This glossary provides simple and basic definitions to some very complex concepts. It is recommended that you use these definitions as a jumping off point to more deeply engage these terms, learn how to understand them, and apply them.


a form of discrimination and prejudice against individuals with disabilities


speaking or acting in ways that support or espouse a cause, issue, group, or institution


a desire to be something great; often used in the context of socio-economic class, a desire to move up or change one’s position


to make similar; to become part of a culture or group, often leaving behind the origins, customs, rituals you were born or grew up with; often used in the context of immigrants and those aspiring to transform their identity by conforming to another (typically dominant) group


typically unknown individuals or group who receives messages and to whom messages are addressed and targeted; can be a mass audience (e.g. broadcast, network television) or a more targeted, niche or “narrowcast” group tied to a particular identity (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age), political affiliation, taste culture/genre (e.g. comedy/satire, history, etc.); both impacted by media messages, but also having the potential to challenge messages and read against the grain


fitting in, feeling a part of a group, community, or place; also related to the sociological concept, “ingroup”


something made or based on two parts, often in opposition to one another; often used in discussing the social construction of identities in binary and structural opposition or as either/or dichotomy (e.g. masculinityfemininity; White-Black; straightgay; young-old; rich-poor; able-bodied-disabled, etc.)


sexual attraction to multiple genders.


the act of marking and/or performing non-White identities (particularly Black, Latinx individuals) in exaggerated, stereotypical, and often demeaning ways; representing non-White identities as marginalized and “Other” based on skin color, racial and ethnic features, and geographic origin

civil rights

equality under the law and the right to personal liberty; the right to live and move freely as an equal citizen.


a category of identity based on socioeconomic status

classism, classist

discrimination against or bias toward someone or some group based on economic status


prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin tone over those with darker skin


a group of people bound together by living in the same place or sharing the same ideas and ideologies; can describe a neighborhood, village, city or school (all site-specific/place-based); can also be used to describe a race, ethnicity, religion, or other group that shares certain identifiable characteristics


practices, behaviors, ideas and styles regarded as normal or taken for granted; in media industries, producers often rely on (historical and/or economically successful) conventions in storytelling and style

cultural appropriation/misappropriation

the act of borrowing, stealing, or taking over images, words, sounds, traditions, and meanings to make them one’s own; a dominant culture exercising power over, even violating, a marginal culture by borrowing without understanding or attribution

cultural imperialism

means by which certain nations exact influence and power over other parts of the world or particular communities through embedding ideologies in cultural products (media, fashion/clothing, food, toys, consumer goods, etc.); generally exercised by economically dominant nations over less developed areas of the world


the process of interpretation and understanding that occurs when audiences consume  media (or other cultural products); meanings can be influenced by a consumer’s background, context and mode of consumption; works with encoding


a means of measuring and assessing human populations based on data collected around specific categories (such as age, income, education); often used to identify and target consumer markets


treating someone or some group as different or less-than based upon their identity

DIY media

an acronym for “do it yourself”; as it applies to media, DIY is a “bottom-up” form of production where individuals or small groups can produce content without relying on traditional top-down media industries and their infrastructures; predates the digital age in zines and other grassroots media production, but has widely expanded in the age of smart phones and other affordable recording technologies as well as social media distribution channels (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

double standard

a set of guidelines or principles in which one group of people is treated differently than another for performing the same or similar behavior


the way meanings are embedded by a producer during the process of media or cultural production; meanings in the encoding process feature the point of view of the media producer; meanings can be influenced by a producer’s background and other industrial facets of the production process; works with decoding.


cultural association or heritage; ie., African-American, Scandinavian, Latino.


the position of excluding someone or some group from a fundamental right or prerogative


socially constructed characteristics or ideas typically associated with women/womanhood


a philosophy and social movement centered on establishing and achieving political, economic, and social equality for all genders


a quality that suggests flow, movement or a spectrum as opposed to rigidity or stasis; most socially constructed identities (those that are not only biological) can change and are therefore fluid, not fixed; typically applies to some identity categories more than others (e.g. gender fluidity)


sexual attraction and/or behavior toward individuals of the same sex; typically used to refer to attraction between men, but also used to refer to same-sex attraction among women


socially constructed characteristics associated with biological sex; ie., feminine, masculine


a well-established category or grouping based on similar form (aesthetic) and function; ie., drama, comedy


a process through which affluent groups, organizations or corporations replace and displace the original residents, businesses, and institutions in an urban neighborhood


the growth and spread of products, information, and culture transcending national boundaries across the globe; supported by changing economic practices and policies (e.g. post-Fordism, neoliberalism) and the rise of international/global conglomerates dating from the late 20th century onward


a system that places heterosexuality as the norm and privileges heterosexual relationships


discrimination or bias against someone or some group based on non-heterosexual sexuality


sexual attraction and/or behavior toward individuals of the opposite sex


a system wherein certain practices, behaviors, ideas or people are valued over others


a dislike, hatred, or fear of LGBTQ+individuals and groups


sexual attraction and/or behavior toward individuals of the same sex


unusual interest or excessive activity with respect to sexuality


a way to define or explain who you are, comprising different characteristics or attributes (e.g. age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, class, sexual orientation, ability, religious beliefs, etc.)

identity politics

organizing political activism and action around identity-based discrimination or problems


a system of values and beliefs that is shared and influences behavior and action


the act of traveling to a country in which one does not have citizenship, with the goal of living or working there

implicit bias

unconscious attitudes or beliefs about others based on certain characteristics, stemming from upbringing, personal experiences, and exposure to messages in culture, media, institutions; mental shortcuts that are naturalized and accepted as truth, taken for granted


coming from an institution or central place of power; functions to influence surrounding bodies, people, and values


way of understanding identity comprising multiple intersecting facets (gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, etc.), which afford certain privileges and power to some and make others susceptible to prejudice and discrimination;  coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, the notion that multiple systems of oppression (ie., sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism) intersect across individuals’ lives and experiences


a term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual organs that do not match traditional biological definitions of male or female


sexual attraction and or behavior toward individuals of the same sex; typically used to refer to attraction between women


acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning)


socially constructed characteristics typically associated with men


modes of transmitting information; ie., newspapers, magazines, film television, radio, the internet, social media

media industries

those businesses that produce and distribute media (news, television, film, radio and recording, etc.)


a system wherein success is based upon ability, talent, and effort; the idea that if you work hard, you will achieve success


the hatred of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against feminine presenting people, frequently women or girls; can be manifested in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, violence, objectification, demeaning and idealized representation


a misleading or untrue representation of an individual or group, usually done with some intent to slander or deceive


the ability to move; in the context of socio-economic class, the ability to move in a society; ie., upward mobility.


a specialized, localized or small group; used in the context of media to discuss niche markets and industries


producing, encouraging, and perpetuating ideas and behaviors as normal, standard, even objectively true; not accounting for or critically reflecting on how, why, and from where these ideas and behaviors originate


behaviors and ideas that are socially expected and often accepted as fact, seen as typical, taken for granted


treating other individuals or groups as objects or things, without regard for their humanity. The objectified person or group has no agency and instead is a tool or pawn used by others. People belonging to subordinate groups are often objectified by their dominant counterparts. Sexual objectification specifically refers to treating someone (generally women) purely as objects of sexual pleasure and desire. Sexual objectification (and its prevalence in the media) is a point of critique among many feminists.


being subject to unjust and sometimes abusive exercises of power and control; being denied opportunities and freedoms by those with authority and power; can function on an individual level (e.g, bullying) or a systemic and institutional level (e.g. slavery); can have serious and longstanding impacts on those who are oppressed


in critical theory, refers to subordinate groups who are relegated to the margins and treated as outsiders, specifically outside the center of power and privilege. The “Other” (usually capitalized and/or in quotes) historically represents those who are not White, not male, not wealthy, not straight. The existence and naming of the Other helps to solidify the power of the dominant group


a state in which a particular group enjoys more visibility, voice or power within a particular institution, relative to their representation in the broader society


a political-social system in which men hold a disproportionately large share of power; which insists males are inherently superior and endowed with the right to dominate and rule; which maintains male dominance through various forms of physical and psychological violence; which denies people access to full-emotional well-being; which everyone is implicated in


singling out and targeting an individual or group for attack and subjugation based upon their identity


the myth that feminism is no longer needed because its goals have been achieved


the myth that homophobia no longer exists, and therefore gay individuals are treated equally


the myth that racism no longer exists, and that all races are treated equally in all facets of life


having control, influence, knowledge, authority over others; in media, those with power (to produce, distribute, critique) can shape norms and establish dominant ideas and ideologies; power is not absolute–power and ideologies can be challenged and resisted


benefits and advantages that are unearned and awarded based on identity; ie., White privilege


a formerly derogatory term used to refer to homosexuals, which has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community and used to designate its members. Also an area of scholarly inquiry; ie., queer theory


a person who is exploring or unsure of their sexuality


social construct that categorizes humans based on physical characteristics, particularly one’s skin color; historically used in governance, institutional policies and representational practices (including media); the principle unit and core concept of racism


discrimination against someone or some group of people based upon race


the act of marking and/or performing non-White identities (specifically Native American) in exaggerated, stereotypical, and often demeaning ways; representing non-White identities as marginalized and “Other” based on skin color, racial and ethnic features, and geographic origin; see blackface/brownface, yellowface


in studies of media, the ways in which particular groups, topics, communities or ideas are portrayed through narratives, images, text or sound


discrimination against someone or some group of people based upon sex


a category of identity based upon sexual orientation

sexual orientation

one’s mode of sexual attraction; ie., homosexual, heterosexual

social construction

the human symbolic creation of meaning and order in the world. The notion that the world is not “given,” “objective,” or “fact,” but has rather been built via culture, history, and ideology


a shorthand used to classify cultural groups and individuals based on a simplified, overgeneralized and often biased understanding of how that cultural group operates


refers to heterosexual individuals and groups


segments or divisions of society that help to classify or group people, i.e. lower class, middle class

strategic communication

the process of creating and sharing information (including media and news), shaped by specific intentions or agendas

token, tokenism

the practice of including one or a few members of a minority into an existing group, generally for the purposes of protecting against claims of discrimination

top-down structure

a hierarchical system in which one group of individuals or entities (e.g. institutions, corporations) plays a controlling, gatekeeping, or domineering role over others


an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth


a medical term historically used to identify a person who has undergone hormone and surgical treatments to attain physical characteristics that affirm their gender identity. Although some individuals may identify as transsexual, this term is now generally considered derogatory


a process in which an actor is repeatedly assigned similar roles based on their identification with a specific physical or performance-based trait


a state in which a particular group enjoys less visibility, voice or power within a particular institution, relative to their representation in the broader society


the state of being commonly seen and properly represented in media depictions


distinct from being White, whiteness refers to an unmarked and unnamed place of advantage, privilege or domination; a lens through which White people tend to see themselves and others; an organizing principle that shapes institutions, policies, and social relations


a practice of casting White actors to play characters of color


the act of marking and/or performing non-White (specifically Asian) identities in exaggerated, stereotypical, and often demeaning ways; representing non-White identities as marginalized and “Other” based on skin color, racial and ethnic features, and geographic origin; see blackface/brownface, redface

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