Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gerbner's General Model (1956)

Gerbner's General Model emphasizes the dynamic nature of human communication. It also gives prominence to the factors which may affect fidelity. The model shown diagrammatically is to be read from left to right, beginning at E - Event.

• The event (E) is perceived by M (the man (sic) or machine).
• The process of perception is not simply a matter of 'taking a picture' of event E. It is a process of active interpretation.
• The way that the E is perceived will be determined by a variety of factors, such as the assumptions, attitudes, point of view, experience of M.
• E can be a person talking, sending a letter, telephoning, or otherwise communicating with M. In other words, E could be what we conventionally call the Source or Transmitter.
• Equally, E can be an event - a car crash, rain, waves crashing on a beach, a natural disaster etc. In this case, we could be applying the model to mass media communication, say the reporting of news.

The model is a useful starting-point for the analysis of wide variety of communication acts. Note that the model, besides drawing our attention to those factors within E which will determine perception or interpretation of E, also draws our attention to three important factors:

• Selection: M, the perceiver of the event E (or receiver of the message, if you prefer) selects from the event, paying more attention to this aspect and less to that. This process of selecting, filtering is commonly known as gatekeeping, particularly in discussion of the media's selection and discarding of events or aspects of them.
• Context: a factor often omitted from communication models, but a vitally important factor. The sound represented by the spelling 'hair' means an animal in one context, something that's not supposed to be in your soup in another. Shouting, ranting and raving means this man's very angry in one context, raving loony in another.
• Availability: how many Es are there around? What difference does availability make? If there are fewer Es around, we are likely to pay more attention to the ones there are. They are likely to be perceived by us as more 'meaningful'. What sort of Es are there - for example, in the UK's mainly Conservative press, how many non-Conservative messages are available to us?

Gerbner: E1 and M
E1 is the event-as-perceived (E) by the man (sic) or machine M. In terms of human communication, a person perceives an event. The perception (E1) they have of that event is more or less close to the 'real' event. The degree of correspondence between M's perception of event E (E1) will be a function of M's assumptions, point of view, experiences, social factors etc.

Gerbner: Means and Controls
In the next stage of the model, M becomes the Source of a message about E to someone else. M produces a statement about the event (SE). To send that message, M has to use channels (or media) over which he has a greater or lesser degree of control. The question of 'control' relates to M's degree of skill in using communication channels. If using a verbal channel, how good is he at using words? If using the Internet, how good is he at using new technology and words? And so on? 'Control' may also be a matter of access - does he own this medium? can he get to use this medium? Think of teachers in classrooms controlling the access to communication channels, parents at home, owners of newspapers, editors of letters pages etc.

Gerbner: SE
SE (statement about event) is what we would more normally call the 'message'. S stands for Signal in fact, so in principle an S can be present without an E, but in that case it would be noise only. The process can be extended ad infinitum by adding on other receivers (M2, M3etc.) who have further perceptions (SE1, SE2 etc.) of the statements about perceived events.