Reception Theory

Authored by: Gretchen Barbatsis

Handbook of Visual Communication

Print publication date:  November  2004
Online publication date:  December  2004

Print ISBN: 9780805841787
eBook ISBN: 9781410611581
Adobe ISBN: 9781135636531


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Reception theorists direct attention to the interaction that takes place in what they call a text-reader or medium-audience nexus. For our purposes, it is a picture-viewer engagement that creates this nexus. This space, which is marked by the hyphen, is considered a site of meaning production and it is the process that occurs here that reception theorists mark out as their object of study. With philosophical underpinnings in phenomenology, a reception perspective asks “how” rather than “what” something like a painting or a photograph or a film “means.” In focusing on the meaning-making process, this approach to understanding mediated communication works with the notion that a text—such as a picture—does not live in isolation from a context of “reading” and “response” (Freund, 1987). Accordingly, a reception perspective conceptualizes audiences as active and texts as indeterminate, and meaning is viewed as belonging to neither a text nor a reader. The notion that meaning is something that is made—or constituted—in a text-reader (picture-viewer) interaction has important implications for how we conceptualize visuals and visual communication as well as how we study them.

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