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Spectator Gaze

Marita Sturken

Subject Communication Studies » Visual and Non-verbal Communication

People Sartre, Jean-Paul

Key-Topics cinema

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The concept of the spectator gaze was central to the development of theories of →  cinema and art history, emerging primarily in the 1970s. Its origins most likely lie in Jean-Paul Sartre's theory of the look (in French, le regard ) and the extension of that theory into psychoanalytic theory by Jacques Lacan. This theory postulates the position of an idealized spectator (of cinema, for instance) and the idea that an image (still or moving) is defined by a particular kind of gaze upon it (→  Film Theory ). The concept of this ideal spectator is central to theories of cinema that find their foundation in psychoanalysis and →  semiotics , and what have been termed the apparatus theories of early film theory, which focus on the technology of cinema exhibition as a metaphor for viewer consciousness (→  Structuralism in Visual Communication). The spectator designates an abstract subject position of an imagined viewer of cinema, though it might be occupied by particular viewers of cinema in various contexts. Thus, theories of spectatorship are theories of address (how cinema or other image systems are seen to address viewers) rather than a theory of actual reception (what particular viewers do in response to image texts). The concept of the gaze (→  Gaze in Interaction ) emerged in the context of 1970s film theory most obviously in relationship to two texts: Laura Mulvey's canonical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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