…with and about media – that, essentially, is what is about. And it doesn’t matter whether we’re making suggestions about making media products or reflecting on the relationship of media and reality. The workshop which has now been added to previous chapters puts communication right into the spotlight of attention. Dealing with media is communication whether we use media or talk about it. Only when we are familiar with some of the ground rules and laws of communication can we analyse, reflect and understand ourselves as individuals and simultaneously recognise ourselves as part of society. All these elements are partial skills of a more general communication skill which also regards itself as a critical media skill.

There are numerous models of communication with differing foci. You learn more about these in the workshop itself. Whereas the linear model sees communication as the transmission of messages—its interest in knowledge is directed towards the way in which sender and receiver code and decode their messages and the way media are used—and, in the process, accords the sender and his intentions much greater importance than the receiver in decoding, we want to place the notion of communication in which sender and receiver have a symmetrical position in the spotlight. Communication in a semiotic and cultural studies sense is seen as the production and exchange of signs which get their meaning from the interaction between sender and receiver.

Meaning is not, therefore, located in the text but is “created” in the evenly balanced interaction between text and user and in this production the relevant cultural milieu is assigned great value.

How this production of meaning takes place can now be tried and tested out in the workshop “How does meaning arise?”. Up to this point all the processes were in the passive form (reality is produced, meaning is constructed) or impersonally: meaning is created. It is time, therefore, to grasp our own intellectual and linguistic part in this process and in fact it really is us who negotiate meaning when we deal with media, who make meaning or sense of the messages transmitted to us by accepting, correcting or rejecting them – we are the ones, each individual one of us who produce our meaning. So the heading should really read:

How do we produce meaning?
For that purpose we make texts available and “not only texts that consist of a sequence of written…lines but also coded strands of information in sounds and images over and above the normal linguistic sense” (Doelker). We work with visual texts (stills, moving images, lettering), auditory texts ( spoken text, music, noises) and audio-visual texts (image, word and sound threads). According to (the above-mentioned) Cultural Studies texts are

  • symbolic compressions and the product of social experience,
  • places where meaning is negotiated,
  • sometimes actions by people,
  • open for multiple different ascriptions of meaning (images are ascribed meaning only when they have been assigned a caption).

We invite you to read (in the context of complex texts ‘read’ also means to look at, to listen to) the available texts in the workshop and to use this examples for your very own specific way of reading things. In the process it may be that you

  • take over the common, “natural” meaning which is oriented completely on the conventional values and ideas of norms (dominant reading)
  • hange some of the inscribed meaning (negotiated reading)
  • change some of the inscribed meaning (negotiated reading)
  • reject the common, usual meaning and make use of a conflicting frame of reference and so read “against the grain” (oppositional reading).

Semiotics offers the conceptual framework as well as methods of reviewing your experiment. This is the theory of meaning which enable a systematic, comprehensive and coherent engagement with the phenomena of communication.

If the workshop has stirred your curiosity and you want to know more about communication and the production of meaning than this outline offers, here is a small selection of further reading:

Doelker, Christian (1997): Ein Bild ist mehr als ein Bild. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
Fiske, John (1993) Introduction to Communication Studies. London & NewYork: Routledge.
Hall, Stuart (1989): Die strukturierte Vermittlung von Ereignissen. In: Stuart Hall: Ausgewählte Schriften. Ideologie, Kultur, Medien, Neue Rechte, Rassismus. Hamburg, Berlin, 126-149.
Monaco, James (1980): Film verstehen. Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Titscher, Stefan; Wodak, Ruth; Meyer, Michael; Vetter, Eva (1998): Methoden der Textanalyse. Leitfaden und Überblick. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.