visual communication might not be dependent upon historically or socially specific codes of comprehension, which implies certain psychological universals that correspond to the structure of reality Piaget and Inhelder, These arguments, then, support contemporary Western common sense.

    The second group of researchers challenges common sense and argues, in different ways, that perception and representation are constructed actively.

    A Handbook of Media and Communication Research Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies

    Whereas the most emphatic articulation of constructionism can be found in philosophical pragmatism Bernstein, ; Goodman, ; Rorty, , also the mainstream of disciplines from film studies Bordwell, ; Metz, to art history Arnheim, ; Gombrich, and semiotics Eco, , does assume that visual communication involves a complex process of encoding and decoding. This position is supported by historical studies of changes in the forms of representation and perception Foster, ; Hauser, ; Lowe, , showing that the reality effect of visual arts depends on the prevailing psychological schemata of specific periods.

    The fundamental disagreements in current studies of visual communication re-emphasize the need for communication theory generally to examine its definition of the constituents and processes of mass communication. A major part of all mass-mediated messages, perhaps the majority, represents a hybrid of visuals and alphabetic text, ranging from feature films and television to comics and advertising. Also, the total media environment exposes the audience-public to a configuration of print and visual mass media, which are interrelated through institutional and financial arrangements as well as through genres.

    Conglomeration, among other things, breeds intertextuality. Visual communication, hence, provides a test case for the application of humanistic methodology Humanistic scholarship 39 to mass communication research and an important area for further theoretical development. Further research may depart from the three master concepts of the humanities: discourse, subjectivity, and context. Regarding discourse, one question is how the specifically visual codes affect the communicative capacity and social uses of visual media, including new hybrids of video and computer media.

    Visuality may enhance both the audience fascination with media content and its information value or instrumental uses, potentially but not necessarily at the same time. Moreover, while Barthes a and some later authors have suggested how text and image may be interrelated when they communicate in concert, a detailed typology of the various discourses and genres of mass communication remains to be constructed, posing a natural task for humanistic scholarship.

    The discourses that will carry humanitas in the future are likely to be visual and mass-mediated more so than in the past. Subjectivity, next, may be reconstructed in view of new forms of visual communication. Not only do the visual media provide different means of aesthetic expression than print and audio, as exemplified by some emerging forms ranging from video art to computer graphics; in the long term, visual communication, through its modes of address and the subject positions offered to audiences Metz, ; Mulvey, , also may entail different modes of socialization and acculturation.

    Part of the social impact of mass media, thus, may be attributed to certain institutionalized forms of subjectivity associated with media reception and experience, for example the focused gaze of cinema as opposed to the distracted glance of television reception Ellis, How such forms of media reception enter into mass communication processes and effects is a question which qualitative methodologies may be particularly equipped to address.

    Context, finally, is relevant for the analysis of visual communication in at least two respects. First, the institutions and technologies of visual media are especially large-scale and complex, as in the case of network television or telematics. This tends to limit the public access to and uses of such media. Simultaneously, those same video-cum-computer technologies hold the promise of decentralization and, perhaps, democratization.

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    The question is whether the qualities of accessibility and low cost may be combined in a social form which will make the visual technologies into general cultural resources for individuals, groups, and communities see Chapter 9 in this volume. Television, for example, has redrawn the boundary between private and public domains, and between social reality and its representation Meyrowitz, The constant availability of particularly visual mass communication in the modern world—in the home, the street, the workplace, and in transit—has meant the saturation of much of social time and space with cultural products.

    This has resulted in a qualitatively novel media environment, where the discourses of media and everyday life may become increasingly indistinguishable. If one traditional purpose of cultural practices has been the creation of a time-out from everyday life, the modern merging of mass communication with the rest of the social context may be creating an almost ceaseless time-in. Signs, following the humanities, are a primary human mode of interacting with reality, entering into a continuous process of meaning production which serves to construct social reality as domains of political, economic, and cultural activities.

    The humanistic research traditions point beyond the aesthetic pleasures derived from texts in private, and suggest a framework for studying the social uses of signs—a social semiotics which differs markedly from the semiology of Saussure and French structuralism for the full argument and references, see Jensen, In contrast to the Saussurean dualism of signifier and signified, Charles Sanders Peirce proposed a basic configuration of three elements: sign, object, and interpretant for a collection of his works, see Peirce, A sign stands for an object or phenomenon in the world, but only through reference to another sign in the mind of an interpreting subject, namely, the interpretant.

    Interpretation, then, is a continuous process, rather than one act which, once and for all, internalizes external phenomena through a medium of signs. This does not, however, imply the solipsist reality of postmodernism, in which subjects are seen to be caught in a web of signs, being forever separated from social and material reality.

    To Peirce, signs are not what we know, but how we come to know what we can Humanistic scholarship 41 justify saying we know. Interpretants, accordingly, are signs by which people may orient themselves toward and interact with a reality of diverse objects, events, and discourses. Peirce, further, suggested a concept of difference which implies an analytical emphasis on the social uses of signs, not discourse in itself.

    Though the sign remains the central explanatory concept to Peirce, meaning comes to be denned in relational rather than essential terms. The meaning of signs is determined not by their immanent features, but by their position, their relations of difference, within the system of meaning production as a whole. Whereas Saussurean semiology had advanced a similar argument Culler, ; see also Saussure, , the emphasis in practice has been on the relations of difference within the language system, leaving aside the social uses of language and other signs.

    In sum, Peircean semiotics offers a framework for studying meaning production in its social context. When the discursive differences of mass media content and other cultural forms are interpreted and enacted by social agents, thus serving to orient their cognition and action, media discourses can be said, in the terminology of pragmatism, to make a social difference. Meaning is a discursive difference that makes a social difference Bateson, ; Goodman, Certain forms of communication and interpretation make a particular social difference and hence have a strategic importance for the understanding of society and culture.

    While Peirce did not give special attention to cultural practices, he identified the scientific community as an institution engaging in interpretation with definite social consequences.

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