ABSTRACTION

Abstraction means to remove, or lift out of, context.. When abstracted, social relations are taken out of their place in time and space. For example, in advertisements human characteristics tend to be detached from real people in such a way as to seem like interchangeable traits. In fact, this is one of the basic presuppositions of most consumer ads: the feature that we admire in the model can supposedly be ours upon consumption.

Abstraction occurs when social relations are detached from the personal biographies of those who live them. Abstracted individuals and relationships are those in which means (consumption) and ends (whatever consumption yields) have no relation other than that provided by the commodity.

Advertising is based on a routine practice of detaching a signifier from a meaning system so that it can be employed with another. Earlier we used the example of advertisers lifting the "Blues" as a signifier (of a musical sound/style/genre) from its context in Black poverty and social relations.

The ability to photographically capture an image carries with it the capacity to change its meaning by changing what it appears in relation to. This fundamental point is made by John Berger in "Ways of Seeing" and again in "Appearances." Berger seeks to remind us that this kind of abstraction becomes totally taken-for-granted in everyday life, even though it has significant consequences.