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Understanding Representation & Stereotyping

jeremy | Tuesday December 01, 2009

Categories: Key Concepts, Representation & Stereotyping, Understanding Media, Understanding Key Concepts

AQA says that candidates for AS and A2 Media Studies should study the historical, social, political and economic dimensions of representation.


Representation is the process by which the media presents the ‘real world’ to an audience.

Media texts construct meanings about the world – a picture, a film, a television programme or a newspaper article re-presents the world to help audiences make sense of it.

A popular understanding of representation is through stereotypes – what are they?



Stereotypes are a form of representation in which groups of people are characterised by attributing to them qualities that some individuals possess, and which later become associated with the whole group.

For example… Punks are forever associated with safety pins in their clothes and bodies, and Mohican haircuts. This is the stereotype of a punk although there will be many punks who do not look like this.

Words and images become stereotyped together:

Dumb blonde football hooligan

Essex girl rebellious teenager

Gay man happy hippy

Media theorists have defined the term in various different ways: O’Sullivan et al (1995) says a stereotype is:

‘a label which involves a process of categorisation and evaluation. Although it may refer to situations or places, it is most often used in conjunction with representations of social groups.’

Branston and Stafford in The Media Student’s Book (Routledge 2006) suggest that mistakes are made in using the term:

‘which does not describe actual people or characters. Brad Pitt is not a stereotype. But the way his image is constructed does carry some …stereotypical assumptions about ‘masculinity’, toughness-with-tenderness’, etc.’

Their one line definition is useful:

‘Stereotypes are widely circulated ideas or assumptions about particular groups.’

Stereotypes are also essential tools for media producers. They can be used as a shorthand to...

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