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Monday, February 07, 2011

Encoding/Decoding- Stuart Hall

the following is a write up on Encoding/Decoding by Rini Thomas


In this paper I have tried to attempt my understanding of Stuart Hall’s work. The essay mainly focuses on the process of communication that has been commonly understood by the mass in terms of an encoder, the message and the decoder. Here it is a set pattern where the sender is the authoritative source for the receiver in terms of the sent message. But there is a necessity to rethink and restructure the whole stereotypical notion. The already existing structure is linear in motion and so there needs to be a change in the structure. The way in which Hall looks into is a more valid structure so to speak in a distinctive way. This is a much more sustained approach where the process is structured – production, circulation, distribution/consumption, reproduction. Here the structure has taken an alteration from the already existing one, where, the sent message is taken or understood or interpreted in different ways by different audience. This structure has been adopted or incorporated by Hall from Marx’s Grundrisse and Capital, which shows how this structure sustains a form of passage.

The focus is on meanings and messages in the form of certain vehicles which are encoded and how it is transferred to the various audience. This can be paralleled with “Reader Response Criticism” where the reader becomes the centre focal point. Language forms a completely vital source here as language is cultural based and the meanings are comprehended through language by the mass in various ways. For example a poem like “Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka written by an Afro-American can be understood by an Indian audience through their understanding of the existing oppression by the hegemony in terms of Dalits. “The ‘encoding’ and ‘decoding’, he argues are relatively autonomous and the communicative process is of determinate moments” (p 167). He says raw history cannot be transmitted by a television newscast. For example, a movie in the caliber of Troy is not the literary text itself. It is an offshoot with some changes and the audience views it differently.

Further, Hall in detail elaborates how the television communication process is a labour process through Capital. There are various institutional structures that go into the production of a programme. Hall states that, “Production here constructs the message” (p 167). Figure 1 clearly states how the process takes place. Before the encoding takes place there are certain plans in terms of framing the technical infrastructure, relations of production and framework of knowledge which is encoded (meaning structures 1) then transferred to a programme as a meaningful discourse which is then decoded (meaning structures 2) and then interpreted into various technical infrastructures, relations of production and frameworks of knowledge. He also focuses on the medium ‘television’, how it is a complex sign which is three dimensional, transferred to a two dimensional image and exhibited. The images exhibited in television are real and not natural. The visual and the aural both are conglomerated and they form an integral part of the production even in the depiction of a cow. Here we come across both connotation and denotation. Denotation is the literal meaning which is cow that denotes a domestic animal and from there connotation occurs; the identification of the cow’s colour or physical attributes, etc. But anything and everything is cultural bound. Culture brings in dominant meanings. The problem with the mass is that of ‘subjective capacity’ as opposed to the ‘objective’. We have different subjective ideals and not just one objective view.

An old-fashioned Indian would consider the change in dressing style (modern) to be spoiling the ‘Indianness’ whereas a youngster would argue saying that it is necessary. The subjectivity changes from person to person.

Hall frames three hypothetical positions from which decodings of a television discourse may be constructed, viz-a-viz, the dominant hegemonic position, the negotiated code and the oppositional code. The hegemonic code is always the dominant followed by the bourgeois, the negotiated code followed by the majority and the oppositional code which is just the minority which accepts it. The whole component takes us to the theory propounded by Ferdinand de Saussure, where the sign, signifier and the signified changes from person to person, from culture to culture and from school of thought to another. Thus this essay focuses on how the entire communicative notion can be reframed and agreed upon by the mass.


Hall, Stuart. “Encoding/Decoding*”. Birmingham, 1973.

1 comment:

CelineN said...

This is a nice article. It helped me understand Hall's writing a lot better.