This report will investigate the importance of Roland Barthes and his relevance to the field of Cultural Studies. It will focus on his theoretical writings about contemporary myths in Mythologies and upon photographic images in Image/Music/Text to understand and interpret contemporary images of Northern Thailand, specifically those of Hill Tribes in the form of postcards and promotional material targeted to a tourist readership. It will analyse the system of signification present in that material and discuss differing interpretations depending upon various levels of reader knowledge.
The Writer, the Text, and the Reader
Barthes extended and developed the field of semiotics, the formal study of symbols and signs, taking inspiration from Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign as the basis for understanding the structure of social and cultural life (Lechte, 1995: 123-124). His main theoretical argument is that we as innocent consumers / readers are given many signifiers (forms) which ultimately narrow down to one signified (concept) – encouraging one to see culture as unified, which in turn ignores history and actual lived situations.
Barthes focuses on how contemporary myths, or cultural artefacts and events, are all forms of communication, creating a particular meaning through a system of signs. Myths in this sense are messages and as Barthes puts it ‘anything can be a myth as long as it is conveyed by a discourse’ (Barthes, 1972:109).
He was eager to point out however, that the system of myths is different from language as a system of signs in the way that myths are motivated with an intention to persuade the reader. Barthes maintains that contemporary myths are meta-languages, leveraging Saussure’s linguistic system as their foundation. (Barthes 1972: 115).
In Image/Music/Text, Barthes
References: Allen, G (2003) Roland Barthes, London: Routledge Barthes, R (1972) Mythologies, Hill and Wang: New York Barthes, R (1977) Image Music Text, Hill and Wang: New York Farrell, J (2009) The Lanna Deception < http://www.chiangmainews.com/ecmn/viewfa.php?id=2727> Hall, S (1992) Culture, media, language: working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79, London: Routledge, Hitchcock, M, King V, and Parnwell M (1993) “Tourism in South-East Asia: Introduction,” Tourism in South-East Asia, London and New York: Routledge John Maler Collier (1850 – 1934) Reclining Woman Kounavudhi, V (1979) The Mountain People, Thailand Lechte, J (1995) Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, London and New York: Routledge Leepreecha, P (2005) The Politics of Ethnic Tourism in Northern Thailand, Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University: Chiang Mai Mai Trung Thu (1906 – 1980) Painting on Silk McNeil, T (1999) Politics of Mythologies – lecture 2, University of Sunderland: Pattison, G (1997) Blue Guide: Thailand, Blue Guide Rutnin, J Postcard 2: Resting, Mae Hong Son – A young Padong rests in her home. Tejavanija, S, Postcard 1: Northern Thailand Akha Hill Tribe Thai Airway’s in-flight magazine Sawasdee (2004) 99 things not to miss in Thailand: 10...Trek to the tribes, Dubai Media City: Dubai Thailand Top 20 Hill Tribe Trekking in Northern Thailand (2011) Williams, C, Anderson, A, (2007) Lonely Planet to Thailand, Lonely Planet: London