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NOTIONS OF STEREOTYPE AND SYMBOL



1. Notion of symbol

2. Notion of archetype

3. Notion of stereotype

 

Questions for self-examination:

1. What is the role of stereotypes in culture? What are their functions?

2. Give examples of national and universal symbols?

 

A symbol is an object that represents, stands for, or suggests an idea, visual image, belief, action, or material entity. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, or visual images and are used to convey ideas and beliefs. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for numbers. Personal names are symbols representing individuals. A red rose symbolizes love and compassion. The word derives from the Greek symbolon meaning token or watchword. It is an amalgam of syn- "together" + bole "a throwing, a casting, the stroke of a missile, bolt, beam." The sense evolution in Greek is from "throwing things together" to "contrasting" to "comparing" to "token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine." Hence, "outward sign" of something. The meaning "something which stands for something else" was first recorded in 1590, in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene.

Later, expanding on what he means by this definition Campbell says:

"a symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect. We must distinguish, therefore between the 'sense' and the 'meaning' of the symbol. It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable. The term 'meaning' can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs. The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed. It is the province of art which is not 'expression' merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a 'sensuous apprehension of being'.

Heinrich Zimmer gives a concise overview of the nature, and perennial relevance, of symbols.

"Concepts and words are symbols, just as visions, rituals, and images are; so too are the manners and customs of daily life. Through all of these a transcendent reality is mirrored. They are so many metaphors reflecting and implying something which, though thus variously expressed, is ineffable, though thus rendered multiform, remains inscrutable. Symbols hold the mind to truth but are not themselves the truth, hence it is delusory to borrow them. Each civilisation, every age, must bring forth its own."

In the book Signs and Symbols, it is stated that A symbol ... is a visual image or sign representing an idea -- a deeper indicator of a universal truth.

Symbols are a means of complex communication that oftentimes can have multiple levels of meaning. This separates symbols from signs, as signs have only one meaning.

Human cultures use symbols to express specific ideologies and social structures and to represent aspects of their specific culture. Thus, symbols carry meanings that depend upon one’s cultural background; in other words, the meaning of a symbol is not inherent in the symbol itself but is culturally learned.

Symbols are the basis of all human understanding and serve as vehicles of conception for all human knowledge. Symbols facilitate understanding of the world in which we live, thus serving as the grounds upon which we make judgments.In this way, people use symbols not only to make sense of the world around them, but also to identify and cooperate in society throughconstitutive rhetoric.

Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols, and signification as communicative behavior. Semiotics studies focus on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, also taking into account interpretation of visual cues, body language, sound, and other contextual clues. Semiotics is linked with both linguistics and psychology. Semioticians thus not only study what a symbol implies, but also how it got its meaning and how it functions to make meaning in society. Symbols allow the human brain continuously to create meaning using sensory input and decode symbols through both denotation and connotation.

Jean Dalby Clift says that people not only add their own interpretations to symbols, they also create personal symbols that represent their own understanding of their lives: what she calls "core images" of the person. She argues that symbolic work with these personal symbols or core images can be as useful as working with dream symbols in psychoanalysis or counseling.

William Indick suggests that the symbols that are commonly found in myth, legend, and fantasy fulfill psychological functions and hence are why archetypes such as "the hero," "the princess" and "the witch" have remained popular for centuries.

Paul Tillich argued that, while signs are invented and forgotten, symbols are born and die. There are, therefore, dead and living symbols. A living symbol can reveal to an individual hidden levels of meaning and transcendent or religious realities. For Tillich a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious: the symbol's "depth dimension". Symbols are complex, and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves. When a symbol loses its meaning and power for an individual or culture, it becomes a dead symbol. The Greek Gods might be an example of symbols that were once living for the ancient Greeks but whose meaning and power are now gone.

When a symbol becomes identified with the deeper reality to which it refers, it becomes idolatrous as the "symbol is taken for reality." The symbol itself is substituted for the deeper meaning it intends to convey. The unique nature of a symbol is that it gives access to deeper layers of reality which are otherwise inaccessible.

A symbolic action is an action that has no, or little, practical effect but symbolizes, or signals, what the actor wants or believes. The action conveys meaning to the viewers.

Symbolic action may overlap with symbolic speech, such as the use of flag burning to express hostility or saluting the flag to express patriotism.

In response to intense public criticism, businesses, organizations, and governments may take symbolic actions rather than, or in addition to, directly addressing the identified problems.

Symbolic actions are sometimes derided as slacktivism.

Wearing a red ribbon is a symbolic action that communicates support for AIDS awareness and people with HIV.

The term stereotype derives from the Greek words στερεός (stereos), "firm, solid" and τύπος (typos), "impression," hence "solid impression".

The term comes from the printing trade and was first adopted in 1798 by Firmin Didot to describe a printing plate that duplicated any typography. The duplicate printing plate, or the stereotype, is used for printing instead of the original.

Outside of printing, the first reference to "stereotype" was in 1850, as a noun that meant "image perpetuated without change." However, it was not until 1922 that "stereotype" was first used in the modern psychological sense by American journalist Walter Lippmann in his work Public Opinion.

Relationship with other types of intergroup attitudes

A stereotype is a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality. However, this is only a fundamental psychological definition of a stereotype. Within psychology and spanning across other disciplines, there are different conceptualizations and theories of stereotyping that provide their own expanded definition. Some of these definitions share commonalities, though each one may also harbor unique aspects that may contradict the others. The term stereotype derives from the Greek words στερεός (stereos), "firm, solid" and τύπος (typos), "impression,"hence "solid impression".

Early studies suggested that stereotypes were only used by rigid, repressed, and authoritarian people. This idea has been refuted by contemporary studies that suggest the ubiquity of stereotypes and it was suggested to regard stereotypes as collective group beliefs, meaning that people who belong to the same social group share the same set of stereotypes. Modern research asserts that full understanding of stereotypes requires considering them from two complementary perspectives: as shared within a particular culture/subculture and as formed in the mind of an individual person. Though stereotypes can be absorbed at any age, they are usually acquired in early childhood under the influence of parents, teachers, peers, and the media. An ethnic stereotype, national stereotype, or national character is an oversimplified system of beliefs about typical characteristics of members of a given ethnic group or nationality, their status, society and cultural norms. National stereotypes may be either about their own ethnicity/nationality or about others. Stereotypes about their own nation may aid in maintaining the national identity.

The term archetype refers to either:

1. A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.

2. The Platonic philosophical idea, referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing.

3. In Jungian psychology, archetypes refer to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.

4. Archetypes can refer to a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting or mythology. This usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and Jungian archetypal theory.

In the first sense, many more informal terms are frequently used instead, such as "standard example" or "basic example", and the longer form "archetypal example" is also found. In mathematics, an archetype is often called a "canonical example".

First attested in English in 1540s, the word archetype derives from the Latin noun archetypum, the latinisation of the Greek noun ἀρχέτυπον (archetupon) and adjective ἀρχέτυπος (archetupos), meaning "first-moulded".

The origins of the archetypal hypothesis date back as far as Plato. In the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne and Francis Bacon both employ the word 'archetype' in their writings, Browne employed it in The Garden of Cyrus attempts to depict archetypes in his citing of symbolic proper-names. Plato's ideas were pure mental forms that were imprinted in the soul before it was born into the world. They were collective in the sense that they embodied the fundamental characteristics of a thing rather than its specific peculiarities. The concept of psychological archetypes was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, c. 1919. In Jung's psychological framework, archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. A group of memories and interpretations associated with an archetype is a complex (e.g. a mother complex associated with the mother archetype).

Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution. Jung states in part one of 'Man And His Symbols' (12th printing, Nov.1973) that: "My views about the 'archaic remnants', which I call 'archetypes' or 'primordial images,' have been constantly criticized by people who lack a sufficient knowledge of the psychology of dreams and of mythology. The term 'archetype' is often misunderstood as meaning certain definite mythological images or motifs. But these are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited. The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif - representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern.". Archetypes are the unknowable basic forms personified or concretized in recurring images, symbols, or patterns which may include motifs such as the quest or the heavenly ascent, recognizable character types such as the trickster or the hero, symbols such as the apple or snake, or images such as crucifixion (as in King Kong, or Bride of Frankenstein) are all laden with meaning already when employed in a particular work.

LECTURE 13





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