Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Cultural Theory and Semiotics

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Media and Communications

DESCRIPTION Cultural Theory and Semiotics is aimed at all B. Communication students, BFA in Digital Arts students and anyone wishing to analyse and critique media texts. This is a methodological and theoretical study-unit, which introduces students to the fundamental and conceptual frameworks around cultural theory, semiotics and visual analysis.

Apart from delving into the texts of key cultural theorists such as Ferdinand De Saussure, Charles Saunders Peirce, Stuart Hall, Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Matthew Arnold and Roland Barthes amongst others, students will be given the necessary skills and tools to deconstruct any system of signs.

Signs and Texts:

- Introduction to Cultural Studies;
- Defining the Sign;
- Signifier and Signified;
- Arbitrariness and Agreement;
- The Journey of a Message;
- Paradigmatic and Syntagmatic Relationships;
- Open and Closed Texts;
- Icons, Indexes and Symbols;
- Dominant-Hegemonic, Negotiated and Oppositional Reading;
- Culture and Context;
- Encoding/Decoding.

Semiotic Analysis:

- Verbal vs. Visual;
- Binary Oppositions;
- The Circuit of Culture;
- Visual Analysis (composition, balance, hierarchy, focal point, figure and ground).

Cultural Production:

- Intertextuality and Remixing;
- Genres;
- Originality and Truth;
- Plato’s Theory of Forms;
- Hyperreality.

The Digital Age

- User Generated Content;
- Digital Identities;
- Media vs. Audience.

Codes and Representation:

- Types of Codes and Perception;
- Representation and Myth;
- Language, Clothing and Food as Semiotic Systems.

Study-Unit Aims:

The primary aim of this study-unit is to introduce students to the fields of Cultural Theory and Semiotic Analysis. Students will not only explore the historical development of these theoretical and methodlogical approaches, but by the end of the unit they will be able to effectively decode any sign or system of signs. They will also be able to understand the impact that context and ideology have on the creation, dissemination and understanding of cultural texts. In addition, students will become proficient in conducting a semiotic analysis of any sign system (e.g. static or dynamic advertisements, visual identities, political speeches, movies, songs, etc.) by using essential theory from the field of visual communication, liguistics and critical theory.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

The key objective of the study-unit is to equip the students with seminal cultural theories and to apply these approaches towards the decoding and understanding of cultural texts. Important secondary objectives will be to encourage students to:

- Intelligently critique and reflect on contemporary cultural texts (music videos, advertisements, movies, theatre, fashion, etc.);
- Recognise the appropriateness of semiotics as an effective qualitative research method;
- Identify the ways in which senders conceive, encode and transmit media messages;
- Use the appropriate theory and models to decode and interpret the various readings of the same message.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Effectively apply cultural theory to the decoding of contemporary cultural texts;
- Identify signifiers within a system of signs and infer their signified meanings using semiotic tools and techniques;
- Recognise the impact of ideology and context;
- Deconstruct a system of signs into syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Sebeok, T. (2001). Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
- Danesi, M. (2007). The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Supplementary Readings:

- Hall, S. (2012). This Means This, This Means That: A User's Guide to Semiotics. Laurence King Publishing, London.
- Chandler D., (2001). Semiotics The Basics. Routledge, London.

* Other journal articles related to the topic will be made available on the Study-unit e-Learning website


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Examination (2 Hours) SEM2 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Malcolm Bonello

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.