A Schematic Model of Image Construction

I. For purposes of analysis, news stories and other forms of communication can be divided into a number of elements. They include:

  1. A physical and sensory embodiment, and
  2. Meanings, which are generally organized into narratives, with plots, settings, and positive and negative characterizations of people, ideas, experiences, events, institutions, places, and objects.

II. The characterizations can be considered forms of action that seek to enhance, defend or attack (that is credit or discredit) people, ideas, experiences, events, institutions, places and objects.

III. These efforts to credit or discredit can include a number of different kinds of claims about people (and other things), including:

  1. Claims that oneself or someone (or something) else is moral or immoral
  2. Claims that oneself or someone else is competent or incompetent
  3. Claims that oneself or someone else is powerful or without power
  4. Claims that oneself or someone else is sick or healthy, talented or lacking in talent, and so on.

IV. Efforts to claim that oneself or someone else is moral or immoral, namely number 1 above, can involve any of a number of more specific claims, including:

  1. Claims that oneself or someone else is lying or telling the truth
  2. Claims that oneself or someone else is being hypocritical or consistent.
  3. Claims that oneself or someone else is or is not guilty of invasion of privacy or has respected privacy.
  4. Claims that oneself or someone else has been insincere or sincere, and so on.

V. These efforts to credit and discredit , described in II-IV above, can also be efforts to engage in other kinds of action. They can be efforts to:

  1. Exert power over others or act subordinate to others.
  2. Oppose or cooperate with others.
  3. Harm or help others.

VI. All of these forms of action may be efforts to:

  1. Attain practical goals;
  2. Embody values and obey norms; and
  3. Attain largely unconscious psychodynamic goals.




As noted elsewhere, the effort to exert power (or the action of being subordinate) actually has two aspects, which need to be distinguished. In one, player A puts him or herself in a dominant position toward B, such that others see him as dominant. He puts B in the down position. Examples of this are put-downs; aggressive questioning that puts B on the defensive; and situations in which B treats A as more powerful and important than himself. In these situations, A seems to grow in symbolic size and B seems to shrink.

This needs to be distinguished from situations in which people exert power by getting others to do what they want, in ways that don’t involve an obvious display of weakness on the part of the subordinate one.

For example, people who appear to have no power in a relationship may actually have the ability to influence the other parties to the relationship and control their behavior. At the other extreme, people who are aggressively dominant and who elicit expressions of weakness, defensiveness and submissive behavior from others, may, in fact, fail to get those others to do what they want in other ways.

It should also be noted that we can exert power over, be subordinate, harm or help, oppose or cooperate with, ourselves, as well, when we divide up, as it were, and one part of us acts toward another part. This is all the more true since we harbor within us images of various aspects of self and significant others from childhood, and we constantly interact with the society around us in terms of the society inside our own personalities.

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