Participatory culture is described as the opposite of consumer culture. In this culture private individuals or the public do not simply consume content made by others. Instead Participatory culture allows the public and private individuals to contributors and producers of content. The notion of participatory culture has gained increasing significance with the development of web 2.0 companies such as social media sites like facebook and content sharing sites such as youtube. On these websites content is created by members of the community in order to share between themselves in a meaningful social environment, rather than for profit.

The idea of participatory culture in the production of media content quite often posed as an opposite to mass media. In systems of mass media production there is one sender with many recipients. In a participatory culture users create and share content among themselves. This content is spreadable and its messages can be changed and adopted and adapted by different communities. As Jenkins argues consumers produce and spread content that is socially meaningful to them in a gift economy. Jenkins posits that this culture is empowering for the user.

However Fuchs raises a number of points of criticism to this notion that participatory culture is wholly empowering, democratic and positive. Rather than seeing participatory culture as a democratic and grass roots movement, he argues that Jenkins ignores a number of less positive aspects of the ‘participatory democracy’. For example the ability for companies such as youtube to encourage user created content good just as easily be seen as outsourcing of labour by the company.

Fuchs also points out the ability of web 2.0 companies such as Facebook to heavily mediate content that is shown on their websites. Rather than users being able to produce and display whatever they want they must conform to Facebook’s business model and yet they are excluded from any of the business decisions taken by Facebook. Their cultural expressions are heavily mediated. What they create is not owned by them.

Fuchs also points out that the idea that participatory culture is 100% participatory is false. This idea is supported by Van Dijck who also criticises the notion of wholly positive partcipatory culture. According to Van Dijck only 13% of online users are actually creators. Clearly the idea of a mass collaboration is not true. The vast majority of online users are excluded or do not engage in the production of cultural content. Indeed the notion of mass collaboration is challenged as Van Dijck argues motivations for online usage can vary greatly.  Fuchs takes this a step further, arguing that the exclusion of people from the creation of cultural content is presented as natural and necessary. This existentialist approach by supporters of participatory culture is something that Fuchs believes must be addressed.

Indeed according Fuchs there is a high level of exploitation involved in participatory culture. Not only are users exploited as they produce cultural content which they themselves do not own, their online habits are also used as a commodity. Companies such as Facebook access user data and sell it to companies so that advertisements can be tailored to particular users. This the raises issues of privacy. It is not only users who are exploited. The production of hardware for example requires mining and production industries that are akin to slave labour. These aspects of participatory culture are ignored argues Fuchs.

Both Van Dijck and Fuchs argue that participatory culture is presented in an all too positive light. They argue that less positive aspects are not acknowledge by advocates of participatory cultures and must be addressed. Van Dijck even goes so far as to say that advocates of participatory culture are using manifestos, documents of command rather than reason. Indeed, there is much celebration surrounding the emergence of web 2.0 and participatory culture without addressing many of the facts of the system. He dismisses writings on this emergence such as WeThink and Wikinomics as simple pamphlets that support the industry. The arguments of both Fuchs and Van Dijck urge to also acknowledge the aspects of participatory culture that do not fit with its representation as a mass collaboration, democratic social movement. Indeed, Fuchs argues that the idea that fan culture for example is akin to political power must be rejected. Rather than empowering users political activism is replaced with popular culture. If popular culture is accepted a a form of politics than a persons engagement with riskier forms of protest is undermined. Rather than being empowered users have power taken away.

While there are positive aspects of participatory culture both Van Dijck and Fuchs warn against the blind acceptance of manifestos that praise participatory culture without questioning some of its less positive aspects.



Viral marketing is a method of marketing whereby consumers are encouraged to share information about a company’s goods or services via the Internet. It relies on a natural cultural transmission between consumers of media content. It has been likened to the spread of a virus whereby the event surrounding the media is akin to the protein shell of a real virus and the resulting ideology, message or meme acts as the genetic information of the virus. Viral marketing is designed to spread.

Indeed this has lead Jenkins to define Spreadable media and Sticky media. Sticky media represents the old form of marketing which emphasises centralised control over distribution and where the company attempts to maintain purity of the message. With spreadable viral media the focus is much greater on the agency of the consumers. Consumers accept the message and then re-purpose its content in a way that is meaningful to them and their social groups. Media that spreads fastest is that which is most easily appropriated to express meanings and interpretations f a variety of groups.

Therefore spreadable media quite often contains absurd humour or parody, feelings of nostalgia or require active participation.

IN my example of a strategically placed viral media campaign I have chosen “The man your man could smell like” by Old Spice.

The advert obviously relies most heavily on absurd humour. The actor in the advertisement Isaiah Mustafa, former NFL player, made is debut as the ‘old spice guy’ at the 2010 Superbowl. In the advert Mustafa delivers a fast paced funny monologue in front of  a green screen which rapidly changes setting beginning in a bathroom and ending on a beach… on a horse. The reception of the video was overwhelmingly positive. In comments on youtube consumers enjoyed the humour of the advert and most responses were variations of the joke and style of the advert which had been re-purposed to create more jokes.

“look at your man – looks at empty wall…”

Obviously the adverts humour lends itself to being spreadable. As well as this consumer response seemed to acknowledge the advert as a ‘good’ advert. One that is new and exciting and therefore worth sharing with others. It takes on the character of a phenomenon that s rarely seen, a genuinely funny advertisement. For this reason people deem it to have worth and spread it among themselves.

From watching response videos to the advert this is also made clear.


Just as the comments suggest the focus of the consumers is on how funny the advert manages to be. As well as being ‘brilliant’ as a marketing strategy.

The advertisement was so successful that Old Spice profits went up 107% and the advertisement had reached 6.7 million views in 24 hours. This prompted a series of sequel videos.  The popularity of the advert then led to several other television appearances for Mustafa, including the show Ellen.  Old Spice then launched an online marketing campaign involving real-time exchange with the audience through a number of social networking sites and online communities including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Digg. During the 3-day long campaign, Mustafa replied to over 186 online comments and requests submitted by the viewers.

The advertisements success was then noticed by a number of well known web blogs that focused on technology and on business news including Urlesque, ReadWriteWeb, Fast Company, TechCrunch, Jezebel, Mashable and Geekosystem. Redditors, an online community then made a downloadable voicemail message site where people could download Mustafas voice for their home phones. Old spice then found this site and tweeted it.

A blog entry titled “And the ‘Oldspice Maneuver’ is created,  by Ryan Winacko, a Canadian producer and broadcaster, that heralds the advertisement as groundbreaking. Finally the advert was featured in G4’s month-long popularity contest called MEMEFIGHT. This featured 32 internet memes reviewed and selected by a special panel of internet culture experts. Old Spice Guy won.

Clearly the spreadability of the Old Spice advert is clear. As we have seen it was picked up by a number of different online communities and its humour was appropriated and re-purposed so as to fit that artciuar community. However it was not only humour. Old Spice aslo became recognised for making a ‘good’ advert, somewhat of a novelty in a world where we are so inundated with marketing strategies. This allowed people to see both humour and worth in the campaign and so encouraged them to share it. In many cases the product itself was secondary but the memorability of the advertisement meant that Old Spice came from obscurity to a cultural icon of the internet generation.


Persuasion is defined by Simons (2001) as “communication designed to influence the autonomous judgements and actions of others”. this suggests that we experience acts of persuasion constantly in our daily interactions with other people and institutions. The central point of persuasion according to Simmons is to achieve a goal. These goals can vary greatly from getting someone to vote for a certain political party, or, buying a certain product. Persuasive intent in these arguments is often obvious from the context of the argument, what is said, and how it is said.

The act of persuasion attempts to influence the decisions of others however there is a distinction between coercion and material inducement. Coercion forces someone to make a judgement or act through threatening them. Material inducement offers something such as money for someone to act in a way you want them to. The action when it has come about by persuasion is always autonomous, the audience has reached its own decision.

Rhetoric is the language that is used to persuade. It is the art of persuasive speaking or writing and relies heavily on the use of figurative language. Rhetoric was first established as an academic discipline by the Ancient Greeks who viewed rhetoric as having 3 forms. Political discourse, Judicial arguments and Panegyrics (a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something.)

Rhetoric id defined by Sonesson as a form of communication. It has five parts, Inventio, Dipositio, Elocutio, Memoria and Actio. Inventio refers to compiling information, Dispositio is this informations organisation, Elocutio is the expression of the information, Memoria is the act of memorising the discourse and Actio is the pronouncement or enacting of the discourse.

As Rhetoric is a form of communication Sonesson suggests a communication model to explain how it works. There is both a sender of information and a receiver of information. Both the sender and the receiver must adapt their thinking somewhat in order for the communication to operate. The sender uses rhetoric in order to adapt their message so that it will be understood by the receiver and how will they be persuaded. Simultaneously the receiver must adapt to the sender by using Hermeneutics, asking, how do i understand the message the receiver is sending. Both the receiver and the sender must rely on semiotics in order to understand each other. This communication and act of persuasion according to Sonesson relies on presuppositions that are shared by both participants of the communication. These can range from the unchanging laws of physics, the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, to socio-cultural ‘lifeworlds’ which are shared within a culture.

As an example of how rhetoric and persuasion are used to sell products i have chosen an advert from Alpecin Shampoo that is shown in the UK.

The advert consists of a female voice describing this ‘new’ product to the British consumers. It appears that the shampoo is being marketed explicitly towards men as the main selling point is that the shampoo is ‘moving fast’ and is the ‘fastest growing mens shampoo, because it prevents hair loss’. The message here is clear, that men should by this product because other men are buying it too, and it prevents hair loss. This persuasion relies on two shared presuppositions that hair loss is bad and something that should be treated and also that ‘German engineering’ is somehow superior to other kinds of engineering.

The shampoo is indeed a German product, however it is interesting that this is the main tag line for the product. ‘German engineering, for your hair’. This relies on the British presupposition of  the efficiency of German technology which is a long standing cultural perception of Germany in the collective British psyche. It is doubtful that Alpecin would be marketed in the same way in Germany. Indeed in Germany Alpecin associates itself with sport rather than simply being ‘German Engineering’.

The association to with technology and engineering with hair care is also interesting. Here a shared presupposition that hair care is not often related to science and technology is gone against. This strange linking of hair care with masculine ideas of technology speed and efficiency serves to make the product interesting as it subverts one presupposition of hair care, being feminine and unrelated to technology, and replaces it with the presupposed ‘German engineering’ idea in British culture.



By the 1950s television advertising had become increasingly important to american advertisers. Indeed, advertising expenditures had reached unprecedented levels. Overall, the decade saw gross annual ad industry billings grow from $1.3 billion in 1950 to $6 billion in 1960.

In the post war environment of 1950s America there was an increasing demand for consumer goods and much of the marketing revolved around ‘consumption anxiety’. These products promised to offer people new and improved versions of their lives and themselves. As well as this the emergence of a new prosperous american middle class was reflected in consumers desire to attain luxury style and success. Motivational research undertaken by Ernest Dichtier suggested that upward mobility and prosperity is what people wanted, as a result advertising reflected these desires. They portrayed a better version of the lives people could lead, if only they bought the right product.

This advertisement for Pink Canay Soap reflects such desires and marketing strategies. The entire advertisement is one that is filled with ideas of luxury and success. The advertisement opens on the ‘Grand Hotel’, a title vague enough to be anywhere but striking enough so that the viewer recognises it as a place of luxury. A chauffeur driven car pulls up and, aided by the uniformed chauffeur, out steps a young woman. The eye level of the camera is directed straight at the face of the woman as she approaches the camera. According to Machin this direct gaze of the participant encourages the viewer to identify with the participant of the advertisement, here it is the woman. Her smile demands a response of the viewer of familiarity. The participant in the advertisement is clearly meant to represent a better version of the viewer. Indeed, if the point was not clear enough the a female voice sings “You could be lovelier each day, with fabulous pink Canay”.

The scene then cuts immediately to an image of the product sat on a satin cushion on a seashell. Th viewer is encouraged to associate the new and improved reflection of themselves represented by the young woman with the product scene only moments after being introduced to the seemingly stylish and successful participant.

Then a male voice takes over in narration. Over a scene of the young woman washing sensuously in an ornate bath surrounded by objects of style such as perfume bottles and luxurious chairs. The male narrators opening line is “Ah! That perfume…” which gives the effect of conveying the sense of smell through the visual advertisement and its desired effect on those who smell it, particularly men. This suggests that not only is Pink Canay Soap a mark of success and style, but it will also make you, a woman as this is who the advert is marketed towards, attractive to men. There is use of sensuous imagery as the woman bathes and the narrator speaks f the soap ‘caressing’ the skin.

An attempt is also made to introduce the unique selling point of the product, the aspect that sets it aside from all commercial soaps. Again the camera cuts to an image of the product. The image is entirely pink, a motif that is also repeated in the woman’s surroundings and dress and the male voice explains that it is the “Finest Pink Cold Cream, the gentlest possible skin cleanser”  that makes Pink Canay Soap so luxurious. This emphasis on a USP was common of products at the time who had to compete in marketplace flooded with choice in consumer goods. This approach was pioneered by Hopkins.

The scene then changes to the woman fully dressed and washed again looking directly at the screen. She is then approached by a man who takes her by the arm. Again the appeal of the soaps perfume to men is emphasised. The camera the follows the couple with the woman appearing to lead the man as they walk. This suggests that by using Canay Soap there is an element of empowerment that comes with being a socially prosperous wealthy woman. While the gender roles are not changed, there is something that suggests power in the way the woman leads, she is impressive and confident, all because of Canays Pink Soap.

The couple then join another couple and they stand in a group chatting and smiling. They are dressed similarly and become a homogenised group and so it seems that the woman for a moment loses her individuality. Then the narrator reminds the viewer, “this could be you, a lovelier you”. The angle of interaction is head on suggesting a belonging to this group of seeming social elites. Finally the advertisement ends with the soap adorned with the most ornamentation of luxury it has seen and the repetition of the jingle “You could be lovelier each day, with fabulous pink Canay”.


Discourse analysis II pays close attention to how the practices of institutions and their use of visual and verbal texts work to create systems of power and control. While Discourse analysis I is more concerned with the visual and verbal texts and how they construct a discourse, Discourse analysis II concerns itself more with the work of institutions in producing forms of power and order.

As Rose argues, institutions work in two main ways in order to construct social order and power relationships. The first way is through their institutional apparatus. Institutional apparatus refers to the notion of the forms of power and knowledge which constitute any given institution.  These, for example, could refer to wide ranging areas such as an institutions  architecture,
regulations,  philosophical statements, laws, morals and how these articulate a particular discourse.

The second way Rose argues that institutions work to articulate a discourse is through their institutional technologies. This area is harder to define but can be understood as the practical techniques an institution might employ in order to practice forms of power and knowledge. These technologies are used by the institution in a way which controls and defines the behaviour of people subject to the institutions discourse. For example in museums technologies of display such as glass cases, in discouraging the touching of certain artefacts or exhibits, produce ‘docile bodies’ as they led into behaving in a certain way in line with the institutions discourse.

Because of the focus of the second kind of  discourse analysis is on apparatus and on technology it lends itself better to investigation of processes and production of discourse rather than detailed analysis of individual images. Discourse analysis II focuses on the production of discourse and its reception by audiences of discourse and its effects on them. Key examples of sources that can be investigated by this kind of discourse analysis include institutions such as prisons, schools, museums and galleries.

For my concrete example of an institution i have chosen the University of Maastricht Guesthouse. Following Roses method it is possible to explore how the Guesthouse as an institution manages the behaviours of its residents and maintains order through the use of institutional apparatus and institutional technologies.

The institutional apparatus of the Guesthouse is clear in its desire to maintain a social order among its residence. Firstly there is a long list of printed rules that are glued to the inside of each residents bedroom door. This list of rules cannot be removed and is ever present in the room of the resident. These rules dictate to residents their length of stay, how many people are allowed in each room at any given time and a number of ground rules relating to orderly behaviour. Beneath this 13 rules the Guesthouse reminds residents of their right to evict any resident if the rules are broken. These rules serve to keep residents orderly with a well visible threat ensuring they are reminded that the guesthouse is not their home, but rather temporary accommodation that they do not have automatic rights to.

There are also examples of institutional technologies that the guesthouse employs to remind residents of the top down power structure that exists. They hire security personnel on short term contracts to patrol the halls throughout the day and the night. The short terms ensure that residents do not form strong relationships with security and so their presence is always slightly alien. And, while they are not always presence, their irregular rotations and patrols mean that residents see never entirely sure when security will arrive. Similar to Foucaults pan-opticon residents self discipline themselves helping to ensure that order is maintained without round the clock surveillance.

The guards also are able to access all doors in the building whereas residents are only able to open their own corridors and bedrooms. This means that they are both aware of their place in the building, where they are allowed access to and where not. It also means that distinct communities form on each corridor as it is harder for residents to interact with those on other floors without express permission from someone living on another corridor.

Clear the institution of the guesthouse employs both apparatus and technologies to ensure the good beahviour of its residence and is particularly preoccupied with maintaining order withing the guesthouse. The residents, or rather ‘guests’, are often reminded of their temporary residence and their obligation to uphold the guesthouse order lest they be evicted.

Saying this however, there does remain opposition to this power regime. Residents do not always follow rules. They decorate their rooms, cover the rules on the door, place objects in the doors to wedge them open to encourage illicit movement through the building and even attempt to befriend the faceless security in a move to break their anonymous power.




Summary of the notion of discourse and ‘discourse analysis I’ according to Rose (2001)

Rose begins her explanation on the notion of discourse by introducing the theories of Foucault as central to his theoretical arguments and methodology. She goes on to provide a simple explanation it what the notion of discourse entails. As she puts it, discourse can be understood as “Groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought”. This particular ways of thinking which are dictated by various discourses then result in particular kinds of knowledge about the world. Discourse shapes the way people see the world, think about the world and how they act within the world. Discourses also produce what is referred to as subjects. For example a medical discourse will produce subjects such as doctors and artists and art discourse will produce subjects such as musicians.

Rose then goes on to lay put key points that must be considered in the understanding of discourse. Firstly intertextuality, due to the diversity of forms through which discourse can be articulated it must be understood that the way meanings of any one discourse text or image depend not only on that one text but also on the meanings carried by other images or texts.

Visuality can be considered as a discourse. these are images that are produced which carry a certain view of the world. In visual discourse certain things are visible in particular ways while other thing are left invisible.

Discourse formation relies heavily on the way meanings are connected together in a particular discourse. For example there is a relation between discourses on femininity and masculinity. One discourse cannot exist without the other.

Rose then goes on to comment on the relationship between power and discourse, pointing out that discourse holds power as it is productive. Discourses discipline their subjects into particular ways of thinking which once entered into are difficult to escape from. There is an intrinsic link between knowledge and power that can be viewed by the study of discourse, as discourses are fundamentally ways in which knowledge is framed. The power that discourse has derives not from a top down relationship, but rather, different discourses jostle for dominance amongst each other. The focus Rose makes clear should not be on why power relationships are the way they are, it should be on how they work.

Rose splits discourse analysis into two types. Discourse analysis I and discourse analysis II. Discourse analysis I focuses on discourses that are articulated through various kinds of visual image and verbal texts. This images and texts are socially produced in order to persuade. Discourse analysis then should focus on these strategies of persuasion, how social difference and authority is constructed through language and images. Often theses accounts are authoritative and are designed as a way of fostering a certain way of thinking. However Rose makes clear that like Foucault these strategies are not produced from human agency.

This view appears to be unlike that proposed by Elliot in the essay Consuming Caffeine. Elliot suggests that the discourse surrounding the sale of Coffee is constructed with deliberate intent. Indeed through visual imagery and texts Starbucks creates a discourse surrounding their brands of coffee in order to making the exciting and marketable. They warp geographical locations through a commodified western lens in an attempt to set their brand of coffee apart from competitors who seem to mask the third world origins of their coffee beans. They market their coffees on the flavour that consumers associate with broad geographical areas. Coffee grown in Kenya and Indonesia is mixed to create a particular kind of taste, which is then packaged under vague and misleading names. They use the names of countries and regions arbitrarily in order to market a ‘foreign’ experience which contrasts with their lines of more homely coffees. Indeed, Elliot even goes so far as to demonstrate how Starbucks uses racialised rhetoric and orientalism to create a discourse surrounding their coffee.

Rose offers a method for discourse analysis that in some ways is applied by Elliot. Elliot has selected her sources and identified key themes that they display. There is evidence that Elliot has gone into detail in examining the contradictions and complexity of the images used by Starbucks as they both attempt to create a familiar westernised brand of coffee coupled with an exotic take on a symbol of western life. Elliot’s attention to detail is clear in the conclusion that she has drawn from Starbucks discourse. However there are also differences in method. For example rose suggests that discourse analysis be approached with a fresh set of eyes. It seems that Elliot is unable to do this as while rose was considering historical discourses, Elliot is investigating a contemporary one. Therefore her ability to remain entirely objective may be compromised.


The logic of cultural branding 

The Converse brand was founded in 1908 as a rubber shoe company, and it was not until 1917 that their iconic All Star basketball shoe was introduced. Due to the fact that Converse filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and was bought by Nike in 2003 suggests that it failed to become a culturally iconic brand. However this trend seems to be changing. As of 2008, it seemed that Converse was finally beginning to understand its audience as ‘creative people’ and those who subscribe to counter cultural ideals in an environment which is ever more dominated by consumerism.

Indeed, initially Converse trainers were produced as a sports shoe, more specifically for basketball, but then as they began to lose ground to more successful companies such as Nike and Reebok in the 1970s, they were forced to rethink their cultural value. Converse could not compete with the sport mythology that the likes of Nike were producing.

Converse saw a limited revival as a casual footwear in the 1980s as the brand logo and the All Star name continued to be seen as a cultural icon.  But due to an increasingly difficult market and recession the brand could not sustain itself. Like many other brands they fell victim to a recession and the 1990s bargain conscious american public.

Since 2008 Converse have taken on the logic of cultural branding and are following the axioms to which Holt defines the model of cultural branding. They have addressed the cultural anxiety in society of consumerism and conformity and created the cultural myth that Converse embody an individualistic youth counter culture. The brand myth suggests that Wearing converse allows you to ‘be yourself’. This idea is then complimented by the wide range of colours and designs that the original Chuck Taylor II is available in.

Most notably it seems Converse have attempted to associate themselves with youth music culture. This branding of Music to which Klein refers to is clear as they use music videos and bands to promote the brand. Converse tweets rarely but when they do it is often in order to promote new bands. One particular strategy that Converse have employed is to offer brands to create ‘Custom Converse’ designs. One example being the Indy Pop Band Bastille. Shoes feature lyrics from the bands song and silhouettes of its members. An urban myth has also developed that the punk group The Ramones ‘always’ wore Converse. Indeed this myth has been debunked by members of the band. However Converse continue to be seen attempting to garner the myth that somewhat anti-mainstream bands wear their shoes. This feeds into their counter cultural myth and DIY feel.

On the opening of their new headquarters in Boston in 2015 Converse included a a permanent music recording studio for the new “Converse Rubber Tracks” project. Clearly they can be seen attempting to become part of the music culture. The project is described as a “Global family of community-based professional recording studios. Emerging musicians of all genres can apply for free studio time. If selected, artists record at no cost while maintaining the rights to their own music.” This has the double benefit of Converse seen to be sponsoring emerging counter cultural artists, maintain their DIY appeal and all under the falsehood that they are doing it from the goodness of their hearts. In reality it imbues them into the music culture making them a cultural symbol and provides them with advertising. They then proceed to host their own concerts.

It is not just music that Converse have chosen as a vehicle of becoming part of the counter cultural myth. They also run the ‘Wall to Wall’ street art programme. Further presenting themselves as a DIY youth brand. They have also collaborated with Swedish skate group Polar Skate Co. to produce a 6 minute video, shot in black and white, and with handheld cameras of the skaters in Manhattan. Entitled ‘Manhattan Days’it serves as both an ad for the shoes and also perpetuated the myth that Converse are worn by young, counter cultural people who seek out their own thrills in ife independent of the rest of consumer culture. Indeed skating provides the perfect level of individuality with a mix of risk (the videos feature both well executed tricks and times when they fail and the skater laugh happily), that constructs converse as a shoe for the casual creative.

This has clear resonance with the concerns of Klein. Converse can be seen here to be coopting areas of youth culture that were once considered free of corporate interference. Skating and bedroom bands. They are attempting to place themselves as an integral part of this DIY youth culture and youth identity.



Assignment 1: Signs, Icons, Symbol

 Explanation of semiotics

Semiotics comes from the Greek Semios for sign and so is the study of signs. The concept of the sign is something that stands for something else. The study focuses more technically on looking at the the Signifier, such as the written or spoken word, which corresponds to a culturally determined meaning. This meaning is known as the signified. Modern semiotics is most heavily influenced by Ferdinand De Saussure and Charles S Pierce. (Berger, 2010,4)


According to Saussure the sign has two parts. The signifier and the signified. It is stressed that the relationship between these two terms, such as what a signifier signifies is not a natural or arbitrary and is based on social and cultural convention. Therefore signs can change their meaning over time as culture and convention change. The fact that signs are totally social constructed means that they can differ depending on a persons culture.  Signs can be studied in two ways, synchronically at a given point in time or diachronically as they develop with culture over time. A signs meaning depends heavily on ideas of opposition, something is defined by what it is not. (Berger, 2010, 5)


An icon is one of the three types of Peirce’s definitions of signs. Icons signify by resemblance. Unlike a symbol  they do not need to be learned. A photograph of a car is iconic of a car as it resembles what it is trying to represent. The icon is not arbitrary as it must show what it is trying to represent and is based less so on cultural conventions making it differ from the symbol r the index. The signifier corresponds to the signified such as genedered airport signs or smoking area signs.  (Branston, Gill,  2003, 13)


Image result for iconic signs Bathroom signs  are iconic as they provide a resemblance to the thing they are attempting to signify.


According to Saussure symbols are never completely arbitrary. They depend on the learning of the cultural meaning behind them in order for them to be understood. For example the colours green and red have no reason to be naturally attributed to stop and go. However they have been attributed cultural meaning so that when we see traffic lights we understand the symbolic significance of green meaning ‘Go’ and red meaning ‘Stop’.  Due to the historical and cultural importance of symbols they play a heavy role in shaping our behaviours. (Berger, 2010, 15)


Image result for symbolic signs stop A stop sign is symbolic of the action of the action of stopping. The word ‘STOP’ must be learned as referring to the action of stopping


Indexical signs differ from the symbol and the icon as there is a casual link. There is no smoke without fire. when we see smoke we know it must have been caused by a fire. When we see someone sneeze we recognise the causal relationship between a sneeze and sickness. These relationships are not arbitrary unlike symbols.


Image result for footprints in the sand Footprints in the send are indexical as they indicate that a person has walked across the beach. We can infer the causal relationship between footprints and someone walking.


 Illustrate their differences

To summarise the differences between the symbol, the index and the icon. The symbol is a culturally learned arbitrary connection with the object it represents. The icon resembles the thing it is trying to represent and can be understood without cultural knowledge. The Index indicates a causal relationship that is not arbitrary but can be seen and understood.

 How semiotics may be used as a research method according to Berger as well as Branston and Stafford.

According to Branston and Stafford  Signs can be studied in two ways, synchronically at a given point in time or diachronically as they develop with culture over time. The study of semiotics offers an  understanding on how historical meanings have change over time and is used heavily in cultural studies. Semiotics also relates to the study of Marxist theories and psycho-analytics. It offers insights on how people consume media and attribute meaning to objects and signs that they encounter in their everyday lives. The fundamental question of semiotics is how meanings are formed. Therefore it has wide ranging potential for the study of consumption of media and how different cultures can attribute different meanings and why.