Media studies is a central focus of the field of Mass Communications. “Mass communication is the process whereby media organizations produce and transmit messages to large publics and the process by which those messages are sought, used, and understood, and influenced by audiences”[1]. Media studies address three main areas – media content and structure, society and culture, and the audience. 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.


Chicago SchoolEdit

Template:Unreferenced Though not yet named as such, media studies’ roots are in the Chicago School and thinkers such as John Dewey, Charles Cooley and George Mead. These authors saw American society on the cusp of positive social change toward pure democracy. Mead argued that for an ideal society to exist, a form of communication must be developed to allow the unique individual to appreciate the attitudes, viewpoints and positions of others unlike herself, and allow her to be understood by others as well. Mead believed that this “new media” would allow humans to empathize with others, and therefore moves toward an “ideal of human society.”[2] Where Mead sees an ideal society, Dewey names it the “Great Community,” and further asserts the assumption that humans are intelligent enough for self government, and that that knowledge is “a function of association and communication.”[3] Similarly, Cooley asserts that political communication makes public opinion possible, which in turn promotes democracy. Each of these authors represent the Chicago School’s attention to electronic communication as a facilitator of democracy, its faith in the informed electorate, and its focus on the individual as opposed to the mass.

Propaganda studiesEdit

Between the First and Second World Wars, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis briefly rose to importance. Their definition of propaganda was

"expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinion or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends."[4]

Harold Lasswell, who worked in the paradigm of the Chicago School of sociology wrote Propaganda Technique in the World War, which included this definition of propaganda:

"Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may take spoken, written, pictorial or musical form."[5]

These definitions of propaganda clearly show that this was a school of thought that focused on media effects, as it highlighted the influence that media could have over its audiences attitudes and actions.[6]

Epitomizing this early school of media effects studies are experiments done by The Experimental Section of the Research Branch of the U.S. War Department's Information and Education Division. In the experiments, the effects of various U.S. wartime propaganda films on soldiers were observed. [7]

Current Propaganda studies are applied into many fields besides politics. Herman described a propaganda model as “a model of media behavior and performance, not of media effects.” (Herman, 2000, p. 63) He argued: “They are profit-seeking business, owned by very wealthy people (or other companies); and they are funded largely by advertisers who are also profit-seeking entities, and who want their advertisements to appear in a supportive selling environment.” (Herman, 2000, p. 62) He also presented “five factors: owner ship, advertising, sourcing, flak and anti-communist ideology-work as filters through which information must pass, and that individually and often in cumulative fashion they greatly influence media choices.” (Herman, 2000, p. 62) Until now, there is no conclusion of propaganda, debate still continues.

Frankfurt School and Critical TheoryEdit

Typified by the philosophical and theoretical orientations of Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal, and Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt school contributed greatly to the development and application of critical theory in media studies. Their Marxist critique of market-driven media was critical of its atomizing and leveling effects.

The Frankfurt school also lamented the effects of the “culture industry” on the production and appreciation of art. For example, in A Social Critique of Radio Music, Adorno asserts:

“…music has ceased to be a human force and is consumed like other consumers’ goods. This produces ‘commodity listening’…The listener suspends all intellectual activity.”[8]

As the Frankfurt school lamented on the effects of the "culture industry" they also began to identify mass culture and high culture as two distinct entities. Scholars like Benjamin (1936) and Adorno (1945) can be credited with what would eventually become known as popular culture and high culture. Their finite distinction of equating original production with ritualistic behavior as compared with mass culture that finds its identifying symbols in reproductions. These reproductions are souless and lacking in definition and originality.

Media effectsEdit

The dominant paradigm in media studies since the Second World War has been associated with the ideas, methods and findings of Paul F. Lazarsfeld and his school: media effect studies. Their studies focused on measurable, short-term behavioral ‘effects’ of media and concluded that the media played a limited role in influencing public opinion. The “Limited-Effects” Model developed by Lazarfeld and his colleges from Columbia was highly influential in the development of media studies. The model claims the mass media has “limited-effects” on voting patterns. Voters are influenced, rather, through the ‘two-step flow’ model, the idea that media messages are disseminated through personal interaction with ‘opinion leaders’ [9]

The model of limited- effects was so influential that the question of media “effects” on politics was left largely unaddressed until the late 1960’s. Eventually Mass Communication scholars began to study political behavior again and the limited-effects model was called into question. [10]

Uses and Gratification Model Edit

As a response to the previous emphasis upon media effects, from the 1970s researchers became interested in how audiences make sense of media texts.[11] The "uses and gratifications" model, associated with Jay Blumler and Elihu Katz, reflected this growing interest in the 'active audience'. One such example of this type of research was conducted by Hodge and Tripp,[12] and separately Palmer,[13] about how school-children make sense of the Australian soap opera Prisoner. They found that pupils could identify with the prisoners: they were "shut in", separated from their friends and wouldn't be there had they not been made to be, etc. Also, the children could compare the wardens to their teachers: "the hard-bitten old [one], the soft new one, the one you could take advantage of..."[14] John Fiske summarises:

The children inserted meanings of the program into their social experience of school in a way that informed both -- the meanings of school and the meanings of Prisoner were each influenced by the other, and the fit between them validated the other.[14]

Political CommunicationEdit

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.

Media Studies in the UKEdit

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.[15]

Cultural StudiesEdit

Template:Main 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.[16] 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.[17]

Recent developmentsEdit

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." [18]


In addition to the interdisciplinary nature of the academic field, popular understandings of media studies encompass:

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 seperate 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, of course, 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.

Popular conceptions and derogatory attitudesEdit

In the UK, Media Studies is regularly the victim of jokes and cynical attitudes, often being labelled as a Mickey Mouse subject.[19][20] It receives many of the criticisms directed at sociology scholars during the 70s and 80s.[21]

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".[21]

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."[21]

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."[21]

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.[22]

See alsoEdit



External links Edit

Credit and categoriesEdit

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  1. Littlejohn, S. W. & Foss, K. A. (2005). Theories of human communication. Belmont CA: Wadsworth., p. 273
  2. Mead, George Herbert. “Obstacles and Promises in the Development of an Ideal Society.” Mind, Self & Society, pp. 317–28. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1934.
  3. Dewey, John. “Search for the Great Community.” The Public and Its Problems, pp. 143–84. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1927. E “Nature, Communication, and Meaning.” Experience and Nature, pp. 138–70.
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  10. Chaffee, Steven H., & Hockheimer, J.. “The Beginnings of Political Communication Research in the United States: Origins of the ‘Limited Effects’ Model.” The Media Revolution in America & Western Europe, pp. 267–96. Ed. Ev Rogers & F. Balle. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1985.
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  17. Katz, E., Peters, J.D., Liebes, T., & Orloff, A. (2003). Canonic Texts in Media Research. Cambridge: Polity Press, p 214-215.
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  22. Barker, Martin (with Julian Petley) (2001) "On the problems of being a 'trendy travesty'" In: M. Barker and J. Petley (eds) Ill effects: the media/violence debate. (2nd ed.) London: Routledge. pp. 202-224. ISBN 0-415-22513-2

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