Stuart Hall Representation – Review

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.

Why Reflective Practices are Important?

Reflective Practice is something that empowers the practitioner to express his works through words. I will begin with my understanding of Reflection and then the history of reflection. I will finish by summing up the importance of reflective practices.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.Confucius

While on working, I never really reflected on my works. To be true, I never even knew that something called Reflection exists or I would have even disregarded its need if I got to know this before. This is just the right time I have been introduced to the Reflective Practices. Although I never understood its importance before, I’m learning its significance now and would definitely like to explore how it can benefit me in growing in a better artist.

Not much ago, I attended the Day 1 of Reflective Practices class at Srishti, and the instructor began with asking everyone’s perception about Reflection. It was then I realised how different everyone is from each other. Interestingly, everyone has different thoughts about reflection and all of them seemed true to me. This made extremely difficult for me to define what precisely is reflection.

Reflection is a process of critically analysing own work and expressing every minute thing from the piece of work into words. Every artist tends to like his work and thus it makes really difficult to critically analyse own work rather than other’s work. Reflection also helps the practitioner discover their reactions and actions, mistakes then often commit and henceforth, help them learn from their mistakes. One can never become a master of something overnight, the understanding deepens with constant practice and curiosity over time. Reflection ensures our the correctness of our thought process since we can always look at our previous reflections and understand why we only chose this over that. Reflection can also act as a parameter to measure one’s growth over the time. A Practitioner must be unbiased when he writes reflection so that he can reveal his true.

Let me now go into the past and see how reflective practices itself evolved over the time. The reflection did exist from a long time back but it was Donald Schön who first introduced it in his book The Reflective Practitioner in 1983. There are several models of reflective practices by many theorists and I will take a dip into each one by one. The first such model was believed to be by Argyris and Schön in 1978. They pioneered the idea of single and double loop learning. In the single loop learning, the practitioner continues to rely on same strategies even after occurrence of an error whereas the practitioner modifies his strategies or techniques in the double loop learning. Another such model was developed by Kolb in 1975 who highlighted the concept of experimental learning and the transformation of information into knowledge. The next one is by Gibbsin 1988 who did structured debriefing to facilitate Kolb’s Experimental Learning Cycle. Gibbs’s structure included initial experience, description, feeling, evaluation, analysis, conclusion (general and specific) and the personal action plan. In 1995, John structured the model to gain greater understanding with act of sharing with a colleague or mentor. Another leap was taken by Brookefield in 1998 when he proposed a model which research assumptions by looking from 4 lens, they are – the lens of their autobiography of learners of reflective practice, the lens of colleague’s perception, the lens of learner’s eye, the lens of theoretical, philosophical and research literature. In 2001, Rolfe formulated a model based on a simple cycle of 3 questions – What?, So what? and Now what?

Reflective practice brings a self-awareness in the practitioner about what he is doing which in turns help him to improve over the time. The practitioner also assumes responsibility for his own learning and develop thinking skills for enquiry. It helps one to understand his strengths and weaknesses. It will also help to know the areas where one thinks he is weak. Besides reflection by oneself, reflective practices also enables others to look at the reflection and suggest their views on our work. To sum it up, Reflective practice can be defined as thinking and evaluating what a practitioner do and ask others to look at his reflection to point out suggestions to help him improve. Be it be a artist or not, Reflective practices are extremely useful and one should definitely consider doing it.


[1] UCD Dublin Teaching and Resource on Reflective Practices
[2] Wikipedia Article on Reflective Practices