Delving deep: can we trust the new Fourth Estate?

September 18, 2008

Media and Communication

Author: Paddy Scannell

Edition: First

Publisher: Sage

Pages: 320

Price: £60.00 and £19.99

ISBN 9781412902687 and 2694

Flick through the pages of Media and Communication and the grainy faces of a lot of old men - and the odd woman - peer out. Paddy Scannell is one of the early pioneers of media studies in the UK. He brings his vast knowledge and experience to give an account of the development of thinking about the media from the 1930s onwards. His overview of the history of media theory is lucid, engaging and a highly informative and provocative account of how theories and their proponents have been shaped by the social and cultural context of the period in which they live.

In a field whose boundaries are porous and where there is no consensus as to the core concepts, theories and thinkers, Scannell brings certainty to his effort to identify key moments in the history of the study of the media and communication. Two moments in particular provide the pillars on which the book rests - the development of a sociology of mass communication in the US between the 1930s and the 1950s and the emergence of cultural studies in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Some may see the moments he alights on as idiosyncratic; the text could be accused of providing an Anglo-American, masculinist and metropolitan perspective on the field. It is steeped in the world of the "old media", resisting the opportunity to locate the study of media and communication within the vast transformations that have occurred in media technologies and media audiences in the past decade or so.

Nine chapters trace these moments: a text, an author or two and the issues, methodologies and concepts they spawn serve as the vehicles to trace the moments. We start in the US, the first three chapters outlining how a host of European emigres wrestled with the problem of the masses. The everyday life of cultural studies in the US, Canada and, most significantly, the UK fill the next three chapters, and the final threesome is moulded around language and conversational analysis, ideology and the public sphere.

Throughout, Scannell pursues the argument that the "question of communication was not central to the study of the media in the 20th century", which is brought together in a highly readable concluding chapter on the historiography of media studies.

Scannell acknowledges that it is not possible to cover fully the vast and rambling nature of the study of media and communication; the book provides a "view from the mountain tops". He is able to pre-empt criticism by stating that Media and Communication is the first in a trilogy, telling us there is more scope in succeeding books to articulate his "take" on media and communication. We can therefore look forward to the examination of some of the high peaks of achievement around him that are neglected in this self-limiting text - names such as Myung-Jin Park, Pierre Bourdieu, Armand Mattelart, Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, whose influence on the study of the media and communication is difficult to minimise.

Who is it for? Students seriously interested in the study of media and communication.

Presentation: Clear, lucid and engaging style.

Would you recommend it? Essential reading for anyone interested in the historical development of the study of the media in the US and the UK.

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