Communication and Cultural Studies

Course Outline

This course will focus on the interrelated areas of communication theory and cultural studies with a specific emphasis on the influence of Roman Jakobson’s formulation of the model of communication and its functions on the analysis of decoding practices (the full range of which span aberrant to hegemonic) in cultural studies. The study of decoding practices is at the heart of cultural studies. I will emphasize the Birmingham school tradition as it is represented through the significant contributions of Stuart Hall and Dick Hebdige, among others, but also include reflections on the work of John Fiske and John Hartley in which Jakobson’s work was used to flag a move beyond content analysis in studies of television. The communication component of this course will limit itself to questions concerning cybernetic and poetic models with attention resting on their critique by Jean Baudrillard and their semiotic complexification by Umberto Eco. The more general goal of the course is to investigate how models of communication have served cultural studies in its diverse theoretical and political (Gramscian) expressions of decoding practices in the now familiar process of sub-cultural creativity involving borrowing-redefinition-relocation. This will be brought into contemporary focus through issues around the production of locality in the context of studies of globalization. The cybernetic model serves both as background to modelling communication as such and introduces questions around the conditions required for successfully encoding and decoding technical as opposed to semantic signals and signs, but also provides a context in which I will suggest that cultural studies has, like cybernetics, something of a military flavour at or near its origins, and that this persists today in the tactical countermeasures of culture jammers and the new Situationists of alternative youth culture.

This course will be of interest to students of communication theory and cultural studies as well as cultural sociologists. It will involve detailed commentaries on and expositions of key texts in the field that are widely available either in Readers devoted to the themes or in original editions. These lectures are based on a seminar offered in the Department of Sociology at Lakehead University in the fall of 1999 (available here) and they complement my existing series of eight cyber lectures on “McLuhan, Baudrillard and Cultural Theory,” recently published as McLuhan and Baudrillard: The Masters of Implosion (Routledge 1999; www.routledge.com). All those interested in following the course may contact me for further details, supplementary materials and conditions: email Gary Genosko.

Lectures

  1. Preliminary considerations

    On the face of it, the connection between the statistical-engineering and politico-cultural approaches to communication seems weak, although the conceptual problem of modeling communication remains the same; many of the key terms of reference, such as encoding and decoding, are also generally applicable. The first lecture below will prove this wrong.

  2. Roman Jakobson and the Primacy of the Poetic

    The influential Russian linguist Roman Jakobson is perhaps best known in semiotic and structuralist circles for three innovations:

    1. a sense of dynamic synchrony
    2. his emphasis on simultaneity and equivalence over linearity
    3. his placement of poetics at the heart of his theory of language

  3. Oblique Strategies and Counter-Hegemonic Struggles: Decoding in the Birmingham Tradition (Part One)

    Halls (Re)articulated Model of Communication Cultural studies once enjoyed the status of an outsider before it managed to sneak into the English Department at the University of Birmingham through the back door, as it were. What was the character of this outside, which would become a kind of dissident knowledge on the inside, a decentred Centre established by Richard Hoggart in 1963?

  4. Oblique Strategies and Counter-Hegemonic Struggles: Decoding in the Birmingham Tradition (Part Two)

    Halls (Re)articulated Model of Communication Continued Hall retains the denotation/connotation distinction simply for its analytic value in spite of himself, it seems, and the acknowledgement that it is not how signs are taken in their combined sense in real language communities. The connotative level of language becomes, then, the privileged but not exclusive window of mobile ideology through which passes already coded signs and these latter engage deep cultural codes.

  5. Umberto Eco’s Model of Communication

    My focus in this cyberlecture is an idea that has been a constant in Eco's work - the limits of decoding and how to model them. In order to set up the problem in terms of his introduction of an element of what he called "guerrilla decoding" in his model of communication in A Theory of Semiotics, it is useful to provide an overview of his career that highlights how at various stages in his intelectual development, he conceived of limits and constraints in his reflections on interpretation.

  6. Jean Baudrillard’s Critique of Jakobson’s Model of Communication

    This lecture will focus on Jean Baudrillard’s critical remarks on modeling communication in his essay “Requiem for the Media” in For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. The “requiem” of the title refers to Baudrillard’s global critique of the possibility of a media theory - “there is no theory of the media” – which has remained, as he states, either empirical or mystical: Marx or McLuhan. What if McLuhan was correct that Marx was obsolete in his lifetime?

  7. Phatic (Dys)functions: The Shifting Contour of the TV Screen

    This lecture is grounded in a debate in communication theory about the functionality of phatic communication, the terms of which I will shortly review, but which will be familiar to readers of lectures 2 and 6. The lesson of this debate, which shows the inherent dysfunctionality of the concept, is then applied to a further dimension of contact – that is, tactility – and its fortunes in media studies of television, with particular attention to screens themselves.

  8. The Active Receiver

    One of the great insights of cultural studies is that the receiver-reader-audience is active and productive of meaning. We have already seen how Stuart Hall developed an elegant three-part hypothetical range of the non-identity of encoding and decoding operations in relation to television programs. If we look at statements of this insight by John Fiske as prime examples, it is for the sake of an appreciation of his refinement of Hall's work and the terms with which he constructed the receiver's activeness. The construction of such activeness is the subject of this concluding cyberlecture.

Gary Genosko 's Bio

Dr Gary Genosko is the author of Baudrilliard and Signs (1994) and the editor of The Guattari Reader (1996). He has published widely on topics in semiotics, psychoanalysis, communication and cultural studies. At present he is working independently. Send comments or questions to Gary Genosko: genosko@mist.lakeheadu.ca