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Representation, chapter chooses to examine two major variants or models of the constructionist approach the semi. otic approach greatly influenced by the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and the discursive. approach associated with the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault Later chapters. in this book will take up these two theories again among others so you will have an opportunity. to consolidate your understanding of them and to apply them to different areas of analysis Other. chapters will introduce theoretical paradigms which apply constructionist approaches in different. ways to that of semiotics and Foucault All however put in question the very nature of representation. We turn to this question first,1 1 Making meaning representing things. What does the word representation really mean in this context What does the process of repre. sentation involve How does representation work, To put it briefly representation is the production of meaning through language The Shorter. Oxford English Dictionary suggests two relevant meanings for the word. 1 To represent something is to describe or depict it to call it up in the mind by description or por. trayal or imagination to place a likeness of it before us in our mind or in the senses as for exam. ple in the sentence This picture represents the murder of Abel by Cain. 2 To represent also means to symbolize stand for to be a specimen of or to substitute for as in the. sentence In Christianity the cross represents the suffering and crucifixion of Christ. The figures in the painting stand in the place of and at the same time stand for the story of Cain and. Abel Likewise the cross simply consists of two wooden planks nailed together but in the context of. Christian belief and teaching it takes on symbolizes or comes to stand for a wider set of meanings. about the crucifixion of the Son of God and this is a concept we can put into words and pictures. ACTIVITY 1, Here is a simple exercise about representation Look at any familiar object in the room You will immediately. recognize what it is But how do you know what the object is What does recognize mean. Now try to make yourself conscious of what you are doing observe what is going on as you do it You. recognize what it is because your thought processes decode your visual perception of the object in terms. of a concept of it which you have in your head This must be so because if you look away from the object. you can still think about it by conjuring it up as we say in your mind s eye Go on try to follow the. process as it happens there is the object and there is the concept in your head which tells you what it. is what your visual image of it means, Now tell me what it is Say it aloud It s a lamp or a table or a book or the phone or whatever The.
concept of the object has passed through your mental representation of it to me via the word for it which. 01 Hall Ch 01 indd 2 18 04 2013 12 23 49 PM,The Work of Representation. you have just used The word stands for or represents the concept and can be used to reference or. designate either a real object in the world or indeed even some imaginary object like angels dancing on. the head of a pin which no one has ever actually seen. This is how you give meaning to things through language This is how you make sense of the. world of people objects and events and how you are able to express a complex thought about. those things to other people or communicate about them through language in ways which other. people are able to understand, Why do we have to go through this complex process to represent our thoughts If you put down. a glass you are holding and walk out of the room you can still think about the glass even though. it is no longer physically there Actually you can t think with a glass You can only think with the. concept of the glass As the linguists are fond of saying Dogs bark But the concept of dog can. not bark or bite You can t speak with the actual glass either You can only speak with the word. for glass GLASS which is the linguistic sign which we use in English to refer to objects out. of which you drink water This is where representation comes in Representation is the production. of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language It is the link between concepts and. language which enables us to refer to either the real world of objects people or events or indeed. to imaginary worlds of fictional objects people and events. So there are two processes two systems of representation involved First there is the system. by which all sorts of objects people and events are correlated with a set of concepts or mental rep. resentations which we carry around in our heads Without them we could not interpret the world. meaningfully at all In the first place then meaning depends on the system of concepts and images. formed in our thoughts which can stand for or represent the world enabling us to refer to things. both inside and outside our heads, Before we move on to look at the second system of representation we should observe that what. we have just said is a very simple version of a rather complex process It is simple enough to see how. we might form concepts for things we can perceive people or material objects like chairs tables. and desks But we also form concepts of rather obscure and abstract things which we can t in any. simple way see feel or touch Think for example of our concepts of war or death or friendship or. love And as we have remarked we also form concepts about things we have never seen and possibly. can t or won t ever see and about people and places we have plainly made up We may have a clear. concept of say angels mermaids God the Devil or of Heaven and Hell or of Middlemarch the. fictional provincial town in George Eliot s novel or Elizabeth the heroine of Jane Austen s Pride. and Prejudice, We have called this a system of representation That is because it consists not of individual. concepts but of different ways of organizing clustering arranging and classifying concepts and. of establishing complex relations between them For example we use the principles of similarity. and difference to establish relationships between concepts or to distinguish them from one another. Thus I have an idea that in some respects birds are like planes in the sky based on the fact that they. are similar because they both fly but I also have an idea that in other respects they are different. 01 Hall Ch 01 indd 3 18 04 2013 12 23 49 PM,Representation.
because one is part of nature while the other is man made This mixing and matching of relations. between concepts to form complex ideas and thoughts is possible because our concepts are arranged. into different classifying systems In this example the first is based on a distinction between flying not. flying and the second is based on the distinction between natural man made There are other princi. ples of organization like this at work in all conceptual systems for example classifying according. to sequence which concept follows which or causality what causes what and so on The point. here is that we are talking about not just a random collection of concepts but concepts organized. arranged and classified into complex relations with one another That is what our conceptual system. actually is like However this does not undermine the basic point Meaning depends on the relation. ship between things in the world people objects and events real or fictional and the conceptual. system which can operate as mental representations of them. Now it could be the case that the conceptual map which I carry around in my head is totally differ. ent from yours in which case you and I would interpret or make sense of the world in totally different. ways We would be incapable of sharing our thoughts or expressing ideas about the world to each. other In fact each of us probably does understand and interpret the world in a unique and individual. way However we are able to communicate because we share broadly the same conceptual maps and. thus make sense of or interpret the world in roughly similar ways That is indeed what it means when. we say we belong to the same culture Because we interpret the world in roughly similar ways we. are able to build up a shared culture of meanings and thus construct a social world which we inhabit. together That is why culture is sometimes defined in terms of shared meanings or shared conceptual. maps see Du Gay et al 1997, However a shared conceptual map is not enough We must also be able to represent or. exchange meanings and concepts and we can only do that when we also have access to a shared. language Language is therefore the second system of representation involved in the overall. process of constructing meaning Our shared conceptual map must be translated into a common. language so that we can correlate our concepts and ideas with certain written words spoken. sounds or visual images The general term we use for words sounds or images which carry. meaning is signs These signs stand for or represent the concepts and the conceptual relations. between them which we carry around in our heads and together they make up the meaning. systems of our culture, Signs are organized into languages and it is the existence of common languages which enable. us to translate our thoughts concepts into words sounds or images and then to use these oper. ating as a language to express meanings and communicate thoughts to other people Remember. that the term language is being used here in a very broad and inclusive way The writing system. or the spoken system of a particular language are both obviously languages But so are visual. images whether produced by hand mechanically electronically digitally or some other means. when they are used to express meaning And so are other things which aren t linguistic in any. ordinary sense the language of facial expressions or of gesture for example or the language. of fashion of clothes or of traffic lights Even music is a language with complex relations. between different sounds and chords though it is a very special case since it can t easily be used. 01 Hall Ch 01 indd 4 18 04 2013 12 23 49 PM,The Work of Representation. to reference actual things or objects in the world a point further elaborated in Du Gay ed 1997. and Mackay ed 1997 Any sound word image or object which functions as a sign and is. organized with other signs into a system which is capable of carrying and expressing meaning is. from this point of view a language It is in this sense that the model of meaning which I have. been analysing here is often described as a linguistic one and that all the theories of meaning. which follow this basic model are described as belonging to the linguistic turn in the social sciences. and cultural studies, At the heart of the meaning process in culture then are two related systems of representa. tion The first enables us to give meaning to the world by constructing a set of correspondences. or a chain of equivalences between things people objects events abstract ideas etc and our. system of concepts our conceptual maps The second depends on constructing a set of correspond. ences between our conceptual map and a set of signs arranged or organized into various languages. which stand for or represent those concepts The relation between things concepts and signs lies. at the heart of the production of meaning in language The process which links these three elements. together is what we call representation,1 2 Language and representation.
Just as people who belong to the same culture must share a broadly similar conceptual map so. they must also share the same way of interpreting the signs of a language for only in this way can. meanings be effectively exchanged between people But how do we know which concept stands for. which thing Or which word effectively represents which concept How do I know which sounds or. images will carry through language the meaning of my concepts and what I want to say with them. to you This may seem relatively simple in the case of visual signs because the drawing painting. camera or TV image of a sheep bears a resemblance to the animal with a woolly coat grazing in a. field to which I want to refer Even so we need to remind ourselves that a drawn or painted or digital. version of a sheep is not exactly like a real sheep For one thing most images are in two dimensions. whereas the real sheep exists in three dimensions, Visual signs and images even when they bear a close resemblance to the things to which they. refer are still signs they carry meaning and thus have to be interpreted In order to interpret them. we must have access to the two systems of representation discussed earlier to a conceptual map. which correlates the sheep in the field with the concept of a sheep and a language system which in. visual language bears some resemblance to the real thing or looks like it in some way This argu. ment is clearest if we think of a cartoon drawing or an abstract painting of a sheep where we need. a very sophisticated conceptual and shared linguistic system to be certain that we are all reading. the sign in the same way Even then we may find ourselves wondering whether it really is a picture. of a sheep at all As the relationship between the sign and its referent becomes less clear cut the. meaning begins to slip and slide away from us into uncertainty Meaning is no longer transparently. The Work of Representation you have just used The word stands for or represents the concept and can be used to reference or designate either a real object in the world or indeed even some imaginary object like angels dancing on the head of a pin which no one has ever actually seen This is how you give meaning to things through language This is how you make sense of the world

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