Encoding / Decoding Theory

1980 – Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall’s Encoding / Decoding Theory suggests that audience derive their own meaning from media texts. These meanings can be dominant, negotiated or oppositional.

The Encoding / Decoding Theory is a theory of communication which suggests audiences actively read media texts and don’t just accept them passively. They interpret the media text according to their own cultural background and experiences. In his Encoding / Decoding theory, Hall suggested that media texts are read in three main ways. A dominant or preferred reading of the text is the way that its creators want an audience to understand and respond to it. An oppositional reading of the text is when an audience completely rejects the message. A negotiated reading is when the audience interprets the text in their own unique way, which might not be the way its producer intended.


The idea of encoding/decoding is not supported by evidence. It is a way of thinking about the communication process which priorities audience and culture. This theory shifts our attention to the reception of media texts and how meaning is created.

Encoding & Decoding

Ferguson found no correlation between media violence and real life violence

Longditudinal study by Chris Ferguson which found no correlation between media violence and real life violence. This evidence supports the encoding decoding theory model as over a 75 year period of analysing instances of film violence and corresponding homicide rates in each decade from 1920 to 2005, Ferguson found no correlation between instances of film violence and rates of societal violence. This supports that the media has no influence over audiences as audiences are active in constantly decoding and interpreting texts based on their own interpretations.