The Communication Book by Mikael Krogerus

(Martin Jones) #1

How messages can be understood differently

A small but significant question: is what I can hear the same as what you
are saying?
Every child that has ever played Chinese Whispers knows the answer:
not always.
One of the greatest communication theorists, Stuart Hall (1932–2014),
was of the same opinion. In fact, he took the idea further. He believed not
only that we are capable of misunderstanding, but that we play an active
role in understanding, per se. We interpret, or ‘decode’, the same message
differently, depending on our social class, our level of knowledge and our
cultural background. But, above all, the way we understand a message also
depends on how we want to understand it. An example is the cult 1960s
TV series Star Trek. Many fans interpreted the series as a classic science
fiction adventure in space. But the gay community saw the close-knit
relationships between the men and the rainbow crew (black African,
Asian, Russian, Vulcan) as an allusion to the fact that some of the
characters were gay. It is irrelevant that Star Trek’s creator, Gene
Roddenberry, denied this, because, according to Stuart Hall, the message
can be changed once it has been received. In other words, Star Trek fans
saw in the series what they wanted to see.
The Encoding/Decoding Model contradicts the classic sender–receiver
model, according to which the recipient plays a passive role. Hall argued
that the way we receive a message is an active and never clear-cut process,
so that the message can always be understood differently. The sender
encodes the message with a particular intention. The receiver decodes the
message in order to understand it. And this decoding can happen in three
different ways:

  1. Dominant-hegemonic: the desired reading – we understand the

message the way it was intended

  1. Oppositional: we oppose or dismiss the intended meaning

  2. Negotiated: a combination of the two

A message is more than just what is said. It changes depending on how it
is understood.

Free download pdf