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Television Studies

This guide is an introduction to library and internet resources for Television Studies.

Defining representation

The image or idea of a thing. In film studies, representation is an overdetermined term with various meanings.

1. In a common use, representation is a synonym for film in general, inasmuch as all films constitute an image or idea of the thing they depict. In relation to this, it is necessary to note that what we actually see is a re-presentation (i.e. the screening) of a representation (the film).

2. In debates about film and realism, the specific qualities of photography have led to claims that the film image transcribes, or indexes, reality rather than represents it; in this formulation the film is the thing (see index). A counterclaim has it that all representation is governed by a framework of codes and conventions specific to a particular time and place (see poststructuralism; semiotics) and also that the thing represented is often just another representation (see intertextuality): in this formulation the once-removed nature, and perhaps even the untrustworthiness, of representation is emphasized.

3. Representation is also a key term for scholars who work on questions of identity and on the ways in which films may construct or deploy negative stereotypes of marginalized or oppressed groups (see disability; gender; race; religion; sexuality; social class). In this context, the term can also mean to advocate on behalf of an individual or a group, as with an elected politician or legal representation. Used thus, filmmakers from marginalized or oppressed groups are sometimes said to bear the burden of representation inasmuch as their work is asked to speak on behalf of, or represent, the group to which they belong or are presumed by others to belong (see cultural studies and film).

4. The use of the term to denote the process of mental representation is less common, though it is integral to some theories of perception and psychology that are occasionally addressed within film studies (see cognitivism; phenomenology and film).

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020). Representation. In A Dictionary of Film Studies. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 Nov. 2022

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