Presentation Title

Hermeneutics and the negotiation of meaning in media reports

Biographical Sketch

Laurens de Rooij (post-doctoral research fellow, University of Cape Town) completed his PhD at Durham University, UK, in 2017. His present research analyzes how the media discourse on minorities (particularly Muslims and Islam) effects how they are conceptualized, understood, and treated. This work is based on the research supported in part by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Reference number (UID) 85397). The opinions expressed herein are that of the author, and the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard. He was a visiting researcher and scholar at Jakarta’s Graduate School Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (March-April 2013), Duke University’s Department of Religion (fall 2013), the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Centre for Media, Religion, and Culture (spring 2014), and at Brazil’s Fundação Joaquim Nabuco (summer 2016).

Type of Presentation

Individual presentation

Brief Description of Presentation

My presentation would be a short powerpoint presentation that highlights the link between media content and consumer meaning making. It will contain some examples from my fieldwork, as well as some audience participation (answering of questions) to highlight the individual processes.

Abstract of Proposal

As the media plays an important role in society, the analysis of the influences of the media on a person’s ideas and conceptualisations of people of another religious persuasion is an important social issue. News reports about Islam and Muslims commonly relate stories that discuss terrorism, violence or other unwelcome or irrational behaviour, or the lack of integration and compatibility of Muslims and Islam with western values and society. Yet there is little research on how non-Muslims engage with and are affected by media reports about Islam and Muslims. To address this gap of knowledge, a content and discourse analysis of news stories was undertaken and then verbal narratives or thoughts and actions of participants were elicited through fieldwork using focus groups.

The data reveals personal stories that point towards the normativity of news stories and their negotiated reception patterns. Individual orientations towards the media as a primary information source proved to be a significant factor behind the importance of news reports, with individually negotiated personal encounters with Muslims or Islam further affecting the meaning-making process. Participants negotiated media reports to fit their existing outlook on Islam and Muslims. This existing outlook was constructed through, and simultaneously supported by, news reports about Muslims and Islam. The findings suggest a co-dependency and co-productivity between news reports about Islam and Muslims, and participant responses.

In its broadest use, a media text is any signifying structure that uses cultural signs and codes to convey or evoke shared meaning.[1] Meaning is not determined by media products or messages; rather, it is the consequence of their appropriation by the consumer. This appropriation may lead to the creation of what Hepp calls media cultures which are constituted by media products as resources of meaning.[2] “Societies come before media as generators of meaning. Meaning flows from existing social institutions and everyday contexts, via media professionals and audiences, to the mass media, not vice versa.”[3] Therefore, media requires constant viewing in order to (re)constitute consumer's everyday experiences. This increases the power and responsibility of media reports. Simultaneously this process challenges the institutional logic, its role in society, and the social contract on which media functions, because its interpretations are flawed and temporary. Therefore, what this approach highlights is disjuncture between the rationale of media reports and institutional logic, and consumer viewership, that rests upon the process of meaning-making from the audience. In turn, this understanding allows for a re-evaluation of media authority, and the power it wields over everyday life, as well as inform approaches that seek to promote viewer agency in critical literacy programmes.

[1] Horsfield, P., "Media as Culture, Media as Industries, Media as Text, Media as Technologies," 118.

[2] Hepp, A., Cultures of Mediatization (Cambridge, UK - Oxford, UK - Boston, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 70.

[3] Jensen, K. B., The Social Semiotics of Mass Communication (London, UK - Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1995), 61

Start Date

2-24-2018 8:10 AM

End Date

2-24-2018 9:40 AM

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Hermeneutics and the negotiation of meaning in media reports

As the media plays an important role in society, the analysis of the influences of the media on a person’s ideas and conceptualisations of people of another religious persuasion is an important social issue. News reports about Islam and Muslims commonly relate stories that discuss terrorism, violence or other unwelcome or irrational behaviour, or the lack of integration and compatibility of Muslims and Islam with western values and society. Yet there is little research on how non-Muslims engage with and are affected by media reports about Islam and Muslims. To address this gap of knowledge, a content and discourse analysis of news stories was undertaken and then verbal narratives or thoughts and actions of participants were elicited through fieldwork using focus groups.

The data reveals personal stories that point towards the normativity of news stories and their negotiated reception patterns. Individual orientations towards the media as a primary information source proved to be a significant factor behind the importance of news reports, with individually negotiated personal encounters with Muslims or Islam further affecting the meaning-making process. Participants negotiated media reports to fit their existing outlook on Islam and Muslims. This existing outlook was constructed through, and simultaneously supported by, news reports about Muslims and Islam. The findings suggest a co-dependency and co-productivity between news reports about Islam and Muslims, and participant responses.

In its broadest use, a media text is any signifying structure that uses cultural signs and codes to convey or evoke shared meaning.[1] Meaning is not determined by media products or messages; rather, it is the consequence of their appropriation by the consumer. This appropriation may lead to the creation of what Hepp calls media cultures which are constituted by media products as resources of meaning.[2] “Societies come before media as generators of meaning. Meaning flows from existing social institutions and everyday contexts, via media professionals and audiences, to the mass media, not vice versa.”[3] Therefore, media requires constant viewing in order to (re)constitute consumer's everyday experiences. This increases the power and responsibility of media reports. Simultaneously this process challenges the institutional logic, its role in society, and the social contract on which media functions, because its interpretations are flawed and temporary. Therefore, what this approach highlights is disjuncture between the rationale of media reports and institutional logic, and consumer viewership, that rests upon the process of meaning-making from the audience. In turn, this understanding allows for a re-evaluation of media authority, and the power it wields over everyday life, as well as inform approaches that seek to promote viewer agency in critical literacy programmes.

[1] Horsfield, P., "Media as Culture, Media as Industries, Media as Text, Media as Technologies," 118.

[2] Hepp, A., Cultures of Mediatization (Cambridge, UK - Oxford, UK - Boston, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 70.

[3] Jensen, K. B., The Social Semiotics of Mass Communication (London, UK - Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1995), 61