Assignment 3

The notion of discourse is a crucial concept in social science, communication studies and in various other fields. Originally made famous by Foucault, the notion of discourse is both a concept and a method, a paradigm of reasoning in order to study in depth social facts, artifacts, situation, codes or conventions…

Rose gives a definition of discourse:

“It refers to groups of statements which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of that thinking. In other words, discourse is a particular knowledge about the world which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it.”

In fact, what we call a discourse is a system of symbols, meaning, thoughts, conventions and codes structured in a very particular way in order to get a meaning a form of coherent grid of comprehension out of the world, be it social or material. I that sense, it is necessary to take into account the various element that make this system coherent (or appearing to be coherent). It is the inter-relation between those constituating elements, the signs and symbols that are part of the discourse, that build the “egime of truth” of this discourse, that is to say the impression that such a discourse is true by essence, whereas it is in fact nothing more than a social construct based on conventions.

 

According to Rose, there is 2 discourse analysis in a Foucaultdian paradigm:

  • Discourse analysis 1 which focuses itself on the specific articulation of images and texts as a major object of study, rather than actual social practices of discourses
  • Discourse analysis 2 which focuses on the contrary on the practices carried out by a discourse, without much concern to the images and the texts of the discourse

In chapter 6, Rose focuses himself on the first type of discourse analysis

Then, to provide with a “discourse analysis” is not an easy task, since as we have seen, all discourse tends to appear as natural. In order to analyse it, there is somehow a need for a critical approach, which imply getting rid of any form of preconceptions, and always reflecting on the own analysis provided and its credibility.

One has to keep in mind as well that any form of discourse is located in many ways: it is historically located, institutionally located, spacially located as well. Therefore, to study a discourse, one has to take into account every detail of a particular context to perceive the particular connection that ties those elements together. That constituted the fact that in a certain moment, in a certain place and in a certain context, people gave meaning to the world in a certain manner, and according to certain codes and conventions. Indeed one thing that is finally crucial to get about to discourse is that it is productive: productive of norms, codes of truth, conventions of behaviour and of understanding of the world surrounding the individuals that experience it.

In that sense the Eliott’s study of Starbuck’s discoursal strategy is very relevant. Starbucks refer to terms and symbols that are carrying out the idea of exotism, the idea that coffee come from mysterious lands such as Latin America, Arabia…

Eliott shows us here that those notions are only relevant for the brand in their discoursal value, that is to say expressing the idea that Starbucks bring exotic sensations at home: a form of foreign product but still American, still at home. This Orientalist use of foreign signs is of course part of the symbolic strategy of Starbucks, crafting its identity on those very concepts. However, as Rose explained us, a discourse is ambiguous since it conveys an illusion of truth. Consumers do not necessarily realize this work of construction when consuming Starbucks products. They are just consuming a cultural artifact artificially built on demand, internalizing the concept of exotism at home, the idea of the world as a big city, without realizing its superficial essence, the fact that those lands are “conceptually deterritorialized” and westernized for a commercial purpose.

Where Elliott’s analysis take a step away from Rose’s recommandations and statements on discourse is dealing with coffee and Starbucks in general, without taking the time to situating it historically and institutionnally enough. Indeed the social and historical context of the uprising of Starbucks could have been interesting in order to understand its discursive strategy. On the same perspective, we sometimes have the impression that Starbucks’s discourse is analyzed from only one angle: that of the Orientalist approach of the Starbucks product. Following Rose’s logic, one could have expected a more diverse and in depth attention toward other details of the brand’s discourse, its imagery, its style in general, which finally goes hand to hand with the remark we’ve just made: the Starbucks analysis proposed by Eliott is much more restrictive than the systematic approach proposed by Rose.

 

Assignment 2

To become a cultural icon can be seen as the ultimate condition of brand. As Holt explains,

« Iconic brands provide extraordinary identity value because they address the collective anxieties and desires of a nation. »

They provide consumers with identity values, shared by ritual actions in the populist world, relying on actual performances from the individual themselves. This type of branding goes far beyond mind-share brandig, emotional branding and viral branding, according to Holt, since the condition of myth for a brand seems to be a cause of viral spreading or emotional attachment for instance, not a consequence.

A brand that has become a “cultural icon” communicates with metaphors, symbols and imagination, in a very psychologic value, rather than material. They embody a much stronger durability than in the case of simple fashions or trends… they become part of a cultural paradigm.

The signs implied in such a paradigm can be backed up by many means: logo, packaging, merchandising associated, celebrities, but also music industry, TV shows, websites that can promote wider contents to shape with more accuracy the image of a brand. Ads in the cityscape are also an effective way of crafting a cultural image for a brand. To communicate a lifestyle, a compagny have somehow to penetrate the everyday life of the consumer. Of course then, advertisement is a crucial mean, but also sponsorships for instance. This new need for promoting brand came from mass production before becoming part of the whole branding system as an economic necessity, hence its importance in the budget of a compagny.

One interesting example of it is the one of Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden is a well known Heavy Metal band, but the name Iron Maiden and its visual codes has become through the year a cultural icon, a brand that is so iconic that tends now to be disconnected from its root, that is to say the band itself.

 

 

Wearing an Iron Maiden shirt carries out cultural symbol and codes. It can be interpreted as a subversive way of dressing, and more and more celebrities tend to wear those shirts. However, the brand has become so cultural that it has been somehow disconnected from the initial source of this icon: indeed wearing an Iron Maiden shirt does not mean necessarily listening to Iron Maiden, but including its iconic value in the making of one own individual identity.

Klein understood very well the importance of the symbolic, or “spiritual” value for a brand to become a myth. In the example of Iron Maiden, we can get as Klein states that brand is about branding a culture, not just a product. The visual codification is therefore crucially important in that sense, with logos as symbols more and more shown through the years. The help of celebrity as well to promote a brand and to raise it at the level of a myth is another illustration of the Iron Maiden example that has been highlighted by Klein.

It proves very well that corporations has to put on an emphasis on symbol and symbolic value for a brand to grow bigger and eventually become a cultural symbol. It has to be even so cultural that the consumers would be able to re-appropriate themselves the brand to make them part of their own identity. Branding and advertising brands is not about material issues but symbolic and semiologics signs.

 

 

 

Assignment 1

Semiotics refers to the study of sign. Umberto Eco, stating that semiotics is concerned with everything that can be used to stand for something else, refers to it as the “theory of the lie”. It draws  the distinction between the signifier (the word “dog”) and the signified the actual animal) to try and understand the relation between both, that are often based on social and cultural conventions, that eventually shape our perception of the world, or according to Branston “an imaginative access to the world”. A world made of constructed signs.

Then what exactly is a sign?

According to Berger, a sign is “something that stands for something else, as a spoken or written workd, a drawn figure, or a material object unified in the mind with a particular cultural concept. In that sense the language is a system of signs. Language is not speech, it is a social institution that uses signs to communicate denotion and connotation, that is to say “primary meaning”, and more “evocative” meaning. Indeed sociocultural are not only material but can have sometimes complex meanings. Signs embody all of that.

3 types of signs are defined:

  • Icon: “an icon is a sign that partake of the character of the object” (Berger), that is linked to it. For instance, a logo or a drawing of a particular objectAn icon is recognizable since it tends to fit the material embodiment of the object, to correspond to it. It has been for parodied for instance by Magritte in his famous painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” meaning “this is not a pipe”, insisting on the fact that even though signs and especially icons may look like the actual material object, we must keep in mind that it is only a representation of the reality. Icon usually embody a very graphic character.

 

  • Index: this kind of sign is linked with the material object with a causal relation: we can for instance think of a smoke picture:
    The very meaning that was constructed to fit the sign is the direct cause of its representation, in that case visual. We guess here that there is a fire or a cigarette at the very left of the image, as the source of the smoke we see. This type of sign is in a sense very indirect, since it refers to the imaginary of the individual who has to interpret it a certain way

 

  • Symbol: A symbol, is a constructed sign, often with a high level of cultural and social history that explains its making and its acceptation in the common codes. As opposed to the two others, It may not have any visual link with the concrete meaning of the object of the signThe thumb up symbol refers to a sentiment of approval, but the connection between both is socially and historically constructed, without real concrete connection between the two of them.

What we can understand from semiotic study is that meaning is a much more complex artifact than it seems. We only rarely have a direct access to the world, and have to refer to symbols, codes, conventions… a system of sign that provides us with an interpretation of the world through a grid of multidimensional meanings. This approach is crucial in media study since media is only a representation of the reality, hence the recurrent use of many signs in this field, that has to be decoded in order to draw a complete and accurate analysis of medias, communication and production meaning in general.

Hello world!

Hello.

My name is Romain Poncet, I am 21, and I am an exchange student from Lyon, France studying « Logo & Imago Identity Formation and Cultural Branding  in Modern Media Culture » at the FaSoS in Maastricht . I am a guitar player as well, playing in a french metal band called Dawn Harbor. This position allowed me to aknowledge the crucial importance of brands and products in our contemporary societies. Indeed, when I first started to play in a band, I thought that music was basically all a band was about. I could not be more wrong. Today, for a band to be successful, it has to embody certain values that are traditionally associated with brands and production: the dimensions of communication, merchandising, logos, advertising on social media… those elements are part of what a band need to take into consideration in order for it to be successful enough. For me it makes clear the importance of brands and products in a capitalist society where consommation of products and services take a major part both in the economic and social fields.

 

Hence I am really looking forward to learn more about those topics in the meetings « Logo & Imago Identity Formation and Cultural Branding  in Modern Media Culture »