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Ethnicity and the negotiation of televisual meaning : a French case study

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posted on 04.02.2014, 15:20 by Joanna J. Helcke
This thesis explores the relationship between ethnicity and television viewing in France by means of a case study focusing on the situation comedy Fruits et Legumes. The programme, which was partly financed by the French government via the Fonds d'Action Sociale (FAS), portrays the everyday life of an Algerian family living in France, and was intended to be a French version of The Cosby Show. The FAS was aiming to produce a television series that would not only reassure the French public about the "innocuous" nature of the Maghrebi population in France but would also encourage it to identify with an immigrant family. The present study set out to investigate the role of ethnicity in shaping viewers' perceptions of the programme and the extent to which Fruits et Legumes may have encouraged greater understanding among viewers of different ethnic origins. A sample of 49 viewers was constructed so as to encompass three ethnic groups ("native" French people, those of Maghrebi origin and people originating from sub-Saharan/Central Africa), gender differences, two age groups (18 to 30 year olds and those over the age of 40), and two levels of education (those with less than a baccalaureat and those with university education). These respondents viewed a sample episode individually and then took part in one-to-one, in-depth interviews. Using Hall's three proposed reading positions - dominant, negotiated and oppositional in relation to the preferred meaning within the text - as a basic structure within which to analyse decodings of the episode, a further set of interpretive categories was evolved for the purposes of this study. Having classified viewer decodings of the programme, patterns in these readings were analysed, so as to ascertain whether there was a correlation between these distributions of decodings and respondents' ethnicity, gender, age or educational level. It was found that nearly a third of all decodings diverged significantly from the preferred meaning. Numerous patterns amongst viewer responses were identified, and ethnicity was found to be the main variable shaping these interpretive communities, although in certain instances gender, generation and educational level were the defining factors. These results do not imply, however, that ethnicity will invariably have the greatest influence on the decoding process, as it would seem probable that if the programme had been "non-ethnically marked", ethnicity would have shaped decodings to a lesser extent.



  • Social Sciences


  • Politics and International Studies


© Joanna J. Helcke

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.



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