Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy o...

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media studies has been a recognized field of research and teaching for more than 30 years (McQuail, 2007). Media studies emerged in the 1960s from the academic study of English, and from literary criticism. Such studies analyze the effects of media upon individuals and society. Scholars partially recognize the discipline as a response to the McCarthyist paranoia of the influences of mass media. A cross-disciplinary field, media studies uses techniques from cultural studies, psychology, art theory, sociology, information theory, and economics. Recent studies look at how the corporate ownership of media production and distribution affects society and the impact of global media on receivers.

Although they have had a relationship of antagonism on several levels, political economy and cultural studies are considered two main theoretical approaches in media studies. Political economy views the media as promoting the dominant ideology of the ruling classes: in spite of their liberating potential, the media of modern mass communication have contributed to the creation of new levels of social stratification, which in turn foster new forms of domination. In other words, mass media are an obstacle to liberation and overwhelm all other forms of non-mass media.

On the other hand, cultural studies focuses on analyses of communication rooted in the needs, goals, conflicts, failures and accomplishments of ordinary people attempting to make sense of their lives (Fenton). Cultural studies is cross-disciplinary, embracing social theory, cultural analysis and critique. At its core is a concern with a critique of the configuration of culture and society with its sight fixed firmly on social transformation (McQuail). While acknowledging the broader structural concerns of political economists, the field of cultural studies also points out the many different ideas and identities in circulation at any one time that offer the potential for social and political agency (Fenton). There was debate between them but they existed side by side, each enhancing the critique of the other, they provided a systematic approach to the media that included political economy and socio-cultural approaches (McQuail, 2007).

The Frankfurt School of the 1930s was the first to incorporate both culture and communications in a critical social theory of mass communications. Much like many media studies departments today, by combining political economy of the media, cultural textual analysis, and audience reception studies, the Frankfurt school theorists worked through theories of mass production, commodification and standardization (Kellner (1989).

Frankfurt School theorists looked at the audience with a consideration of how ideology is carried out through the media and other public institutions. Conversely, the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, now disbanded, was considered more materialist focusing on socio-historical conditions and structures of domination and resistance. Kellner (1989) notes that its work could be defined by its attempt to analyze the crucial political problems of the age.

Suggested citation: Moody, M. (2011). Media’s Studies Definition. Media Studies Overview. Accessed via

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