A concept used in relation to texts (typically in mass-communication genres) where the sender of a message consciously or unconsciously encodes it in ways which function to guide, limit, or control its interpretation by receivers. It is not the same as an intended meaning, since it may embody many assumptions of which even the producers of the discourse were not consciously aware. Stuart Hall originally used the term in relation to television news and current affairs programmes but it has subsequently been applied more widely. Hall tries to address the objections of researchers in the uses and gratifications field by conceding that although the interpretation of a text is primarily determined by audiences, the encoders of a message are nevertheless more powerful than its decoders because they also have control over the means of sign production, or the very ideological codes that audiences use to form their interpretation of a text. However, Hall has been criticized for appearing to imply that such meanings are invariably encoded in the dominant code: this stance tends to reify the medium and to downplay conflicting tendencies within texts. Sociologists deny that the concept of preferred reading entails textual determinism since interpretation involves several possible reading positions. Just as reading a text involves an assumption that texts have authors and that authors have intentions, it also requires the assumption that there is likely to be a preferred reading (see communicative presumption) and some inference about what this might be—even if the reader does not accept this reading. See also aberrant decoding; circuit of communication; encoding/decoding model; hegemonic reading; negotiated reading; open and closed texts; oppositional reading.
Subjects: Media studies