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Chapter 10

MDSA01 - Chapter 10: Reception Analysis

Media Studies
Course Code
Ted Petit

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10. Reception Analysis
This chapter asks the question: What is the role of the actual audience in
the process of meaning-making in the media?
Reception scholars primarily seek to understand the personal meanings that
individuals make of mass media texts in relation to their lived social
systems and experiences
The power of audiences in shaping the media landscape
Instead of looking at how media content or production practices influence
helpless media consumers, Reception analysis supports the notion of an
“active” audience constantly reformulating the meanings of a media text
across lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, and more
Reception theory: stresses audience interpretation as the primary site of
The Traditional View of Audiences
Hypodermic Model
The earliest model of media effects research; the audience are viewed as
mindless vessels ready to receive media messages
Also known as the Hypodermic needle approach, this research tradition was
predominantly interested in outlining how the mass media “injected”
particular meanings into consumers
The media messages meant only exactly what producers intended them to
mean, and audiences were unable to ignore or negotiate them
Audience is seen as highly passive.
They receive the message and do nothing to shape its meaning.
media “injects” people with various beliefs, and they absorb these beliefs
as is
Weaknesses of this approach:
Messages do not mean the same thing to every person, and the audience
does not just absorb any and all media messages
Because of the weaknesses to this approach, Paul Lazarsfeld proposed the
“two-step flow” model
Two-Step Flow
Certain individuals in the audience attend more carefully to media than
others (opinion leaders)
Mass media messages would influence these individuals, who in turn
disseminate the information to secondary audiences
In other words, media effects are indirectly established through the personal
influence of opinion leaders.
The majority of people receive much of their information and are
influenced by the media secondhand, through the personal influence of
opinion leaders
Opinion leaders are those initially exposed to a specific media content,

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interpret the content based on their own opinion and then begin to
infiltrate these opinions through the general public who then become
"opinion followers"
This model recognizes a bit more activity on the part of the audience, but it
was still problematic because it supported the notion that the meanings of
media messages were clear and definite
Cultivation Analysis
First proposed by George Gerbner; claims that individuals who watch heavy
amounts of television are hyperconscious to issues of danger and violence
in their every day lives
His theory claims that heavy-viewing audiences develop a distorted view of
reality and they believe that violence is more prevalent in society than
actual statistics report
too much media gives individuals a distorted view of the world
Although this approach is more complex than the hypodermic needle or
two-step models, they continue the tradition of positioning the audience as
mindless consumers who believe and follow most of what they see in the
Uses and Gratifications
Significantly departs from the theories above as it was the first perspective
to begin “thinking of audiences as empowered to select their access to
specific media and to use that media within the ranges of possibility”
Individuals consciously consume media texts for their own ends,
purposefully reworking textual meaning in order to integrate the text into
their daily lives
Instead of passively absorbing given meanings, audiences are selective in
which media they consume and how they choose to consume it
Ex: some people may engage media as a means of escapism, as a source
of information, or even as a form of interpersonal relationships.
This perspective reverses the classic understanding of audiences by
revealing how they use the media (instead of the other way around)
Criticism of this theory is that it assumes conscious activity on the part of
the audience
Reception theory claims that while consciousness may be a factor for
some individual consumers, audience members as a whole can refashion
dominant media meanings without being completely cognizant (aware)
of the process
Reception Theories
Encoding/Decoding Model (Hall)
This model emphasizes on the production, negotiation, and reception of
ideological messages between classes
Recognizes the role of media institutions and owners in engineering media
texts with particular messages, but it also accounts for the various ways in

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which active audiences of different classes can consume and rework these
hegemonic (dominant) meanings
So basically, it outlines all of the possible ways in which the intended
meaning of a text can be potentially reworked in the hands of an active
“there is no intelligible discourse without the operation of a code.” - A code
is a set of rules that govern the use of visual and linguistic signs within a
Popular codes, like Morse code or Pig Latin, are systems where users can
disguise a message by translating it according to particular rules – Hall's
notion of code is much broader but relies on the same principle
When you want to communicate something meaningful to a friend, you
have to “translate” the thought in your head into a verbal sentence
The English language is the code you use in this instance
You could also use sign language or even paint a picture that expresses
this same thought: both of these are alternative codes to the English
Any image or word we can comprehend, for Hall, is the result of a
The codes we use lead to certain ways of seeing the world
Example: if you follow Feminist theory, you are following a code that
encourages its users to generate and interpret ideas according to issues
of gender and power
Another example: Christian theology is a code that prompts followers to
disseminate and understand messages according to ideas of love and
Codes also compel us to interpret the world according to the rules of the
code. This interpretation occurs in two related moments:
Encoding – the process of creating a meaningful message according to a
particular code
Decoding – the process of using a code to decipher a message and
formulate meaning
The left hand “encoding side” of the model is primarily concerned with how
dominant ideologies come to exist in mass-mediated texts
The codes that media industries use to create media texts are marked by
hegemonic ideologies
Ex: some industry codes reflect stereotypical understandings of race and
gender. When media producers use these codes to generate media texts
(encoding), the ideologies implicit in the code also shape the
representations of race and gender in a hegemonic way
The resulting meaning is called the “preferred reading” or desired
interpretation of the text: “preferred” in the sense that this understanding of
race and gender reinforces systems of unequal social power which in turn
support media industries
Media industries want consumers to interpret texts according to the
preferred meaning by employing codes similar to those used in production,
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