Why do we call a tree as a tree? Although all trees don’t appear exactly similar, we still call them as tree. The reason behind this is not very easy and is very well explained by the Stuart Hall in his book on representation. According to him, representation is what connects meaning to the languages and which later forms the culture. Representation generally serves the purpose of producing meaning to the object and exchanging these meanings with other peoples. The concept of representation is not as easy it appears, it is about how language works and how people forms meanings. Signs, symbols, words, films, paintings, music is all what that gives the power to anyone to represent something. Without those mediums, it would be impossible to communicate something to someone. For instance, the symbol of caution in the yellow background is widely understood in a similar way around the world. But why would everyone understand it in a same way? I didn’t go in another part of the world to tell other peoples what it meant? They didn’t come here either. It’s all because of representation that forms languages and which forms culture. And the culture is not constrained by a time frame; it runs from ages to ages and is responsible for influencing our minds with particular thoughts about everything what we see in our culture.
Representation theory is broadly classified into reflective, intentional and constructionist theory. According to the reflective approach, the meaning of the object functions like a mirror, to reflect the true meaning that already exists in the world. In other words, reflective approach explains that language imitates the true meaning of the object. The intentional approach is more like a manipulative approach where we understand what author wanted us to understand. Simple example could be the news coverage of a event by a journalist, he chooses what he want others to understand, it might be real or altered and we can never be sure whether it is real or not. The constructionist approach has most significant impact and has two models, one by Sassure called as Semiotic and second one as Discursive by Foucault. The constructionist approach is more about constructing our thoughts by conceptual map stored in our brain and assuming other things about the object. Representation has three functions – the first one is to produce the meaning using the language, describe/depiction of the object and third one is to symbolize something. To understand the idea of constructionist theory, you can assume a random painting, and you will realize that although how much you try to understand the idea of that painting, you can never be sure of what was going into painter’s mind when he was drawing.
The main aim of representation is to accurately describe or depict the object and also helps to create a mental model in the user’s brain so that he can identify the same object in the future. We store information about meanings as conceptual maps that links all information about the objects. The object could be a real one or an imaginary one like angels, demons, and myths. The map also stores additional details and this is how we make meanings of language and helps in communicate/exchange of thoughts. Stuart Hall compares the importance of the object and its concept. He tells that the concept of objects is more important than the object itself but first givers meaning and latter gives action. There are two systems of representations – first is called system of concepts which works on mental representation in mind and depends on concepts of already existing thoughts or ideas. The second is about constructing complex meanings and abstract ideas. A conceptual map contains all possible information about the object which person has figured out and is different for each. That results in different people comes up different interpretations but we still can communicate in roughly similar way.
A culture includes shared meaning which is responsible for shared conceptual maps for the c within that culture. We need a shared language to be able to represent and exchange them. A Conceptual map also contains information about sounds, images, signs, pictures and links.