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Society and media. Grand theory/mega-speculation. Grand questions. What is the nature of society? How do societies come into existence? How do they evolve? What brings about change, expansion/success and/or contraction/failure?

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society and media

Society and media

Grand theory/mega-speculation

grand questions
Grand questions
  • What is the nature of society?
  • How do societies come into existence?
  • How do they evolve?
  • What brings about change, expansion/success and/or contraction/failure?
  • How does social structure/culture maintain or undermine society?
  • How do the phenomena above affect human experience?
consensus v conflict
Consensus v. conflict
  • Scholars debate over whether society is held together by consensual values, self-interest or exploitation
  • Significant examples include structural-functionalism, exchange theory and Marxism
structural functionalism
  • Conceives of society as a system that exhibits many of the same features as either an organism or a machine
    • Lasswell’s presentation likens society to an organism
  • Structures are repetitive behaviors that characterize the system
  • Functions are contributions to the maintenance and survival of the system
  • S-F theorists tend to portray systems as existing in a state of equilibrium, with a number of forces maintaining the system at a satisfactory state
    • When the system is not performing in a satisfactory manner, internal sensors identify the unacceptable performance and changes in the level/intensity of outputs from structures are brought to bear
If we use the analogy of the human body, then our organs/systems maintain the body in a satisfactory state
  • Should the body become sick or an organ fail, internal systems will adjust as feedback systems indicate that the ‘desired’ equilibrium is not being maintained
    • White blood cells
    • Increased blood flow
    • Interferon
    • Lymph system
how is change accounted for
How is change accounted for?
  • Change occurs as a result of external shock—invasion or attack from outside the system
  • Later versions of the approach also looked at conflicts between systems operating at different levels
    • What may be functional for a subsystem may be ‘dysfunctional’ at a higher level, etc.
what is the role of culture
What is the role of culture?
  • New members of the society (young, immigrants) are taught to adjust their behavior to fit within the larger social system. They are ‘socialized’ to accept the norms and mores of the society, which are crucial to the non-violent maintenance of society.
what is the role of culture1
What is the role of culture?
  • The beliefs, values and attitudes shared by members of society act as a form of cement that binds together the individual members of society
    • Socialization
    • Habits
    • Role assignment/role expectations
    • Institutional maintenance
    • Property distribution
what is the role of culture2
What is the role of culture?
  • Provide knowledge/information useful to more effectively produce needed goods/services
  • Lasswell’s functions:
    • Surveillance of the environment
    • Correlation of the components of society in making a response to the environment
    • Transmission of the social inheritance
sources of solidarity
Sources of solidarity
  • Affective bonds
    • Family
  • Common culture/belief systems
    • Religion
    • Acceptance of authority
  • Economic and political self-interest
    • Specialization of function (efficiency)
    • Merit-based advancement/power
sources of solidarity1
Sources of solidarity
  • Power/force
    • Police force
    • Military
    • Legal/prison system
  • Authority
    • Inherited
    • Institutional
    • Acquired
structural functionalism today
Structural functionalism today
  • While the more formal theory of structural functionalism, and use of its terms, no longer dominate social theory, some of its ideas and concepts are retained in a range of current social thought
    • Systems theory without the assumption of equilibrium is more common
    • Symbolic interactionism and reality construction are both competitive and complementary to S-F
reflection in democratic theory
Reflection in democratic theory
  • Liberal-pluralist democratic theory shares much of the structural-functionalist approach to society
    • When society goes off course, change is initiated through the electoral structure
    • News media provide information necessary for self-corrective processes to work (functions of communication)
    • Analysis of media as structures and the quality of their performance (based on supposed functions they are expected to perform)
conflict theory
Conflict theory
  • Argues that society is not a projection of the true interests of all (or nearly) of its members but is structured in dominance and exploitation
    • All societies generate a relatively small and privileged group of people who are able to exploit the larger population
which of the three visions has dominated media comm studies
Which of the three visions has dominated media/comm studies?
  • Self-interest society
  • Note:
    • Individualist bias
    • Focus on ‘transmission’
    • Information rather than ‘stories’
    • Individual reception/behavior rather than community impact, etc.
    • Politics (with individual self-interest as the defining characteristic) rather than cultural or religious identification
crucial issues within cultural approaches
Crucial issues within cultural approaches
  • Identity
    • What is the nature of our ‘self’—our ‘ego’
    • Often determined by our ‘identification’ with groups
      • May not be up to us to decide
  • Myths, beliefs, worldview
    • What is the popular ontology?
    • What is our view of the nature of humankind?
Social epistemology
    • How do we make sense of our world?
      • Intellectual and social authority
      • How are beliefs passed on to children, etc.?
  • The role of kinship, friendship, etc.
  • The social structure/culture relationship
  • Social control
    • In the interest of the many or the few?
The sources and forms of culture
    • High culture (elite culture)
    • Folk culture
    • Mass culture (popular culture)
chicago school
Chicago School
  • Loose conglomeration of significant social thinkers with some relation to the University of Chicago
    • Concerned with the disintegration of traditional small town communities
    • Saw mid-nineteenth century American small town as a sort of ideal community
      • Democracy itself was only meaningful, workable within such a context
chicago school1
Chicago School
  • Massive social changes of the late nineteenth century had undermined the basic cornerstone of American democracy and society—the small town community
  • No habit of intercommunication (separation into ethnic communities/no shared language), no shared ideals or religious faith
Social change:
    • Industrialization
    • Urbanization
    • Immigration
    • Class/economic differentiation
  • Leads to breakdown of community:
    • Anomie
    • Self-interest
    • Multiple, separate ethnic, class groups
    • Social problems
    • Breakdown of democracy
charles horton cooley 1864 1929
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)
  • Received a PhD (1894) in economics from the University of Michigan, where he taught beginning in 1892.
  • Cooley used the term the "looking glass self" to convey the idea that the self concept reflects the evaluations

of other people. In other words, we see

ourselves as others see us.

  • Works
  • Human Nature and Social

Order (1902)

  • Social Organization (1909)
  • Social Process (1918)
“It is not too much to say that these changes (development of modern communication technologies) are the basis, from a mechanical standpoint, of nearly everything that is characteristic in the psychology of modern life.
  • They make it possible for society to be organized more and more on the higher faculties of man, on intelligence and sympathy, rather than on authority, caste, and routine. They mean freedom, outlook, indefinite possibility. The public consciousness, instead of being confined as regards its more active phases to local groups, extends by even steps with that give-and-take of suggestions that the new intercourse makes possible, until wide nations, and finally the world itself, may be included in one lively mental whole.”
  • “The essential function of the newspaper is, of course, to serve as a bulleting of important news and a medium for the interchange of ideas”
  • “The bulk of its matter, however, is . . . organized gossip. This sort of intercourse that people formerly carried on at cross-road stores or over the back fence, has now attained the dignity of print and an imposing system.”
impacts of enlargement of gossip
Impacts of “enlargement of gossip”
  • Promotes a widespread sociability and sense of community
    • People across the country are laughing at the same jokes, thrilling to the same football games and “absorb(ing) a conviction that they are good fellows much like ourselves”
public opinion
Public opinion
  • “In politics communication makes possible public opinion, which, when organized, is democracy. The whole growth of this, and of the popular education and enlightenment that go with it, is immediately dependent upon the telegraph, the newspaper and the fast mail, for there can be no popular mind upon questions of the day, over wide areas, except as the people are promptly informed of such questions and are enabled to exchange their views regarding them.”
“The enlargement affects not only thought but feeling, favoring the growth of a sense of common humanity, of moral unity, between nations, races and classes. Among members of a communicating whole feeling may not always be friendly, but it must be, in a sense, sympathetic, involving some consciousness of the other’s point of view.”
the social system is sick
The social system is ‘sick’
  • Social change has acted as a disease
  • How to make the system well again?
  • Reconstruct the small town on a grand scale—build the “Great Community” (Dewey).
john dewey
John Dewey
  • One of the greatest intellectuals in American history
    • Philosopher
    • Educational psychologist
    • Political theorist
    • Social commentator
dewey and communication study
Dewey and communication study
  • Though Dewey placed communication at the very heart of his philosophical and social concerns, his actual theoretical work on communication is fragmented and, at times, frustratingly difficult if not obscure
    • “Of all things, communication is most wonderful”
    • ‘Society can be said not only to live by transmission, by communication, but in transmission, in communication.’
dewey s idea of the role of communication in society
Dewey’s idea of the role of communication in society
  • Societies are based on shared sentiments, meanings, beliefs, norms, etc.
  • For a society to exist, the members must have a feeling of communion with other members
    • Shared self-interest, knowledge of the law, even agreement to rules of democracy are not enough
    • Difference between the “Great Society” and the “Great Community”
  • In any true community, individuals have a feeling of fellowship with all the other members
    • Concern over the fate of all members, but especially those in greatest need, is a natural part of the community
    • All members share equally in the feeling of fellowship even if material wealth, etc. is unequally distributed
The machinery of democracy is created to help carry out the natural policy of a true community
    • It cannot create a community
    • It cannot substitute for a community
    • In the absence of a true community, the machinery of elections, universal suffrage, and on and on is simply an empty husk which will only forward the interests of the most powerful or the most adept at its manipulation
  • Community can only be created through communication
    • Of all things communication is the most wonderful
One is socialized into humanity through communication
    • “To learn to be human is to develop through the give-and-take of communication an effective sense of being an individually distinctive member of a community; one who understands and appreciates its beliefs, desires and methods, and who contributes to a further conversion of organic powers into human resources and values. But this translation is never finished.”
communities small and large
Communities small and large
  • The ideal of community is the small town
    • Like Dewey’s native Burlington, Vermont
  • People know each other and come to share powerful bonds of affection and understanding through their face-to-face communication, shared religious experience (communication), gossip, shared culture and all the other myriad ways they communicate
    • People internalize the goal of promoting the good of the community
effects of lost community
Effects of lost community
  • Political chicanery, social disintegration, immorality and economic abuse were largely due to a loss of the communitarian spirit that was part of true democracy—the community
how to recapture community
How to recapture community?
  • Must construct a mass community—the “Great community” that would replace the “Great Society”
    • Because of the society’s grand scale, communication would need to be on an equally grand scale—harness the mass media to provide communication widely and relatively uniformly to the differing groups that make up the nation (or the city)
    • “Thought News” project (enlightened social intelligence)
  • Social control is “the central fact and the central problem of society”
    • “Society is everywhere a control organization. Its function is to organize, integrate, and direct the energies resident in the individuals of which it is composed.”
Ecological (biotic) community
    • An aggregate of individuals characterized by symbiosis, the division of labor and competitive cooperation
  • Society
    • A community of persons organized through communication, socialization and collective behavior
  • “What does communication do and how does it function in the cultural process? It seems to do several different things. Communication creates, or makes possible at least, that consensus and understanding among the individual components of a social group which eventually gives it and them the character not merely of society but of a cultural unit.
“It spins a web of custom and mutual expectation which binds together social entities as diverse as the family group, a labor organization, or the haggling participants in a village market. Communication maintains the concert necessary for them to function, each in its several ways.”
Transmits tradition of any group over time and from generation to generation
    • “The function of communication seems to be to maintain the unity and integrity of the social group in two dimensions—space and time”
the economic
The economic
  • Competition, inevitable in human society brings about a distribution of occupations and, following, a division of labor.
    • “As a matter of fact, competition and communication operate everywhere within the same local habitat and within the same community, but in relative independence of each other.”
    • The area of competition is inevitably larger than the area of communication
Division of labor is limited by custom, and “custom is a product of communication”
    • “But the main point is that communication, where it exists, invariably modifies and qualifies competition, and the cultural order imposes limitations on the symbiotic.”
louis wirth s address 1948
Louis Wirth’s address (1948)
  • “Man” had developed technical capabilities that outstripped his ability to control them through reason and ‘consensus’ and this was a terribly dangerous state to be in. This condition made the study of sociology critically important so that man’s ability to rule with reason could control the danger of nuclear holocaust.
  • Wirth, Louis (1948). Consensus and mass communication. American Sociological Review. 13(1) 1-15.
Consensus “provides both an approach to the central problem of sociology and to the problems of the contemporary world.” (2)
    • “Because the mark of any society is the capacity of its members to understand one another and to act in concert toward common objectives and under common norms, the analysis of consensus rightly constitutes the focus of sociological investigation.” (2)
characteristics of the mass
Characteristics of the mass
  • Great numbers
  • Aggregates of men widely dispersed over the face of the earth
  • Heterogeneous members
  • Anonymous individuals
  • Does not constitute an organized group
  • No common customs or tradition
  • Open to suggestions
    • Behavior is “capricious and unpredictable”
  • Consists of unattached individuals
    • Do not play roles in a group
Conditions that led to mass society have combined to “disintegrate local cohesion and to bring hitherto disparate and parochial cultures into contact with each other. Out of this ferment has come the disenchantment of absolute faiths.” (7)
  • --“skepticism toward all dogmas and ideologies”
  • --substitution of rational grounds for believing
  • Consensus is to society as mind is to the individual
    • “Consensus is the sign that such partial or complete understanding has been reached on a number of issues confronting the members of a group sufficient to entitle it to be called a society.”
  • Not imposed by coercion
  • Not fixed by custom
  • Therefore, “always partial and developing and has constantly to be won” (4)
Consensus . . . is the established habit of intercommunication, or discussion, debate, negotiation and compromise, and the toleration of heresies, or even of indifference, up to the point of “clear and present danger” which threatens the life of the society itself. Rather than resting on unanimity, it rests upon a sense of group identification and participation in the life of society, upon the willingness to allow our representatives to speak for us even though they do not always faithfully represent our views, if indeed we have any views at all on many of the issues under discussion, and upon our disposition to fit ourselves into a program that our group has adopted and to acquiesce in group decisions unless the matter is fundamentally incompatible with our interests and integrity.” (9-10)
“If men of diverse experiences and interests are to have ideas and ideals in common they must have the ability to communicate. It is precisely here, however, that we encounter a paradox. In order to communicate effectively with one another, we must have a common knowledge, but in a mass society it is through communication that we must obtain this common body of knowledge.” (4-5)
two major aspects of modern society
Two major aspects of modern society
  • Organized groups
  • Detached masses
    • “held together, if at all, by the mass media of communication”
public opinion1
Public opinion
  • “formed in the course of living, acting and making decisions on issues” (8)
  • Individuals’ role is determined by “their power, prestige, strategic position, their resources, their articulateness, the effectiveness of the organization and leadership.” (8)
  • “Decisive part of public opinion . . . is the organization of views on issues that exercise an impact upon those who are in a position to make decisions.”
  • unorganized masses leave the decision-making to those who are organized
“It is . . . the consensual basis that already exists in society which lends to mass communication its effectiveness.” (6-7)
  • Carey is reacting to the dominance of the structural functionalist/effects paradigm reflected in Lasswell’s and Lazarsfeld’s view of communication over that of the Chicago School
  • “Transmission” view of communication
    • “imparting, sending, transmitting or giving information to others”
    • Metaphor of geography or transportation
“The center of this idea of communication is the transmission of signals or messages over distance for the purpose of control.”
    • Derives from “one of the most ancient of human dreams: the desire to increase the speed and effect of messages as they travel in space.”
religious roots
Religious roots
  • Puritan movement to New World, etc. based on the “belief that movement in space could itself be a redemptive act”
    • “The moral meaning of transportation, then, was the establishment and extension of God’s kingdom on Earth.”
“Communication was viewed as a process and as a technology that would, sometimes for religious purposes, spread, transmit, and disseminate knowledge, ideas information further and faster with the end of controlling space and people.”
  • Over time the view became more secularized but it continues to dominate current thinking
ritual view of communication
Ritual view of communication
  • Older of the two views
  • “Sharing, participation, association, fellowship, and the possession of a common faith”
  • “A ritual view of communication is not directed toward the extension of messages in space but the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs.”
“If the archetypal case of communication under a transmission view is the extension of messages across geography for the purpose of control, the archetypal case under a ritual view is the sacred ceremony which draws persons together in fellowship and commonality.”
definition of communication
Definition of communication
  • “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed.”
  • “Reality is not given, not humanly existent, independent of language and towards which language stands as a pale refraction. Rather reality is brought into existence, is produced, by communication; that is, by the construction, apprehension, and utilization of symbolic forms.”
“It does not see the original or highest manifestation of communication in the transmission of intelligent information but in the construction and maintenance of an ordered, meaningful cultural world which can serve as a control and container for human action.”
“This projection of community ideals and their embodiment in material form—dance, plays, architecture, news stories, strings of speech—creates an artificial though nonetheless real symbolic order which operates not to provide information but confirmation, not to alter attitudes or change minds but to represent an underlying order of things, not to perform functions (my emphasis) but to manifest an ongoing and fragile social process.”
“The model here is not that of information acquisition, though such acquisition occurs, but of dramatic action in which the reader joins a world of contending forces as an observer at play.”
  • “a presentation of reality that gives to life an overall form, order, and tone”
“Under a ritual view, then, news is not information but drama: it does not describe the world but portrays an arena of dramatic forces and action; it exists solely in historical time; and it invites our participation on the basis of our assuming, often vicariously, social roles within it.”