In changed about media and audience studies. ENCODING/DECODING IN

In this article, first I’m going to tell about Stuart Hall’s Encoding and
Decoding model, then the model’s effects on audience studies. This model was a
phenomenon in the field of media studies. Before Hall, there were some
approaches which were taking audiences as a passive mass. After Hall, audience
studies have gained importance. Especially David Morley’s work in this field
has opened a new door to researchers. Researchers like Morley, John Fiske,
James Curran have worked on the audience studies and make this subject popular
in media studies. But first, we have to see what Hall changed about media and
audience studies.


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The communication model of Encoding/decoding was founded by Stuart Hall in
1973. Hall offered a new theoretical approach of how media messages are
produced, disseminated, and interpreted. In his new model, he assumed that TV
and other media audiences are presented with messages that are decoded, or
interpreted in different ways depending on an individual’s cultural background,
economic standing, and personal experiences. (Hall, 1973) This work of Hall
brought a revolution in mass media research on communication. The earlier
research was based on the traditional communication circuit, which had only two
stages; Sender (Stage 1)-Message-Reciever (Stage2).

This model of communication was so linear, where the message flowed from
one side to the other; from sender to receiver. Hall identified a complex
structure involved in message production and its reception. The traditional
communication theory took the audience for granted. It took the audience as
passive. But Hall pointed out the active role of the audience by focusing on
the complex process of Encoding and Decoding.

In his Four Stage Communication Model, Hall classified the steps of
communication as  Production,
Circulation, Use (consumption) and Reproduction. In production step, the
producer encodes the message. This encoding process builds on the dominant ideologies
of the society. In this step, the producer (coder or writer) of the message is
coding the message for society’s beliefs and values. Circulation step is the
subtle manner in which a message is transmitted. The circulation process of
things is influencing the way of the audiences receiving and using the message.
Use (consumption and understanding) step needs active recipients and is the
process of decoding or else interpreting the message. Reproduction step is the
step of the audience members give reaction after decoding, interpreting and
consuming the given message in their own ways based on their lifestyles,
experiences, knowledge or beliefs (Hall, 1973).

    Hall says each of these stages is
‘Relatively Autonomous’ from the other. Each of these steps is autonomous at
the same time logically interdependent in the chain. Each stage has its own
determining limits and possibilities. There is no random interpretation at any
stage because each stage limits the possibilities in the next. (Hall, 1973) He
perceived a ‘complex structure of dominance’ in messages. This structure of
dominance varies at each stage.

First, the institutional structures of broadcasting, with their practices
and networks of production, their organized relations, and technical
infrastructures, are required to produce a program. The production here
constructs the message. The circuit begins here. The production process has its
‘discursive’ aspect: it molds the message in a presentable form. Then the
production structures draw the message from the other discursive formations
created by wider socio-cultural and political power structures
(language/dominant culture/ideology etc.). After drawing on these discursive
formations/ available knowledge in society, the message is ideologically
circulated, in a presentable and acceptable manner.

At the stage of production, the message is appropriated as per the
technical needs and at the stage of Circulation, it is appropriated as per the
socio-economic and language power relations. The message is given a presentable
shape; a ‘message form’. The message form becomes the vehicle of the intended
message. Before it is put to use/consumption, the message is appropriated as a
meaningful discourse so that it is meaningfully decoded. At the stage of ‘Use’,
the audience can decode the message as per their socio-economic and political
background. The audience might have different socio-economic and political
background. As the background differs the decoding also differs. It is this set
of decoded meanings which ‘have an effect’, influence, entertain, instruct or
persuade, with very complex perceptual, cognitive, emotional, ideological or
behavioral consequences.