1 OVERVIEW OF THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF COMMUNICATION Political economy is a major perspective in communication research. Since the 1940s, the approach has guided the work of scholars around the world and its global expansion continues today (Cao and Zhao, 2007; McChesney, 2007). This first chapter identifies the major ideas that subsequent chapters develop in depth and calls attention to key references that are drawn from throughout the book. The book begins its map of the political economy approach by defining it, identi- fying its fundamental characteristics, and providing a guide to its major schools of thought. From here, it proceeds to examine how communication scholars have drawn on the theoretical framework to carry out research on communication media and information technologies. The section highlights recent trends, including the globalization of political economic research, the growth of historical research and of studies that concentrate on resistance to dominant media. It also emphasizes the transition from old to new media and the spread of communication activism. The book then turns to the philosophical foundation of a political economic approach in order to better understand the enduring and new issues that need to be addressed in communication studies. Specifically, it calls for an approach to under- standing that accepts as real both the concepts or ideas that guide our thinking as well as our observations or what we perceive with our senses. It thereby rejects the view, prominent in some theories, that only our ideas or only our observations, but not both, are real. It also rejects the view that reality is little more than a chimera or a fig- ment of our imagination and that neither ideas nor observations are in any sense real. Moreover, this perspective means that reality is established or constituted by many sources and cannot be reduced to the essentialism of either economics (e.g. money alone drives the media) or culture (e.g. people’svalues drive the media). The approach also brings to the forefront the concepts of social change, social processes, and social relations, even if that means re-evaluating the emphasis that political economy has traditionally placed on social institutions, like media businesses, or on seeing social class as a category rather than, as this approach suggests, as a social relationship. Putting these ideas into practice, the book moves on to identify three processes that make up the main starting points for a political economy of communication. Mosco-3845-Ch-01:Mosco-3845-Ch-01.qxp 1/24/2009 2:21 PM Page 1
Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends enjoy into a film or a novel to be sold in the marketplace. How does the human act of communica- tion become a product produced for a profit? Spatialization is the process of over-
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