Friday, September 30, 2011

Contemporary Problems, My Response to Chapter 2

Chapter 2, Viewers Make Meaning

  Key Questions from Presentation

Who was Foucault? Define names and terms
Working beyond Marxist determinism: not class, but power everywhere
What is class? How is power and politics built into everything? Rooms, schools, design as discipline
Habitus, Bourdieu: who does the reading, seeing?
Why would they want to get to the author’s reading? A form of Will to Power, we submit?
Audiences get sold to advertisers, we are the product of media
Audience active responses, bricolage, counter-bricolage: who uses terms like this?
Can we think of examples? Useful to design practice?
Hasn’t technology empowered viewers, everyone creates now?

  My Key Questions
Politics of reading; of course viewer has the last word
The question is how are we determined: everyone in this room equal?
       What determines you? Profession; Race; Nation; Class?              
Share readings, backgrounds? What can design do about that? How do we see Asia, e.g.?

Producers losing central: new understanding of meaning, not a transmission,
       an ‘inner’ content
Barthes, why and how author are no longer the final word in meaning
Looked at semiotics of images, book Image, Music, Text, trans. 1977
“Photographic Message,” works without a code? Is it natural or cultural? + captions
“Rhetoric of the Image,” can’t have limitless readings, not just anything will do
Just that the inventory of registers and codes and styles is vast, beyond u/stdg, control
“Death of the Author,” no one voice in any writing, writing is operation of system of signs
Modern authors, Mallarme, saw they weren’t the centre, signs and social languages were
Surrealism: surrender to irrational, modernity uncontrollable, systems too large and dominant
“The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture,” i.e. intertextual
Texts, by definition, author is absent; author created in the act of reading, reader creates them
Closure of ‘author’ construct suits critics, find the correct reading: positivism
“Refuse God and his hypostases—reason science law”
       under + standing: essences, underlying substance, vs. attributes, properties that come from
It is human reason, science, law etc. that create God i.e.

Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”: we are formed as ideological subjects
Interpellated, hailed or ‘called’
Beyond Marx, no false consciousness, just “imaginary relationships to real conditions”
French CP, Stalin: theory seen as science, not formed in struggle but from above
à Repressive State Apps (vs. Occupy movement): Government, Police, Courts, Army, Schools
à Ideological SA’s? education, religion, family, politics, unions, media, culture, sport, entertainment
ISAs are private, not centralized coherent machines, still part of the state
Ideology not a representation of ‘reality,’ the Real, actual conditions: but it represents something real
Our understanding, rel’nship to an unknowable Real (like religion, not true but a true need)
Things that are obvious = ideology: power of recognition of normally tacit governing ideas
       i.e.  women should be equal; people are competitive and selfish; communism can’t work etc.
à do we exist as individuals before language? Words ‘call’ us, design us, give us tools to be subjects

Design works to make those responses and thoughts the same? Disciplines designers?
Makes designers into particular subjects, a social position
Design also disciplines others: aesthetic demands, a professional code

Foucault, “What is an Author?”
Idea of author appears at privileged moment, text points to author’s existence
Not an interior meaning, but several exterior meanings
Text meant to survive us, elude death, make you immortal; now we look at work, not individual
But work (oeuvre) is harder to limit, or define, than it appears: what is the work of the designer?
What is in the hole left by the absent author, what space or position remains for us?
       Can we pass beyond individual, modern subject?

Foucault, “Subject and Power,” look at how objectification makes humans into subjects
Objective practices of dividing, naming, identifying, all defined by reason: madness, sexuality, etc.
Greater field of power than pathologies of Nazism or Stalinism or Capitalism
How to fight the power that defines us, makes us individual subjects
Like Christianity, individual salvation, a new, dispersed form of power, like punishment, no longer a public spectacle to instil fear openly: you just know it's there, internalize it
See him going beyond Marx, and focus on class power and materal production
Aesthetics: Pros know quality, symbolic language, priesthood, not polling (Komar + Melamid)
How is that “subjective” experience codified and kept in place? Where is design?
Hebdige, other readings, places, punks, British Cultural Studies, Birmingham, R Williams, Stuart Hall
Postmodern legacy, study of more than ‘quality’ design and high art, good thing
But problem of no outside: today rough surfaces and scrawls are inside, become valued,
       no leverage against canon, professional consensus itself
Doesn’t matter what signs you make, the system sustains itself, aesthetic authority is end in itself

Hebdige,  Subculture: Style subversive, revolt, something personal, crimes against proper use of codes
Safety pins: relation to mass culture, find uncanny new meaning for signs, “things mean and mean again”
Also reject vision, utopia, reject moralizing, see pop culture as a totality, not good and bad
All structured by “ruling ideas,” ideology that gives narrative structure to real material relationships
Hegemony, social groups form “provisional alliances,” exerts “total social authority”
Need consent, make certain interests seem natural, inevitable, irresistible
What does it take to get outside that? Can’t fix meaning the way you want, change it to your meaning
Circuit of meaning always left open, continues to flow


  1. CHAPTER 2

    No. Everyone in the world is not equal. Take out all the underprivileged people who don’t make it into the university classroom. The people in this room, are not equal. Although we have similar interests, we live in the same country, province, maybe even city, we have similar incomes, we do similar things, we have similar educations... No. We are not equal. In an ideal world, maybe. Or maybe if you are talking about worth as a human being. But what does equal even mean? The question, are we equal is so broad. Equal in what sense? (Before I started to determine if we were equal I looked up what the Merriam-Webster dictionary defined equal as.

    A. Of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another. I’m not sure measure or quantity can even be applied to a single human, but number can. We’re always given numbers. We each (in this class) have a different student number from York, from Sheridan, from the bank; basically any organization, group, company, or association we join, we are going to be numbered. These numbers set us apart there could be an order to the numbers, number 1 means best, or the number could be used to bring up more information about us as with bank cards. Someone with a huge debt is not considered equal to someone with money in the bank when trying to get a student loan. Similarly the transcript that corresponds to our student numbers are not equal. That brings us to the next point, status.

    B. Like in quality, nature or status. We are not the same in quality. We all have different talents. If only looking at design, some produce better quality design work than others. But then you can look at another field such as business, others are much more successful in business. If looking only in design, some produce better quality communication, information, interactive, theory etc. Equal status? No. If we all end up with an equal job, what is the point of grades in university. While some are A students, others are B or C, different quality, given different status in the education system (especially when looking at further education or awards). You might think all students would be viewed as equal, but then tell someone you’re studying design. They obviously don’t think you’re equal to the science or economics majors.

    This leads me to ask, why does equality in the design classroom even matter? We are determined by our race, religion, nationality etc. It’s going to influence us no matter what. It’s going to make us unequal. Or rather, design is an outlet that will show our inequality. So shouldn’t we be unequal?

  2. Just to clarify... I'm not writing about us being unequal as human beings. I was focusing more on skills or being influenced by our differences, as a designer and in this classroom. Our skills and influences are unequal. But in the end, with that aside, we are all just humans.

  3. Like Kara stated, no, not everyone in this class is equal. To be equal would be being the same, having the same background, having the same upbringing, having the same culture, etc. Of course human worth is equal, but for the sake of this argument, it is besides the point. The determining aspect of a person is not in fact singular, yet a combination of everything that has made them into who they are in the present time, which makes the unequal from everyone else. People are always changing – I can say that my current determining characteristic is that I'm a design student: I have strange humour that most other designers would understand, I have no social life, and I'm broke. But perhaps this is also the determining factor of most other design students; but this will change.

    The fact that changes in people are constant, just like the changes in the way we communicate are, and the fact that works of art and design stay the same, are the reasons why the author is dead. A piece of design or art can be seen by anyone, at any given time or place, and because not everyone is equal their responses and deconstruction will vary. Codes are not natural born things; they are created by society in order to communicate but as stated in chapter three, exact communication is impossible anyway, so why bother trying to deconstruct anything at all? That is one of the main problems of design. I believe that one of the main goals of design is to overcome this barrier by possibly creating some sort of universal system of codes that everyone can understand, therefore bringing back the author and his/her intended message. An example of this could be found in a red hexagon. Without being told, many societies would understand this symbol as one for "stop". It doesn't need words, it is a code that most people understand. Perhaps the goal of design is to have everyone understand it, therefore creating unified meaning through works of design even though we are not all equal.

  4. Claudia Yuen

  5. As previously stated by Kara and Nicole, no, we are not all equal. Outside of the classroom, we each live very different and unique lives. Although each and every one of us have a similar interest in design, our lives outside of “design” are quite different. We are of different ages, races, genders, backgrounds, religions, etc. and these are the determining factors of what makes each of us an individual. But when you consider that we are all equal in the sense that we are all design students, our ability to design and communicate effectively defines our inequality with one another. As Kara has stated, some of us are A students, some B students, etc., we are unequal in our ability to design. Having said that, we shouldn’t all be equals. As designers, we are able to express our individuality through our designs, our designs are what set us apart from everyone else in this classroom. If we were all equal as designers, we would come up with the same design solutions and execute it in the same way and it would be completely irrelevant to the purpose of our education.

    Having said that designers are all unequal, wouldn’t that mean that the spectators of our work are also unequal? The people who view our work can be of any gender, age, race, religion, etc., different people may interpret and understand it in different ways. So as designers, are we to design with the understanding that everyone is unequal in the sense that their backgrounds, talents, education, etc. will influence how they view and interpret art and design? Or are we to design with the intent that no matter the differences, everyone will interpret it in the same way, a design system. This is a reoccurring issue in design, how do we design for the broadest range of “spectators”? How do we ensure it will be interpreted the way we intended?

  6. The initial reaction is to say yes; of course we are all equal in this room. Society has said that we must view each other as equal in order to create and sustain a peaceful and functional society. We are in this room because we have a common interest and possibly even a common end goal yet that is not solely what determines us nor is it what determines if we are equal.

    It is a difficult question to tackle simply because equality can be defined in a variety of ways and can be interpreted in both positive and negative ways. Let’s approach this problem from a different perspective by looking at what makes up inequality. Inequality is a situation in which individual groups in a society do not have equal social status, social class, and social circles. While these inequalities can equal to not being able to vote, not having a freedom of speech or not being entitled to education or health care; inequality can also be not being able to live the way another individual does, or not being able to have the same education as another or being able to be carefree instead of pressured with responsibilities.

    Yet, if we go further into this question and start to examine individuals we are not all equal and we do not all determine ourselves based upon the same things. While I may consider myself to be a white male with a passion for design and a curiosity for technology and I determine myself within those lines. Other individuals may determine themselves by their family backgrounds, their professions, their class (or caste) or a combination of the above and other attributes.

    All of these inequalities, attributions and definitions of ourselves combine to make us who we are. They determine how we perceived the world, how the world perceives us; and these characteristics have influenced us in our design. If we all had the same upbringings, the same interests and the same opinions of the world then we would all be creating the same designs. We would be living in a monotonous world. All of these varying attributes have built us and through our inequalities we create great design. While we are unequal, we should see it as something to appreciate instead of something to struggle with.

  7. I do not believe that we are interpellated to be who we are. That is, you are not completely a subject of the media you have absorbed, or a product of the society in which you live. The question is posed above; do we exist as individuals before language? We all have certain attributes that separate us from each other, so in a way we are all individual, but do we see ourselves as individuals; distinct human beings?

    For communism to work properly, I think we would have to see ourselves as members of a group rather than individuals. That way no one would be unhappy with the job they got. Everyone has part of a job, running the community. If language were what let us exist as individuals, it stands to reason there could be a different language that let us exist as a group like this. But there is not. And I do not think it is language that allows us to exist as individuals.

    If viewers create the meaning for the images they see and the text they read, are they creating meaning for the world around them as they witness it? If so, even without language, seeing other human beings, none of who look like you, would set you apart as an individual, regardless of the language.

    Language does however have an effect on individuality. Surveys have found that people from the western world will generally identify themselves in terms individual traits, “I’m a soccer player”, “I’m a musician”, etc. whereas people from the eastern world will often identify themselves in terms of how they fit into certain groups, “I’m a brother”, “I’m a son”. People of eastern cultures still see themselves as individuals, but their individual identity is more dependent on relationships to other individuals, rather than individual skill or interests. Also interesting, is that when they surveyed bilingual people, the language they answered the questions in affected their answers. This demonstrates that language does have some effect on how a person defines them self as an individual.

    Without language, I do think the differences that would allow us to see ourselves as individuals would be very superficial. You would be unable to find out if other people thought the way you do, or shared any common beliefs. It would be difficult to plan anything, or assign different social roles. Imagine how frustrating it would be to get your ideas a cross if everyone spoke a different language.

  8. I think it is hard to determine equality between humans because there is so much that sets us apart and creates individuality. People have different morals and upbringings that make them unable to become totally equal with others by their own standards. So much about how we perceive ourselves develops our opinions about ourselves and our relation to other people. People who are part of different cultures, religions, etc. will have different ideas of their worth in society and the worth of others around them. It is quite common that people will either set themselves apart from another group of people due to these factors, therefore making them unequal. I cannot imagine a single person who would be able to state that everyone is equal, because that person would either see their own self as either more or less valuable than another person. So if everyone has his or her own determination of self, what determines us in society?

    We have to consider the social construct that society or our culture have created that determine whether or not people are equal. As a student, we would be considered unequal to a professional due to lack of experience, like our bank accounts are unequal to those with a high income. These differences are a commonality between the students in our classroom because we are trying to gain an education to then gain experience and hopefully find a career that would bring us out of debt (presumably). However, within the classroom we are still not equal. As was stated by a few of my classmates, our transcripts set us apart as who has the higher or lower GPA, as determined by if our work is equal to the work that gains an A or B, etc.

    In the situation of the classroom, what establishes equality? Who would be in the position of “judge”, the person who surveys the worth of the students? This puts the professor at the centre, being the one who creates the guidelines, the ideas, and then dictates grades to the students. This immediately elevates the professor over the students, and the students not equal to each other because of the professor’s ideological idea of what a student should be. This acts in the same way that design does. Ultimately all design is not created equal because the viewer decides what is valuable to them. So why look for equality in design if it is ultimately the viewer who decides the worth of something? In the classroom, we all have different talents or ideas that set us apart, we are going to be influenced by so many factors that we didn’t even have the ability to decide on or choose. Acceptance is an excellent equalizer, but a poor measurer of worth. Many things in life receive enormous (almost universal) acceptance; but that doesn’t make them good. Good design requires several measuring sticks: it must be the judged on beauty, functionality, appropriateness, longevity, simplicity/complexity, repeatability and impact. We all judge things by these criteria, usually in a most unconscious way. The one who can create something with the largest proportions of the elements defined by these measuring sticks, is the one who will create something that is truly original.

  9. "If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be?"

    "Um….A cat! I would such good belly rubs…."

    "It's a trick question. You are an animal".

    In what context are we discussing equality? In this class? Then sure, for all intents and purposes, as students we are equal. With limited exception, we have the same goals that bring us here on friday afternoons. We're all struggling to metamorphose into successful, talented designers. We are all here to learn the same things. Surely with a grading rubric, we are being judged as equals.

    It's when we step outside of the classroom that the concept of equality takes on two new contexts. As individual people, living within a society of other individual people, equality is impossible. It's an evolutionary survival tactic to make damn sure that we are not equal, because only the strong survive. Altruism is a fallacy, and we are all out for ourselves. I would love to believe anything other than this, but even the most generous acts of self still have an essence of self-serving behaviour. We also have an inherent need to be unique, to feel special and to feel as though we have a specific purpose for being here, otherwise what is the whole point? If those standing next to me are just as good in every capacity, then do I really need to be here? Our societal inability to create equality could likely boil down to a debate about our very existence.

    A debate on existentialism would bring up points such as the fact that we are all animals, and the only thing that makes us unequal to bears or fish is our ability to think critically. Quite frankly, I'm not sure if this puts us at an advantage or a disadvantage, since our advancement beyond subsistence living seems to have only created trouble for ourselves and our animal brethren. Any 'positives' we have accumulated…well, all other species seem to fine without them.

    I digress.

    So how is equality going to translate into our professional design careers? We as students are equals, we are chummy, we help each other out on projects and offer constructive criticism for the benefit of our fellow classmate. Will this all blow over once we get our degree? Our common goal in a class of over 100 will translate into a common goal that will only be offered to one. When I aim for the same job as another will our friendships cease? We will begin actively trying to minimize any previous classroom equality for the sake of being the one that gets the job.

    Equality can only exist within certain contexts—in others, it goes straight out the window.


  11. Are we equal? In what sense? Of course, we want to say that we live in a equal world. But when the definition of the word, equal, is: being the same, how can anyone say that the world is equal? When we look at it in the sense of our university classroom, everyone has the same prospect to learn the same material; we all have the same opportunity to participate in the same class discussions. Yet, we are not equal. In order to be equal, we must be the same. However, that is not possible as our differences identify who we are.

    Everyone in the class is a designer. It defines who we are. We all have the same title of "student" and "designer." We are all at the same level of design education for being in the same class. Within the classroom, we are exposed to the same learning material, and we all hear the same lecture by the professor. Therefore, we are all equal in the sense that we are design students in the same class, learning the same thing.

    However, this does not make us all equals. Outside the classroom, we all lead different lives. Our lives outside the classroom shapes who we are; it defines our qualities. Our differences translate into our designs. If we were all equal, our designs would be the same. We would have the same ideas, same concepts, same styles. There would be no such thing as "good design" or "bad design". No one piece of work would have a more powerful message than any other.

    In the sense that we are all design students, we are equal in terms of what we learn in the classroom. In another context, it may not be the case. No two persons will ever be completely equal.

    - Amy Tang

  12. Design and Language:
    “design works to make responses and thoughts the same” –Brian Donnelly

    We spent a few classes discussing the similarities and differences between language and design. In some ways, design is a language in itself. There are basic elements and principals used to create a whole piece, much like grammar is used in written and spoken language. However, the longer I think about it, the more I agree that language and design are more different than they are similar. Where languages follow a strict grammar, and all words have a straightforward definition, design’s ‘language’ is in no way so clear. Where language is objective, design is subjective.

    Design could have been considered more like language at one time, or at least many people saw it that way. Take Helvetica for example: the font was designed to be the only font necessary, the best font one could use. Today many people still see Helvetica as a ‘go-to’ font, but many other people see it as a design cop-out. What was once a rule is now an option, and depending where you go, that option could be reinforced or discouraged.

    I disagree that design works to make responses and thoughts the same. While design is used to communicate, what people interpret is quite often different from the intended message. This whole chapter focused on the relationship between the viewer, the author and the meaning, reinforcing that viewers make their own meaning. With that said, design’s responses are most often varied, unlike how responses in language are much more unified.

  13. Power, hierarchy, equality is subjective and formed culturally and historically. It is subject to its environment and by the audience or viewer. The idea of equality is contradictory as people have different cultural capital that we as a society have deemed certain levels of social status. The more capital one may have collected in terms of wealth, education, experience and skills, adds certain value to their character thus creating levels or a hierarchy.

    Power and authority are concepts constructed by man in an attempt to create order and provoke fear. Althusser explains these needs we have as an imagined relationship. Equality can not exist because we do not allow it. We create these imagined relationships because we innately realize that levels of cultural capital separate us. Whether it is in our education, wealth, background or level of skill in our trade, not one of these situations can be equally maintained as hard as one may try we are a society depended on numbers, ranks and authority.

    Within every situation, there is a way to determine a shift in balance or power. Whether you are in a lecture where the professor is the highest rank or even at home where perhaps one of your parents controls the household rules, equality can not function as long as power is maintained. However we need this repressive state, we function under order and maintenance of levels of importance. However, power changes from the environment and from the viewer as your parent at home may not hold the highest position in their workplace and so on and so forth.

    Considering this and stemming from the knowledge that each individual has collected different amounts and types of capital in their life, their view or reflection on images greatly changes. Each persona or individual is exposed to different things, like environment, culture and history which greatly impacts the way they view the world in return. Images of their past influences images they are exposed to now and therefore the internalized thoughts of each person produces a different outcome. The author is therefore determined by their own personal history and therefore differs with each individual.

    The way we view an image is determined not soley by our own experiences, but is controlled by the artist. It is a combination of our own lives in contrast to how the artist wants us to view something that provides our unique and individual experience. The rhetoric of an image is dependent on our own perspective. The author can control their message but they can not always control our reaction. So is he dead? What does this mean?

    It means as designers and authors we must be aware of these imbalances and use them to our advantage. If we realize the audience and can grasp the general ideology present within a group, we can manipulate the group to pursue a particular message. It is linked to appropriation and appropriating material as a designer to your target audience. If you can realize traits of a certain culture, gender, age or interest group than you may be able to use their assumed experiences to your advantage.

    I think it is why research is essential to Design; as a means to find a balance or equality in a mass of individuals.