Roland Barthes Theories

from Roland Barthes for beginners: Theories

Roland Barthes presented the postmodernist tradition with many useful specie of nomenclature by which to describe what is occuring semioticly within discourse. The following is a list of his theories intermixed with other poeples theories that may be helpful in the understanding of the more difficult concepts. Enjoy


  • Discourse: Any interfacing between a subject and another thing that provides information. For example, by watching a film, the viewer is actively involved with creating the film in the viewers mind. The viewer puts a personal mark upon the film, and the film becomes the viewers. Then the film adds or subtracts from the notions that the viewer had created.
  • Semiotics, Semiosis, Semiology: The noun form of the study of signs and signification, the process of attaching signifieds to signifiers, the study of signs and signifying systems.
  • Signifier: Is in someways a substitute. Words, both oral and written are signifiers. The brain then exchanges the signifier for a working definition. For example let us consider the word "tree", you can't make a log cabin out of the word "tree"; you could however make a log cabin out of what the brain substitutes for the input "tree" which would be some type of icon.
  • Signified: Is what the signifier refers to. (See signifier). There are two types of signifieds:
  • connotative: points to the signified but has a deeper meaning. An example provided by Barthes can be found in S/Z on page 62. "Tree" = luxuriant green, shady, etc...
  • denotative: What the signified actually is, quite like a definition, but in brain language.
  • Skidding: When meaning moves due to a signifier calling on multiple signifieds.
  • Hermenuetics: Differs from exegesis in that it is less "practical." It is the text that postpones and even breaks with itself to shift meaning through skidding.
  • Exegesis: Interpretation of content only. that searches for meaning connotatively.
  • Readerly text: (from the Pleasure of the Text) is discourse that stabilizes; it meets the expectations of the reader.
  • Writerly text: is a text that discomforts; it creates a subject position for the reader that is outside of the mores or cultural base of the reader.
  • Starred text: (from S/Z) is where the text "breaks;" where a deeper level of meaning can be followed. The stars occur at these locations, which are ambiguously chosen.
  • Language exists on two axes.