I read Fiske’s Introduction into Communication Studies while attending a University survey course on Media Theory. The book is actually mostly an introduction into semiotics and Structuralism. Fiske’s strength is his ability to explain quite complex theories in a readable way. The book is motivating as it often shows concrete applications of theoretical notions. To give on example: after explaining the notion of “code” in semiotics, Fiske presents Basil Bernstein’s work on the difference in the speech of working-class and middle-class children. Fiske’s theory history stops somewhere before the poststructuralist turn in the early 1980s. Don’t expect to find much information about the apolitical “pleasure” turn in Media Studies since.
Fiske presents two main schools of communication studies. The first part of the book deals with the “process school” which sees communication as the transmission of messages. Shannon and Weaver, Lasswell , Gerbner and Newcomb consider the meaning as contained in the messages. Fiske explains the notions “Information”, “Redundancy”, “Entropy” and “Noise”. He shows the mechanistic and linear nature of these models.
The larger second part consists of an in depth presentation of semiotics and Structuralism, strongly based on the earlier works of Roland Barthes. Semiotics sees communication as the production and exchange of meaning. It deals with the role of texts in our culture. How do messages in texts interact with people in order to produce meaning? Fiske explains Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding” Model of Television which shows the consumer as co-producers of meaning.
What is lacking in Fiske’s valuable overview is an account of the relationship between communication and the labour process. Human beings have to communicate because their interaction with nature is always social and not Robinson Crusoe-like. Communication has to deal with the technical and social division of labour. I miss an account of the relationship between semiotics and political economy. How do semiotic and Structuralist theories explain the importance of advertisement in late capitalism and its domineering influence on culture?