Reading questions for Sturken and Cartwright, Practices of Looking,
You do not need to write up answers to these questions, but you do need to be
prepared to discuss them in class next week. That doesn't necessarily mean
you need to have answers to all of them, but it means you need to have thought
about them enough to either have an answer or have a reason why an answer is
Note that the book is trying to cover an enormous amount of material in a
relatively small number of pages. As a result, they will often make claims
that don't really seem to follow from their premises. I'll sometimes try
to fill in the details for you in reading notes and sometimes make you fill them
in for yourselves. But in any case, if you find something that doesn't
make sense, write it down and ask about it in class.
Social construction of reality
When Sturken and Cartwright talk about social construction of the world, they
clearly don't mean that without people there is empty nothingness or that
all the atoms in the universe are popping out of our foreheads.
- So what do they mean by social construction of reality?
- What would an example be (other than one of their examples)?
- What difference does it make? That is, how could you tell the
difference between a universe in which reality was socially constructed and
one in which it wasn't? What practical effect does it have on our
Connotation and denotation
This is a distinction you generally get in everybody's theory of semantics.
It's a particular problem for formal approaches to semantics, such as symbolic
logic, because connotation is very difficult to capture and formalize.
- Are the connotations and denotation of an image or a statement
determined by the author, the audience, or both?
- Does an image have the same connotations and/or denotation for all
- In colloquial use, a myth is a kind of fairy tale. Barthes doesn't
mean this, and yet in a certain sense he does. Is a myth in Barthes'
technical sense of the term necessarily false? Is the question even
- Give an example of a myth (again, not one from the book).
- What (if anything) is the difference between myth and ideology?
(in the technical senses used in the book).
- It's easy to think of big, overt ideologies like Stalinism or Captialism.
But Sturken and Cartwright are concerned about the (seemingly) less socially
charged, more mundane examples of ideology because they're things that seem
like obvious common sense to us, yet which people in the past, or in other
parts of the world might find surprising or even obviously false. What
are some examples of these kinds of obvious everyday truths that we take for
granted, but which another culture might disagree with? Note: this
question isn't about bashing our culture, it's about realizing what parts of
our common sense are actually cultural norms, right or wrong.
- Give an example of a rule of semiotic interpretation (again, not one
from the book)
- How conscious do you think the rules of sign interpretation are?
Do we always know we're using the rules when we use them? If not, do
you think we'd at least be able to recognize a rule we used if someone were
to mention it to us? Or do you think it's possible there are rules we
unconsciously use even though we would consciously deny their validity?
- Is a stop sign (i.e. the material object) a sign in the book's sense?
If not, why not?
- How many signs is the American flag?
- Give an example (other than Madonna) of a rock star or other celebrity
appropriating a cultural symbol.