Media studies concerns the study of media content, institutions, and its role in society. A cross-disciplinary field, media studies uses techniques and theorists from sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, psychology, art theory, information theory, and economics.
In the United States, Media Studies is a term used by some universities and scholars for diverse studies of media and communications.
Key themes in media studies
In addition to the interdisciplinary nature of the academic field, popular understandings of media studies encompass:
audience studies, media influence and media effects
Although most production and journalism courses incorporate media studies for contextual purposes (see Fourth estate), the terms are not interchangeable.
Separate strands are being identified within media studies, such as audience studies, producer studies, television studies and radio studies. Film studies is often considered a separate discipline, though television and video games studies grew out of it, as made evident by the application of basic critical theories such as psychoanalysis, feminism and Marxism.
Critical media theory looks at how the corporate ownership of media production and distribution affects society, and provides a common ground to social conservatives (concerned by the effects of media on the traditional family) and liberals and socialists (concerned by the corporatization of social discourse). The study of the effects and techniques of advertising forms a cornerstone of media studies.
Contemporary media studies includes the analysis of new media with emphasis on the internet, video games, mobile devices, interactive television, and other forms of mass media which developed from the 1990s. Because these new technologies allow instant communication across the world (chat rooms and instant messaging, online video games, video conferencing), interpersonal communication is an important element in new media studies. Another factor influencing contemporary media studies is globalization: the debate of globalization as a historical event or as a social construction rages on (see Held & McGrew, 2000). Tom McPhail’s theory of electronic colonialism has gained some international recognition.
It has been argued that media studies has not fully acknowledged the changes which the internet and digital interactive media have brought about, seeing these as an ‘add-on’. David Gauntlett has argued for a ‘Media Studies 2.0’ which fully recognises the ways in which media has changed, and that traditional boundaries between ‘audiences’ and ‘producers’ has collapsed.
Political communication and political economy
From the beginning, media studies are closely related to politics and wars (Guo & Wu, 2005, p. 276) such as campaign research and war propaganda. Political communication mainly studies the connections among politicians, voters and media. It focused on the media effects. There are four main media effects theories: magic bullet, two-step flow of communications (Lazarsfeld, 1948), limited effects (Lang & Lang, 1953), and the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1984). Also, many scholars studied the technique of political communication such as rhetoric, symbolism and etc.
In the last quarter century, political economy has played a major part in media studies literature. The theory gained notoriety in media studies particularly with the publication of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, published in 1988. In the book, the authors discuss a theory of how the United States’ media industry operates, which they term a “propaganda model.” The model describes a “decentralized and non-conspiratorial market system of control and processing, although at times the government or one or more private actors may take initiatives and mobilize co-ordinated elite handling of an issue.”
Media Studies in the UK
In the UK, media studies developed in the 1960s from the academic study of English, and from literary criticism more broadly. The key date, according to Andrew Crisell, is 1959:
when Joseph Trenaman left the BBC’s Further Education Unit to become the first holder of the Granada Research Fellowship in Television at Leeds University. Soon after, the Centre for Mass Communication Research was founded at Leicester University, and degree programmes in media studies began to sprout at polytechnics and other universities during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) was founded by Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall at the University of Birmingham in 1964. As the appeal of Marxism waned in the 1960s, the CCCS took critical theory in new directions, raising questions about media and power. There was the shift of paradigm from ethnography to Hall’s semiology. The CCCS was pivotal in developing the field, producing a number of key researchers. Under the directorship of Stuart Hall, who wrote the seminal Encoding/Decoding model, the centre produced key empirical research about the relationship between texts and audiences. Amongst these was The Nationwide Audience by David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon. Cultural studies revamped the definition of culture. The definition of culture changed from culture being viewed as good/bad to an overall view of social interests and relations.
Popular misconceptions and derogatory attitudes
In the UK, Media Studies is regularly the victim of jokes and cynical attitudes, often being labelled as a Mickey Mouse subject. It receives many of the criticisms directed at sociology scholars during the 70s and 80s.
In 2000, England’s Chief Schools Inspector, Chris Woodhead suggested that media studies is a “one way ticket to the dole queue.” There is, he says, a “profound scepticism as to whether these courses teach students the skills and understanding they want”.
David Marsland, professor of health at Brunel University, said about the subject: “There’s a lot of nonsense in it. It’s not because it’s vocational, it’s because it’s new, it has not really got a literature. It has not got established principles and it’s taught variably.”
However, Paul Smith, professor of media and culture at the University of Sussex says that the rising number of media studies programmes is not “dumbing down”, but reflects changes in the real world. “In the current cultural, social and political circumstances that we live in, the media is so pre-eminent, that some way of understanding it is fairly crucial for an informed citizenship. We are trying to understand how [the media] operates, what kind of structures it has and the cultural impact it has.”
Its relation to polytechnics, and subsequently the post-1992 New Universities, are also a target for ridicule. The now annual moral panic in the UK every August when GCSE and A-level results are released normally focuses upon Media Studies as an example of the alleged dumbing down of education.
Theory.org.uk: media studies website by David Gauntlett
Mediaedu.co.uk A new Media Studies website offering blogging, podcasts, interactive forums, online quizzes, photo resources, writing frames, competitions, useful links and managed content. This is a collaborative site aimed at supporting the needs of staff and students working in KS4 and KS5 Media Studies.
MANA – the Media Alliance for New Activism
LanguageMonitor: Media Metrics and Analysis
MediaStudies.com Links to a variety of news and other media sites.