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An ecological psychology approach to the study of audiences
Unformatted Document Text:  ecological theory...4 The media offer a very good example of an environment that is seen as entirely artificial (often not even as “cultural”) but which ecological psychology should urge us to treat as indistinguishable from the natural world. A television set offers us affordances much in the same way as a stick to a chimpanzee. However, psychology has so often failed to go any further than treating the television as a glorified tachistoscope – a machine relaying visual information. As Costall (1995, p. 470) argues, our encounters with the environment are not based on shapes, colours and orientation of surfaces but on the “meaning of things for action”. Therefore, it is critical to consider the meanings that media hold for their users; while for a few, a television set is just a box of tricks that offers idle amusement, for others, it relays information which has immense significance in their lives. The importance of meaning for audience activity has long been at the heart of media scholarship, particularly in the European cultural studies tradition. One of the pioneers in this tradition, Stuart Hall, put forward a theory of communication based around the idea of a circuit of codes (Hall, 1980). Media producers encode messages in particular ways and the audience then decodes these messages, although meaning is never fixed. Nevertheless, it is possible, Hall argued, to identify a “preferred” reading of any given media message, much like any object in the environment has a preferred function (Loveland, 1991). Hall’s model was tested on audiences themselves by his colleague Morley (1980), who found that different social groups (e.g. students or trade union officials) produced different “readings” of the same media text - a current affairs show. Some groups’ readings, particularly those in higher social classes, reproduced the “preferred reading” intended by the show’s producers, while those in the lower

Authors: Giles, David.
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ecological theory...4
The media offer a very good example of an environment that is seen as entirely
artificial (often not even as “cultural”) but which ecological psychology should urge
us to treat as indistinguishable from the natural world. A television set offers us
affordances much in the same way as a stick to a chimpanzee. However, psychology
has so often failed to go any further than treating the television as a glorified
tachistoscope – a machine relaying visual information. As Costall (1995, p. 470)
argues, our encounters with the environment are not based on shapes, colours and
orientation of surfaces but on the “meaning of things for action”. Therefore, it is
critical to consider the meanings that media hold for their users; while for a few, a
television set is just a box of tricks that offers idle amusement, for others, it relays
information which has immense significance in their lives.
The importance of meaning for audience activity has long been at the heart of media
scholarship, particularly in the European cultural studies tradition. One of the pioneers
in this tradition, Stuart Hall, put forward a theory of communication based around the
idea of a circuit of codes (Hall, 1980). Media producers encode messages in particular
ways and the audience then decodes these messages, although meaning is never fixed.
Nevertheless, it is possible, Hall argued, to identify a “preferred” reading of any given
media message, much like any object in the environment has a preferred function
(Loveland, 1991). Hall’s model was tested on audiences themselves by his colleague
Morley (1980), who found that different social groups (e.g. students or trade union
officials) produced different “readings” of the same media text - a current affairs
show. Some groups’ readings, particularly those in higher social classes, reproduced
the “preferred reading” intended by the show’s producers, while those in the lower


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