Understanding Media Cultures, Social Theory and Mass Communication 2nd Edition.pdf - Understanding MEDIA CULTURES Nick Stevenson Understanding MEDIA

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Unformatted text preview: Understanding MEDIA CULTURES Nick Stevenson Understanding MEDIA CULTURES Social Theory and Mass Communication Second Edition SAGE Publications London • Thousand Oaks • New Delhi © Nick Stevenson 2002 First published 2002 Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers. SAGE Publications Ltd 6 Bonhill Street London EC2A 4PU SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320 SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd 32, M-Block Market Greater Kailash I New Delhi 110 048 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0 7619 73621 ISBN 0 7619 7363X (pbk) Library of Congress catalog card number available Typeset by Keystroke, Jacaranda Lodge, Wolverhampton. Printed in Great Britain by The Cromwell Press Ltd, Trowbridge, Wiltshire Contents Introduction 1 1 Marxism and Mass Communication Research Debates within Political Economy and Ideology: Raymond Williams, Glasgow University Media Group and Stuart Hall Marxism, Political Economy and Ideology Raymond Williams: Communications and the Long Revolution Cultural Materialism and Hegemony Raymond Williams and Material Culture: Television and the Press Raymond Williams and Communication Theory The Glasgow University Media Group and Television Bias Two Case Studies: Bad News and Good News The Eye of the Beholder and Objectivity in Media Studies Ideology and the Glasgow University Media Group Stuart Hall, Mass Communications and Hegemony Policing the Crisis: the Press, Moral Panics and the Rise of the New Right Ideology: the Return of the Repressed? Encoding and Decoding Media Discourse The Over-inflation of Discourse and Other Related Critiques Summary 9 2 Habermas, Mass Culture and the Public Sphere Public Cultures The Bourgeois Public Sphere Habermas, Mass Culture and the Early Frankfurt School Problems with Mass Culture: Habermas and the Frankfurt School 9 11 15 18 20 26 26 28 32 34 35 36 41 42 46 47 47 48 51 56 Contents The Public Sphere and Public Broadcasting Habermas, the Public Sphere and Citizenship Summary 3 Critical Perspectives within Audience Research Problems in Interpretation, Agency, Structure and Ideology The Emergence of Critical Audience Studies David Morley and the Television Audience: Encoding/Decoding Revisited Semiotics, Sociology and the Television Audience Class, Power and Ideology in Domestic Leisure John Fiske and the Pleasure of Popular Culture Life’s More Fun with the Popular Press Pointless Populism or Resistant Pleasures? Feminism and Soap Opera: Reading into Pleasure Feminism, Mass Culture and Watching Dallas Psychoanalysis, Identity and Utopia Reading Magazine Cultures Feminism and Critical Theory Summary 62 68 74 75 75 78 79 83 89 92 94 102 103 105 108 113 116 4 Marshall McLuhan and the Cultural Medium Space, Time and Implosion in the Global Village Technical Media Innis, McLuhan and Canadian Social Theory The Medium is the Message Space and Time: Technology and Cultural Studies Oral, Print and Modern Cultures: Jack Goody and Anthony Giddens More Critical Observations Summary 118 5 Baudrillard’s Blizzards Postmodernity, Mass Communications and Symbolic Exchange Postmodernism as a Heterogeneous Field Baudrillard, Althusser and Debord Postmodernism, Symbolic Exchange and Marxism The French McLuhan: Simulations, Hyperreality and the Masses Baudrillard and Jameson Baudrillard’s Irrationalism Summary 148 vi 118 119 121 128 132 138 146 148 149 153 162 167 173 182 Contents 6 New Media and the Information Society Schiller, Castells, Virilio and Cyberfeminism Herb Schiller and Media Imperialism Informationalism, Networks and Social Movements: Manuel Castells The Limitations of Informational Politics Virilio, Speed and Communication Virilio and the Media of Mass Communications Critical Questions within Cyberfeminism Summary 184 7 Conclusion The Three Paradigms of Mass Communication Research Possible Futures 216 216 223 Glossary Notes References Index 186 192 196 200 206 210 214 226 232 235 250 vii Preface for the second edition T he main aim of this new edition has been to revise and expand the text to take account of recent media theory and research, and the development of new media. Since the first publication of this book in 1995, there has been a great deal of fresh thinking in this respect. This has given rise to a considerable amount of debate as to whether society has now entered into an information age unlike any other. However we theorise this transition it has posed new and of course old questions within the sociology of the media. Not surprisingly those who are trying to think about the impact of new media have increasingly looked to developments in sociology and social theory to help them in this task. Hence the central aim of my book remains the same as it was in 1995. That is I attempt to demonstrate why a grounding in social theory remains key for the study of the media. This claim remains consistent whether we are talking of new or old media. Whether I successfully make this case remains for the reader to judge. There are a number of people I should like to thank for help in the preparation of the manuscript. Firstly, and above everyone else, I would like to praise my publisher Julia Hall. Without her vision and commitment this book would not have happened. Secondly, I would like to acknowledge my debt to a number of colleagues and friends whose conversations and insights have helped along the way. They are: Micheal Kenny, Anthony Elliott, Alex MacDonald, David Moore, Paul Ransome, Joke Hermes, Ann Gray, John Downey, Maurice Roche, John B. Thompson, Sharon MacDonald, Peter Jackson, Jagdish Patel, Gaye Flounders, Chris Docx, Chris Baber, Anthony Giddens, Andrew Gamble, Dave Hesmondhaugh, David Rose, Matthew Dickson, Robert Unwin, Jim McGuigan, Claire Annesley, and Kate Brooks. Finally, I would like to thank my partner Lucy James for putting up with my tastes in television, magazines, radio, newspapers, Internet, and cinema. While we remain divided on Radio One and Wim Wenders we have found solace in Ally McBeal. In addition, Lucy has devoted a considerable amount of time to reading through the chapters that are enclosed within. This book owes a great deal to her continual support. However, this new edition is dedicated with love to our daughter Eve Anna James. Nick Stevenson, Nottingham people within the narrowest horizons grow stupid at the point where their interest begins, and then vent their rancour on what they do not want to understand because they could understand it only too well, so the planetary stupidity which prevents the present world from perceiving the absurdity of its own order is a further product of the unsublimated, unsuperseded interest of the rulers. (Adorno, 1974:198) You either shut up or get cut up. It’s only inches on the reel to reel. And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way you feel. Radio is the sound salvation. Radio is cleaning up the nation. They say you better listen to the voice of reason. But they don’t give you any choice ‘cause they think that it’s treason. So you had better do as you are told. You better listen to the radio. (‘Radio, Radio’, Elvis Costello) Introduction One W hat is the significance of media cultures today? The emergence of global forms of mass communication, as most would recognise, has reworked the experiential content of everyday life. But how important is the field of communications when compared with other fields of research? What is the relationship between the study of mass media and other aspects of social practice? How have different media of communication reshaped relations of time and space? Do media cultures reaffirm today’s dominant social relations? What kinds of identities are currently being fostered by electronic communication? Who are the key thinkers of whom we should be aware in thinking about these issues? Here I hope to contribute towards our shared understanding of such questions, while broadly indicating the shape some answers might take. This book began as an attempt to think about the relationship between mass communication and social theory. This soon brought to mind a paradox. Much of the social theory I read dealt with issues of work, sexuality, structure and agency, ideology, commodification, the unconscious, time and space, citizenship, globalisation and other aspects. But within many of these texts the media of mass communication seemed to have marginal status. Most current writing seemingly acknowledges its increasing significance within modernity before passing over into a discussion of the reshaping of the economic base or the institutional transformations in the political sphere. This seemed wrong. My own life made me aware of the importance that certain elements of media had within my leisure time, in talk amongst friends, as gifts to be exchanged, in maintaining connection with absent others, and in opening out a sense of the public. Yet I was Understanding Media Cultures also aware of a number of perspectives that treated the media as all-important. Here the influence of the media of mass communication seemed pervasive and could be blamed for the major ills of society. While at least these perspectives recognised the significance of the media, they were treated as unproblematically as they were by those who ignored their influence. Rightist and leftist thinkers alike have similarly conceptualised the media as being the cause of social breakdown and the ideological cement that glues an unjust society together. Such views might seem to have some plausibility, but are generally overly reductive and essentialist. In this book I will develop an informed debate with those aspects of social theory that have taken the media seriously. Admittedly this largely ignores the reasons why social theory has been so slow to investigate its importance. In this my argumentative strategy has been to drive a wedge between the two positions outlined above. First, I am concerned to link the media of mass communication to other social practices contained within the public and the private. As such, the book will engage with those positions that view media practice as connected to a field of historical and spatial practice. Secondly, the media of mass communication constitute social practices in themselves that are not reducible to other formations. The act of broadcasting a radio programme, reading a magazine or watching television is a significant social practice in itself. This book, then, is also concerned with the specificity of media practices. These need to be maintained against the temptation to crush them into a generalised discourse on economics, politics or culture. But here I am aware of a further paradox. When social theory finally got round to noticing the importance of mass media the television age was the emergent cultural process. For this reason, apart from Marshall McLuhan (1994) and Jürgen Habermas (1989), most of the theoretical considerations under review neglect other media of communication. This is not a tendency I shall be able to reverse here. Arguably social theory became interested in the impact of the mass media once it became impossible to ignore. This meant that until the television age it had had only a negligible impact upon sources of social criticism. Classical nineteenthcentury social theory tended to treat it as a marginal phenomenon that lacked importance beside issues of capitalism, bureaucracy and authority, and anomie. Current postmodern perspectives have sought most dramatically to reverse this emphasis. In postmodernity, the mass media are conceptualised both as technologically interrelated and as promoting a historically unstable domain of popular intertextuality. Television’s dominance has arguably been replaced by a complex technological field of compact disc players, personal computers, magazine culture and video cassette recorders. Now, amongst the rapid technological development of media forms, it is easy to forget the permanence and continued structural priority that television and the press retain. However, these domains are currently being transformed by the impact of new technologies of communication that are ushering in a new society that is challenging older more established research paradigms. 2 Introduction Two Why media cultures? Originally I thought of calling the book ‘Social Theory and Mass Communication’. Luckily I was quickly advised by a friend of mine that this sounded desperately dull, and certainly not the kind of book she would read! This again seemed wrong given the importance of the themes covered by the text. Further, such a title, I thought, did not even serve my own purposes very well. What I intend to communicate by media cultures can be summarised in three senses. The first is the obvious point that much of modern culture is transmitted by the media of mass communication. The various media disseminate classical opera and music, tabloid stories about the private lives of politicians, the latest Hollywood gossip and news from the four corners of the globe. This has profoundly altered the phenomenological experience of living in modernity, as well as networks of social power. The other two points are more academically inclined. Secondly, most of the theorists I have discussed within this text build up a picture of the media out of a wider analysis of modern cultural processes. If say, we want to understand Habermas’s (1989) writing on the public sphere, we might also look at his analysis of money and power. Similarly, Baudrillard’s (1993a) concern with simulation and implosion is not detachable from his other-cultural concerns, and his own intellectual biography. Hence, while I concentrate upon particular theorists’ interpretations of mass communication, their views are always integrated into wider cultural concerns. In doing this I have become aware of the durability of certain intellectual traditions. Academic culture is probably one of the most international of those currently in operation. The exchange of travelling theory has certainly made geographical impacts, and yet national trends remain evident. In the main this book concentrates upon contributors from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the USA. I am aware this gives the text a Eurocentric bias. Yet the traditions of hermeneutics, post-structuralism, critical theory and Marxism evident here are not owned by specific nationalities. But the way in which these ideas have circulated is not as free-floating as talk of a pervasive global culture might suggest. For instance, despite the impact of French intellectual culture, and to a lesser extent German traditions of critical theory, British cultural studies has mostly ignored contributions that emerged originally within Canada. Baudrillard’s overtly French social theory, which has made a huge impact, is perhaps responsible for reminding us of the importance of certain branches of Canadian thought in respect of Innis and McLuhan. Had I more rigorously traced through these crosscurrents, I would have produced a different book. This adds a third dimension to media cultures – there are histories of intellectual exchange of those who have theorised about the media to be written. Again this is not our concern. However, attentive readers might want to bear this in mind while reading the text. It is less with the intellectual contexts of the main contributors that I am concerned than 3 Understanding Media Cultures with the production of ideas and discourses. But still further qualification is required. My main aim is not to present an overview of all the perspectives in social theory that currently mention mass communications. This has been done excellently elsewhere.1 I also wanted to avoid presenting the material in an overly unified way that did not open out areas of critical dispute and engagement. What has emerged is a selected engagement with specific intellectual fields of criticism and theoretical practice. In this I have prioritised traditions of theorising and thinking that have sought to offer a critique of mass communications. But even here some currents are hardly dealt with, and others are quickly passed over. For instance, I could have offered a chapter on the Chicago school or the contributions of American Marxism. That I have not speaks of my own location in current debates on mass communication and my anchoring in a specific context. Of course such a recognition does not mean that this book has not been written with a diverse spectrum of readers in mind, and to recognise my cultural specificity need not relativise the theoretical labour that is in evidence here. Every effort has been taken to present the arguments in a way that might be able to persuade others of their rightness. I want to offer an engagement with the strands of intellectual debate that both excited and stimulated me. I also chose to concentrate upon intellectual traditions about which I thought I had something to say. For omissions I offer no apologies. This is after all not an attempt to have the final word. What I hope I have achieved is a critical space that allows different traditions to be compared, and a clear account of their interconnections and omissions. Whether I have chosen wisely and achieved this aim is for the reader to decide. Three One of my most powerful childhood memories was watching the flickering black and white images of the first people on the moon. I can vaguely remember watching the television images of those vulnerable astronauts with intense excitement. The explorations into space seemed to capture the imaginations of my family and schoolfriends alike. This, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the events of September 11th and Live Aid, was probably one of the most memorable events transmitted by the mass media during my lifetime. I feel sure other readers will have their own. Yet how could social theory help me to understand the social significance of this event? Most mainstream theoretical analysis would quickly dismiss my interest in the moon landing as either unimportant, or as somehow not as real as my position within a family or social class. This is unacceptable. Such arguments are at best avoidance and, at worst, unimaginative and sterile. If we take some of the theoretical perspectives offered within this book we will soon realise that my schoolboy projections can be variously interpreted. 4 Introduction In this text I draw a broad distinction between three paradigms of mass communication research. The first two chapters offer an investigation of both British and German research that has taken mass communications to be an important source of social power. These viewpoints are mainly concentrated with a political economy of mass communication, and related concerns with ideology and the public sphere. The debates have generally been preoccupied with the links between mass media, democracy and capitalism. The set of debates represented here by British and American Marxism and the Frankfurt school can be referred to as a critical approach to mass communication. The third chapter presents a discussion of more interpretative approaches in respect of the audience’s relationship with media cultures. The aim is to open out concerns with the everyday practices in which most of us participate. The research presented here is concerned with processes of uncon...
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