Quick Reference

1. Most broadly, any frame of reference or framework within which something is perceived, produced, consumed, communicated, interpreted, or otherwise experienced, or which is seen as relevant to the description or analysis of any phenomenon. Contextualism emphasizes such factors; failing to account for them may be criticized as decontextualization. However, deconstructionists remind us that, as frames of reference, contexts are not fragments of an objective reality. See also context factors; contextual expectations; contextualization; indexical; situatedness.

2. (social context) The social environment within which some phenomenon occurs: either the micro-context of the immediate social situation, or the macro-context of the broad social, cultural, historical, political, and/or economic circumstances and conditions (including social structure, roles, and social relations). Accounts that neglect such factors may be criticized as asocial; overplaying them may be called sociologism: see also social situation.

3. (situational context) The immediate physical and social setting and circumstances within which some phenomenon occurs, which may include relevant roles and tasks and how the participants themselves situate the phenomenon: see also context of reception; context of situation; context of use; social situation.

4. (cultural context) Factors relating to ethnic or subcultural backgrounds and associated environments and practices which may influence perception, communication, interpretation, and/or media use. Over-emphasis on such factors may be criticized as relativism. See also context of situation; high-contact cultures; low-contact cultures; reading direction.

5. (historical context) Historical events, movements, processes, and/or forces seen as of explanatory relevance in the description and analysis of a social phenomenon. Ignoring such contexts may be criticized as ahistorical; overplaying them may be called historicism.

6. (psychological or perceptual context) The frame of reference that individuals bring to an experience and that guides their expectations. These include: their attitudes and values; the knowledge and experience on which they draw in the form of active schemata such as social schemata and textual schemata; their interests, recent experiences, current purposes, and needs, which may generate unconscious biases (as in perceptual set); their cognitive styles, and so on. Overplaying such factors may be criticized as psychologism.

7. (task-context) The specific task in which participants are engaged, and the roles associated with it, including the ways in which they individually and collectively interpret these.

8. (formal context) Relationships between formal features (such as lines, colours, and shapes) that may influence the perception or interpretation of any element (see also gestalt laws). The apparent size or brightness of shapes, for instance, can be dramatically affected by their proximity to other shapes. Formal relations are not only spatial but also temporal: the sequence of consecutively encountered items affects the sense that we make of each one (see also contiguity; juxtaposition; sequence; spatial relations; syntagm). Overplaying formal factors may be criticized as formalism: see also formal analysis.

9. (linguistic context) Any linguistic factors which act as cues in the recognition of meaningful units in an utterance or written text, notably: semantic context, syntactic context, phonetic context, and logographic context. For extralinguistic reference, see deixis.

10. A key element in Jakobson's model of (linguistic) communication, in which making sense of a message is dependent on a shared understanding of context (as well as a shared code). In this sense, the context is the referent: what the message is about. Jakobson declared that ‘It is not enough to know the code in order to grasp the message…you need to know the context’. However, the normative dependence of meaning on context is culturally variable. See elaborated code; high‐context; low‐context; restricted code.


Subjects: Media Studies.

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