Textual analysis is a method in cultural and media studies that critically examines and interprets the meanings of culture through texts (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017). Texts can be defined as any “unit of meaning for interpretation and understanding” (Ouellette & Gray, 2017), though cultural studies views texts broadly as anything than needs to be interpreted or read. These texts can include examples such as television programs, fashion, books, music. This methodology aims to understand the meanings of texts, how texts convey meaning, and “what its themes, messages, and explicit and implicit assumptions aim to accomplish” (Ouellette & Gray, 2017). The meaning of texts can often be subtle as many elements can be evaluated.
The interpretation of texts is important because they transmit meaning and communications. Often though, texts can be interpreted a variety of different ways. The meanings of texts are “contextual, relative [to the readers background and history], and situated in a particular place and time” (Ouellette & Gray, 2017). This means that good textual analysis must take both the specific time and place in account. In Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding, he states that both the sender of a text and the receiver work together to create meaning. Hall’s research helps scholars to understand why and how multiple meanings are formed when using textual analysis (Chavez, 2009).
Horace Newcomb was the first major scholar to study television shows using this methodology. In his book TV: The Most Popular Art, he “studied why certain TV programs and formats became popular” (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017) using textual analysis. He did this by examining patterns such as artistic tradition and social context. He explored “aesthetic, social, and psychological” (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017) qualities in the work he studied. As a result of his research, textual analysis began to focus less on strictly ‘important’ works. For cultural and media study scholars, the definition of a text expanded to include “architecture, fashion, pop icons” (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017) and other things like music, movies, and entertainment. Analysis of the more ordinary aspects of life often provided insight about society in general. Their focus was on the “ways that ‘normal’ people organize experience and understand their daily lives” (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2017). Textual analysis, as a toolkit, allows researchers to see the ways in which cultures interact with the world around them.
Dick Hebdige was the first to use this methodology to analyze youth subculture. Hebdige studied under Stuart Hall at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. Hebdige extended ideas on subculture from Hall in his book Subculture in which he studied the construction of youth fashion, particularly in white punk and reggae subcultures. To Hebdige, style was composed of clothing, make-up, music, and drugs. In both the punk and reggae subcultures he identified a common theme – the rejection of British national symbolism. Style, he determined, represented underlying principles of subcultures. Punk fashion, inspired by the reggae subculture, is composed of “leathers jackets…vivid socks…bum freezers and bovver boots” and “contained distorted reflections of all the major post-war subcultures” (Chavez 2009). Through the use of textual analysis, Hebdige was able to analyze a drastic shift in fashion for certain subcultures.
Campbell, R. Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B (2017). Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age 11th Edition. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Chávez, K. R. (2009). Cultural Studies. In S. Littlejohn & K. Foss, Encyclopedia of Communication Theory. 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks California 91320 United States: SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412959384.n99
Ouellette, L., & Gray, J. (2017). Keywords for Media Studies. New York: New York University
Image Attributions: Image #1 “Skingirls” is by PSICO MOD and licensed under CC BY 2.0, : Image #2 “Subculture” is by Jodieinblack and licensed under CC BY 2.0
Written by Alexa Reed, 2018