People communicate through symbols, like words or images, that stand for other things. This “standing for” is what communication scholars call representation.

Classical definitions of representation emphasize two facets: political (as in elected representatives) and symbolic. These facets cannot be separated in practice, as each embodies the other. In media studies, political representation leads to studies of campaign messages and outcomes, and the media’s role in political socialization, or how we come to think about the political sphere more generally. Symbolic representation, as a broader practice of standing for across media and genres, is central to media studies as a whole.

In this broader sense, representation is an achievement of language and other symbolic forms, especially visual images and nonverbal sounds, styles, and gestures. Symbolic forms stand for other things. The word “tree” stands for the tall, erect, natural form with trunks, branches, and leaves. Participants in a native language, …

This essay may be found on page 172 of the printed volume.

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