Agency in a Constructed Society
As we study everyday life and culture, along with the influence of media, we are faced with the issue of structure versus agency. In doing these studies, we cannot make valid large scale claims about culture and individuals because we must take into account that we exist as individuals and have agency. Our own realities are subjective; in studying people we can find superficial patterns, however we cannot apply these patterns to every individual, as our realities are subjective.
In Fiske's, "Active audiences", he claims that reality is subjective--we engage and develop dialog and create our own version of reality. Fiske looks at the relationship between individuals and television, providing insight into the control we have over the meanings we gain from our reading of television and its message. Fiske claims that, "The television text is therefore more polysemic and more open than earlier theorists allowed" (p.66)--in order for it to be popular, it must be capable of being read in many different ways. When we read a text, we are engaging in a dialogue between that text and our social situation and experiences: "our subjectivities are likely to be composed of a number of different, possibly contradictory discourses, each bearing traces of a different ideology" (Fiske, p.66). In a study of Aboriginal children, these readers were able to make sense of the text despite it being a part of the dominant ideology; the discourse of powerlessness that they lived by allowed a set of meanings to be activated which resisted the dominant ideology--however, in reading television in this manner, they were able to articulate their experiences in a white-dominated society. This study was important because it demonstrated how television or media text, does not have one set of meaning--rather, it can be interpreted and understood in different ways. Fiske also points out that how a text is received is very influential in what meaning is gained from it--social and environmental factors play a large role in how a message is decoded. He claims that we have the ability to control how we incorporate the meaning we gain from a text into our lives, suggesting the existence of agency in everyone.
Stuart Hall, in "Encoding/Decoding", maintains that if no meaning is taken, then there cannot be consumption (p.52). Meaning must be put into practice. However, during the process, no moment guarantees the next--this suggests that our meaning making is not constructed. There is no one meaning that we will take and automatically use in a particular way, suggesting the idea of agency in that we construct out own meanings and reality. Along with this idea, a message must be decoded, "it is this set of decoded meanings which 'have an effect'" (Hall, p.54) In addition, how we perceive a message is based on how we decode it. Similar to Fiske, Hall points out that there are many factors which influence our meaning making process and...