LECTURE ON ‘WHAT IS MEDIA STUDIES’

 

 

 

This lecture will consist of three basic themes:

 

 

1)      A very brief set of remarks about the development of media objects

 

2)      Some remarks about the aims of media and what media does and the categories into which aspects of media can be fitted

 

3)      Remarks about the history of media studies.

 

 

 

The media is far older than media studies

 

Media Studies is of recent origin.

 

 

 

The media itself is as old as human communication in so far as human symbolised their intentions to others

 

 intending that others should understand the meaning of their symbols.

 

 

 

Graffiti and public information was inscribed on walls during roman times around the 1st century AD. But well before that humans cut symbols into stones and

 

 tablets, and later onto papyri and scrolls, monks onto parchment and obviously print culture turns up through the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in

 

Germany and Caxton in England in the 15th century.

 

 

 

We relied on print culture and increasingly cheap production of paper and print materials until the end of the 19th century

 

when a change in Mass Comms occurred with the telegraph and the beginning of film.

 

 

 

Here we must identify 2 points: 1) Mass Comms and 2) the idea of socio-economic change.

 

The study of mass comms media is concerned with several things –

 

 

-         with communication

 

-         getting a message across; being understood;

 

-         securing the effect/affect upon the audience.

 

-         Communicating with a large number of people – a mass e.g. the national population/Europe/World

 

 

 

But there are UNINTENDED EFFECTS as well.

 

 

A newspaper shows a crash picture, it shocks some readers, they complain; the latter two things are unintended and often not anticipated to any great degree.

 

 

Racist and sexist imagery contributes to a racist and sexist culture. The connection is vaguely recognised by the press but it is not highly controllable.

 

 

 

So a message once issued by its authors may be interpreted in ways outside of the scope of the author’s intentions.

 

However, the author may recognise the sort of affect it is likely to have but cannot specify who and to what degree they will be affected.

 

 

 

Media in their historical development have been means of transport for human ideas, actions, culture.

 

Improvement in ease of transportation and in ships meant more comms networks opened.

 

 

 

 

We have to take account of not only the meaning of the message but of the conditions governing its sending.

 

Another Point: what can be sent is an issue for media analysis:  of control of messages – and this is a political matter.

 

Media often raises issues of censorship and of control of the content of the message.

 

 

 

 Why? Cos government and rulers don’t like messages which may be critical or challenging of their authority.

 

 

If there are lots who could be or are affected then that is a prob, cos it could lead to mass dissent or a change in cultural political social values.

 

 

 

Thus the real thing is the idea of MASS COMMUNICATIONS.

 

 

That is the comunication of message to a large number of the population so that they may take up the messages in a fairly standardised way.

 

Everybody getting the message in roughly the same way is powerful and of course in extreme form becomes propaganda is:

 

 

 

Hypodermic or syringe model.

 

 

 

 

The stability and constancy of the control of a message in regards of its content is a political thing

 

 

The stability and constancy of the production of the message is an economic thing

 

 

The stability and constancy of the structure of the production of the message is an organisational thing.

 

 

The stability and constancy of flow of the message is a technological thing

 

 

The stability and constancy of the message in the minds of the audience is a psychological thing.

 

 

The stability and constancy of the message as a set of beliefs and values maintained inside the audience is a cultural and ideological thing.

 

 

The stability and constancy of the message such that it creates conformity to norms is a moral and social thing.

 

 

So primarily under this account:

 

 

 

 media studies is a study of the processes of, conditions for, and effects of the mass communication of a message

 

 

 

Studies of the important newspapers and their editors and of the impact of the press upon events

 

 have been common enough since the late 19th century often written by academic historians;

 

 but the identity of media studies  as devoted to PRIMARILY studying media, their powers and their audiences has only come about

 

 since the 30s in the US and the post-war period in the UK.

 

 

 

Cultural studies with which media studies is associated did not identify itself until the mid 1970s

 

Both have largely been situated within sociology in the UK.

 

 

 

Before the 20th century, concern about the media and its role was largely political.

 

 Media in those days was assessed in terms of their impact upon political stability.

 

 

 

Once seriously mass comms took off by the end of the 19th century,

 

and literacy and transport systems had massively expanded

 

so the impact of media moved beyond the political sphere into the economic, social, and cultural sphere.

 

 

 

 

Thus it was feasible to consider media as a socio-cultural focus for analysis.

 

 

 The realisation that media had been so effective as a means of propaganda and morale-boosting during the war years

 

 directed attention to the potential for media to be an agency of indoctrination

 

 

They could have sway over all social classes. Important in British media studies – the issues of class and media

 

 

Matthew Arnold: Culture and Anarchy (1870) – Arnold (primarily a poet who wrote the famous poem ‘Dover Beach’) argued that great literature as opposed to popular literature could transform the cultural, moral, and spiritual lives of individuals, not least those from the working class employed in the dreadful factories and cotton mills that would tend to brutalise them. Thus Arnold argued that there was an essential transformative connection between culture and good as opposed to bad quality media. The debate over media and its force to do cultural good or cultural harm was carried on in the 1930s by F. R. Leavis and in the 50s onwards by Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams.

 

 

 

F.R. Leavis’s linked capitalism to culture – that the authority of the cultural elite was eroded by the rise of a market-driven mass press

 

which took things down to the level of what we call popular culture – pulp journalism.

 

 

 

Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams – working class as victim of debasement by commercialisation of culture.

 

 

 

 

contrast with US which did not perceive itself as a class society.

 

 

 

Thus media studies in the UK has always had an ideological agenda or at least an ideological analysis or emphasis.

 

 

The apparent ideological neutrality of US media analyses.

 

 

Importance of the US media studies -

 

 

they professionalised media studies

 

 

gave it a proper research footing

 

 

they challenged the syringe model model which had been so supportive

of  an ideological reading of the effects of the media

 

 

 

Researchers such as

 

Lazarsfeld in 1949 through to his work in 1955

 

Morris Janowitz 1952

 

 

found that in communities in the US, media played a part in helping to reproduce and inform the society,

 

 

but that media and society still allowed the representation of all kinds of shades of opinion (pluralism), of  voices, and ideas and views.

 

 

 

 

the predominant view of media in American media studies was that:

 

media was an important part of a well-functioning organic democratic society

 

media did not have too much power and overall was not biased;  (contrast this with the analysis of class and mass culture the British culturalist approach of Williams and Hoggart)

 

re-inforces the image of the US as pluralistic in character.

 

 

 

 

US media studies strongly linked to a social science tradition of carefully research methodologically driven studies

 

 which tend to have a quantitatively expressed set of results. In Britain as a result of our class/mass culture and institution bound society,

 

 

 

 

British media studies have focussed upon media as

 

 an expression of the balance of powers of control

 

 between one institution and another

 

 and between institutions and social classes.

 

And also: the media as agents of ideology and ideological control

 

 

British media studies has been concerned with issues of

 

patterns,

 

processes, and

 

mechanisms of power and control

 

 

 

Media functions materially = institutions, organisations, personnel.

 

 

Media functions symbolically = disseminates ideology, cultural values, beliefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 much used methods of media analysis in the uk:

 

The pol-econ approach  upon control, owners, editors.

 

Discourse Analysis – use of language to control and shape audiences.

 

Neo-Marxist/Althusserian Ideological Analysis – use of ideas to shape culture and individuals.

 

 

 

Not much use of psychology – more popular in the US – again quantitative.

 

UK approaches have tended to lead to a block analysis of society

 

 

 

 

 

Importance of BirminghamCCCS/Ethnog approach.

 

 

 

Last twenty years have seen the rise of an analysis of the audience as interpreters of texts, and thus the audience as fragmented.

 

 

But this is supported by:

 

new views of how meanings function - that language is flexible in its use and ambiguous

 

        there is not a fixity of relation between words and meaning

 

        they shift according to cultural involvements and relations

 

and this has undermined the idea that a word or sentence has a definite meaning

 that will be picked up in the same way by all native speakers.

 

 

This contrasts with the syringe/propaganda and British Culturalist ideas of media that assume the media have an essential structural power

to manipulate a commonly shared language to shape/influence/manipulate the masses/working class/public etc.

 

 

The linguistic essentialism underlying the syringe/culturalist model of comms

 

has helped maintain an ideological analysis of the media

 

has thus been severely criticised.

 

The crude ideological model has given way to the idea of the text as open to multiple interpretations

 

and the analysis of the audience as fragmented.

 

 

 

 

We find in the work of David Morley, of Sonia Livingstone, and Ien Ang.

 

This kind of analysis is rooted in ethnography

 

but also in what is called `post-structuralism’.

 

 

 

Criticism of all this is that while meaning and audiences may be incredibly varied and dynamic:

 

nonetheless there is an underlying and relatively coherent structure of power (a set of powerful media agencies)

 

that exercises political, social, cultural, and economic control and influence,

 

and which dishes out messages which are very effective:

 

 

 

Thus despite the various intepretations of messages made by members of the audience:

 

The basic messages are still being got across in their essentials by the powerful interests which still dominate the public sphere.

 

 

 

 

Thus the criticism of the most recent CULTURALIST approaches to media is that culturalist approaches ignore the operation of power

 

that is located in real persons, institutions, organisation, political parties and governments.

 

 

 

And this criticism has led to a rash of new media studies books coming out which reassert the importance of precisely this dimension of the media.

 

 

 

Finally another reason why there is a return to pol-econ studies away from culturalist approaches

 

is that power to regulate the media is seeping away from government

 

because of new digital media technologies.

 

 

 

One cannot ignore this new media revolution

 

and thus media studies academics are turning their attention to this,

 

and away from theories and methods which are less novel.

 

 

For further remarks about the history of media objects see McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory and look for references to the ideas of Marshall McLuhan. Also see his book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, (1962), or his Understanding Media, (1964).

 

In relation to Leavis, Hoggart, Williams; there are many books on each of these authors – mostly found among volumes on literary studies and English literature. However, they are worth a read in their own right and so I would direct you to:

 

Frank Raymond Leavis (usually known  as F.R. Leavis) (1895-1978)  Relevant book for you: Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930).  Leavis was University Reader in English at Downing College, Cambridge. He edited the important journal of literary criticism called “Scrutiny” from 1932-1953. Author of many books, one of which – Nor Shall my Sword – is an entertainingly vicious and abusive attack on a fellow Cambridge academic scientist and novelist, C.P. Snow. As I recall, Leavis wrote that Snow “was about as intellectually undistinguished as it was possible to be”. (nb. Leavis was neither Marxist nor working class, but was anti-modernist in that he thought modern industrial capitalism and mass culture had damaged the high cultural aspirations of the human soul. Hoggart and Williams took their cue from Leavis’s criticisms of mass popular culture. Similarly, McLuhan, who did his Ph.D. at Cambridge during the second world war, was influenced by Leavis’s analysis of  mass culture. McLuhan however, did not study under Leavis.

 

Richard Hoggart, (1918 - ) working class lad made good via the Grammar school system, went to Leeds University and in 1962 became Professor of English at Birmingham University where in 1964 he became first director of the world famous Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. (He was succeeded by Stuart Hall in 1970) He was witness for the defence in the trial of the book, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, (1960) and served on the Pilkington Committee on broadcasting 1960-1962. According to the historian of broadcasting, Asa Briggs, it was Hoggart’s anti-commercial TV views which influenced other members of the committee and led to the report taking a very anti-ITV/pro-BBC turn. (see, Briggs, A. History of Broadcasting in the UK, vol. 5) Important books for you: The uses of Literacy, (1957) and Speaking to Each Other, vols 1 and 2, (1970)

 

Raymond Williams, (1921-1990?) welsh, otherwise similar to Hoggart – working class product of the Grammar school system, but went to Trinity College, Cambridge. 1961 became Fellow at Jesus College, and from 1974-83 was Professor of Drama at Cambridge Univ. Arguably took to neo-Marxism in the sixties during which he became a member of the leftist agit-prop group of intellectuals – the May Day Manifesto group (1966-1968) (The group included noted leftists such as Michael Barratt-Brown, Terry Eagleton, Stuart Hall, Michael  Rustin, E.P. Thompson, Sean Gervasi, Charles Swann; some became leading `cultural studies’ people – Eagleton, Hall, Rustin) Williams is perhaps best known for his books: The Long Revolution (1961) Communications (1962), The Country and the City (1973) and Culture (1981). Relevant books for you are: Communications (1962); Culture (1981) and Culture and Society (1958) part III, chp. 4, s. ii. (on Leavis); Television: technology and cultural form (1974); Keywords (1976); Problems in Materialism and Culture (1980) part 2, essays 2 and especially 3.