Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: The Key Concepts

November 3, 2011

Author: John Hartley

Edition: Fourth

Publisher: Routledge/Taylor & Francis

Pages: 6

Price: £65.00 and £16.99

ISBN 9780415550758 and 563239

Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies was first published, with multiple authors, in 1983. Although the current volume is the fourth edition, it is not a gentle revision but a hard reboot - a rewrite that bears little relation to earlier versions. This is an assertively sole-authored text, with John Hartley alone at the wheel. Whether you enjoy the ride will come down to what you make of the driver, and your response to entries such as "rearviewmirrorism", a term sourced to "Hartley, 1992a and 1999".

This is Hartley's vehicle, and it's heavily customised, with his stamp all over it. The first page of the introduction dips into autobiography, as the author's personal background is woven in with the story of cultural studies. Hartley's lifelong commitment to the study of popular texts and audiences is confirmed through regular nods back to his own work, reminding us that his first major book was published in 1978.

"This book is not a dictionary," the introduction explains, "it does not claim to treat concepts 'definitively'. Instead it is a critical history of ideas." Hartley himself crops up at key points throughout that history, like Forrest Gump shaking hands with John F. Kennedy: so we learn that "the mediasphere is a term coined by Hartley, following Yuri Lotman", and that John Fiske and Hartley built on Roland Barthes' work to posit a third order of signification, "which they called mythology".

Like Forrest Gump? More accurately, like the Doctor of Doctor Who. For Hartley is no chump; he is a wry guide and a puckish professor, embodying the young-old spirit of the discipline he has inhabited and informed for decades. He refers quaintly to "the Wikipedia" and lists binary oppositions labelled "Hooray!" for the good ones and "Boo!" for the bad. He describes market research as "sticking its analytical dipstick in the right bit of the zeitgeist". He provides serious, solid definitions, but also cheeky marginal notes on the official history. The selection and discussion can be idiosyncratic - only a page each for Post-Modernism and Realism, against two each for Network Theory and Commutation Test - and the inclusions and exclusions are occasionally puzzling. But in every sentence, you feel the author's personality: his earnestness, his honesty, his childlike desire to engage, to ask, to argue.

Like the Doctor's assistants, an intelligent student riding with Hartley may sometimes find the trip frustrating, but he is always fascinating and never boring; and to his credit, you sense he would welcome your argument with his own entries. This is a playful supplement to other, more conventional glossaries. It's an energy drink rather than a balanced diet: but energy shots are just what students, and cultural studies, sometimes need.

Who is it for? Cultural studies, communications and media students, but not as the sole text for introductory modules.

Presentation: A few typos ("propoganda", "postmoderninsm") to be fixed for the next edition.

Would you recommend it? Hartley presents cultural studies, rightly, as a dialogue, and his is a valuable voice in the discussion that makes up the discipline. This book is recommended alongside other works such as John Storey's Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction and Peter Brooker's A Glossary of Cultural Theory.

Recommended

Science Fiction Film: A Critical Introduction

Author: Keith M. Johnston

Edition: First

Publisher: Berg

Pages: 196

Price: £55.00 and £17.99

ISBN 9781847884770 and 884763

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