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Critical & Cultural Theories of Mass Communication
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  1. Critical & Cultural Theories of Mass Communication Baran & Davis (2003) Chapter 9, Pgs 220-251 Griffin (2000) Chapter 19

  2. Preview of the slides • Culture in media research • Macroscopic vs Microscopic Theories • Critical Theory • The rise of the cultural theories in Europe. • Marxist Theory • Neomarxism • The Frankfurt School • Textual & Literary Criticsm

  3. Political Economy Theory • The debate between cultural studies & political economy theorists. • Cultural studies • Symbolic Interaction • Social Construction of Reality Theory

  4. Introduction: • Limited effects theory focuses on whether mediacontent can have an immediate & direct effect on specific thoughts & actions on individuals. • Researchers seek evidences for these effects through survey & experiments. • There is also another way we can study effects by examining social change through understanding culture.

  5. Culture • Culture is the learned behavior of a given social group. • Media has become the primary means by which many of us experience or learn about the world through this media. Mass media theory viewed these changes with an alarming rate.

  6. American media had become highly effective promoters of capitalism, individualism & free enterprise (Hegemony). The new media (PC, internet, camcorders etc) are biased towards individualism & market economy rather than collective & state control.

  7. Critical theorists argued media influence was the result of complex, social political & cultural development & the risk of these individuals were being influence by the dominant professional ideology.

  8. About this time cultural theorists focus their concerned on media influence on cultural studies. That the focus on the use of the media to create forms of culture that structure our everyday life both at the microscopic (interpretive theories) & macroscopic (structural theories)

  9. These theories (interpretive & structural theories) argued that the elites effectively use the media to propagate hegemonicculturein order to maintain their dominant position in the society.

  10. Hegemony • Hegemonic culture is a culture imposed from above or outside that serves the interest of the dominant social positions. • Hegemonic culture led to the development of the Political EconomyTheories. This is because these theories place priority on understanding how economic power provides a basis for ideological & political power.

  11. The political economic theories directly challenge the status quo by exposing elite manipulation of media and criticizing the hegemonic culture.

  12. Macro vs Micro theories • Macro theories more concerned with the social order is effected. • Mico theories more concerned with questions involving the everyday life of average people. They attempted to understand what is going on in the world around them. They involved themselves with mundane, daily & trivial issues. E.g they wanted to know to what extend the mass media has been incorporated in the routine daily life without creating serious disruptions.

  13. A. Critical Theory • This theory openly exposing certain values to evaluate & criticize the status quo , providing the alternative ways to interpreting the social roles of mass media. e.g. they identified there exist constraints on media practitioners that limit the ability to challenge established authority. • Critical theory often analyzes specific social problem. E.g. media content often reinforces the status quo & undermines effort for constructive social change.

  14. STRENGTH: • Politically based action–oriented • Uses theory & research to plan change in the real world. • Asks big questions on media control & ownership.

  15. WEAKNESSES: • Too political . Call for action too subjective. • Lack scientific verification. Based on observation. • Use controversial research methods.

  16. The rise of cultural studies in Europe • In Europe the development of grand social theory (Marxists theory) influences social sciences & humanities. • The Grand Social Theory (referring to Marxism) highly ambitious & microscopic that attempts to understand and predict important trends in culture & society.

  17. B. Marxist Theory • Marxist theory arguing that the hierarchical class system is at the root of all social problems & must be ended by a revolution of the proletariat (workers) This theory is in response to theory of Capitalism who maximized personal profits at eh expanse of the workers.

  18. Marx argued that hierarchical class system was the root of all social problems & must be ended by a revolution of the workers. He believed that the elites dominated society through the control of means of production (factories, labor, land –industrialized society) which are the base of this society.

  19. He also argued that the elite control power over the culture or ‘superstructure’ & that this control of culture that misled average people & encourage them to act against their own interest. e.g. use of ads to promote products that some consumers cannot afford. Ads aspire ‘hollow’ expectations beyond their affordability of most consumers. Thus, these aspirations create frustrations & disillusions.

  20. C. Neomarxism • Is the hybrid from the Marxist idea it tend to focus the concern more on the superstructure (control over culture) issues and ideologies rather on production functions (labor, factories, land, capital etc). • Using textual analysis & literary criticism on highculture (high value- music, arts, literature, poetry, movie) an attempt to help people become more humane & civilized.

  21. D. The Frankfurt School • Another hybrid of Marxism and this theory argue in support of the high culture that the elite used to strengthen their personal power in society. • The Frankfurt school had a direct influence on American society because of the rise of the Nazis forced its Jewish members into exile especially to the U.S. & U.K. This ideology find new homes at few American universities.

  22. In Britain during 1960’s & 1970’s two neomarxist theory emerged: The British Cultural Studies & Political Economy Theory. These ideas derived from literary criticism, linguistics, anthropology, history.

  23. These theories attempted to trace elite domination over culture, to criticize the social consequences of the domination, & demonstrate how it continues to be exercised over minority groups or subcultures (Murdock, 1989; William, 1967, 1974; Hall, 1982; Habermas, 1971, 1989)

  24. Hall (1982) argued that mass media in liberal democracies can best be understood as pluralistic public forum in which various forces struggle to shape popular notions about social existence. In this forum new concepts & social reality are negotiated & new boundary lines were drawn.

  25. In other words this theory promote the idea that media may provide a place where the power of the dominant elite can be challenged.

  26. E. The Political Economy Theory • This theory argues for the control of the economic institutions such as banks, stock markets & then try to show this control affects many other social institutions, including mass media (Murdock, 1989; Gerbner, 2001; Schiller, 2000).

  27. Political economists examined how economic constraints limit or bias the form of mass culture that are produced & distributed through the media. They are less concerned with investigating how mass culture influences specific groups but are more concerned with understanding how the process of content production and distribution are constrained.

  28. e.g. why do some form of culture dominated prime time TV schedules where as other form are not presented. Can these reasons be linked to the interest of economic institutions? What about TV3 M’sian Idol or Mentor, Astro’s Ria Acadamy Fantasia and TV1 ‘Bintang RTM? What do you think? SMS etc.

  29. The debate between Cultural Studies & Political Economy Theorists • 1. Cultural theorists tend to ignore the larger social & political context in which media operates. • 2. They concentrate how popular culture contents is consumed by individuals & groups.

  30. 3. The found that average people interpretation of media content in ways that would serve the elite interests. • 4. They are not interest in influencing social policy.

  31. 1. Political Economy theorists central concerned with larger social order & elite’s ownership of media. • 2. These theorists have argued the growing privatization and centralization of the media ownership around the world. • 3. They are interested in policy changes.

  32. Cultural Studies: Transmissional vs Ritual Perspectives • Carey (1989) noted two types of perspectives or approaches on cultural studies. • 1. The Transmissional perspective view mass communication as merely the process of transmitting messages from a distance for the purpose of control. e.g. first persuade, attitude change, behavior modification, socialization through the transmission of information , influence or conditioning. – ad commercials persuade us to purchase products & services, political campaign persuade us to vote.

  33. 2. The Ritual Perspectives view of mass media as the representation of shared belief where reality is produced, maintained, repaired & transformed. Communication is used as a symbolic process. e.g. a commercial sells more than transportation. It sells image, status, position, taste, life style, values, norms, position of the company, market dominance, an acceptable culture etc.

  34. The common questions asked before from these theorists were: (a) how culture organized themselves, (b) how people negotiate common meanings to the culture & how they are bond by it & (c) how media systems interact with it.

  35. But, The new questions asked now were no longer on the issue on whether media have certain effects on the audience but rather what kinds of people we are, we have become, or we are becoming in our mass mediated world.

  36. F. Symbolic Interaction • This is a theory that people gave meaning to symbols & these meanings then control those people (Herbert Mead (1934). • It addresses the questions of how people use culture to learn. • We learn social roles through interactions, through experiences in daily life. Over time we internalize the rules and adjust our actions accordingly. e.g. traffic rules Traffic symbols and use of colours to name few.

  37. What about quality? Once internalized these roles provide us with a powerful means of controlling our actions. In times our identity becomes bonded with the expected roles that we aspire to be.

  38. Mead’s offer another important insight of socialization by using symbols. Human consciously learn socialization through the use of symbols to represent unseen phenomena. Using symbols we can create vivid representations of the past and we can anticipate the future.

  39. In Mead’s (1934) Mind, Self, and Society he argued that we use symbols to create our experience of consciousness (Mind), our understanding of ourselves (self) and our knowledge of the larger social order (society)

  40. Applying to the information processing theory symbols (schemas) enable us mentally gives interpretation of the information we takes in. The mind, self and society serve as filtering mechanism for our experiences.

  41. Symbolic interactionism explains that our actions based on our response to symbols. A person understanding of the physical reality based on the interpretation of the mind, self and society that we have internalized.

  42. E.g. Colours of the American flag during the time of the crisis signal different messages. To the Serbs in Kosovo, North Vietnamese & Iraqi the American flag represent oppression, to the Somalis (1992) it means aids in terms of food & medical care etc. • What about the M’sian? What is your perception?

  43. Mead’s work relevant to communication scholars are follows: • 1. Cultural symbols are learned through interaction. • 2. The overlapping of shared meaning means that individuals who learn that culture should be able to predict the behavior of others in that culture.

  44. 3. Self usually defined largely defined with the environment. • 4. The extent to which people is committed to a social identity will determine the power of that identity to influence his behavior.

  45. Faules & Alexander (1978) supported the idea that symbolic interaction behavior are the results of shared meanings and values between participants. He offered three propositions: • 1. People interpretation & perception of the environment depend on communication. • 2. Communication is guided by the concept of self, roles & situations & these concepts generate expectations in the environment.

  46. 3. Communication consisted of complex interactions, such as action, interdependence, mutual influence, relationship & situational factors using signs for eg.

  47. E.g. “ Proton is not just an automotive company. It is actually a core activity within the Malaysian manufacturing sector.’ Datuk Azlan Mohd. Hashim Chairman of Proton Star 26/07/05

  48. Natural sign – referring to nature • Artificial signs – referring to elements of construction like shake hands.- a gesture of friendliness etc which can produce highly predictable responses. What about traffic lights?

  49. Social Construction of Reality • Cultural studies theories have one thing in common i.e. the assumptions that our experience of reality is constantly under-going social construction because people share common sense of meaning about its reality.

  50. Summary • At the end of this lesson you should have learned the following topics: • Culture in media research • Macroscopic vs Microscopic Theories • Critical Theory