Thinking outside the box

September 18, 2008

The Media and Social Theory

Editors: David Hesmondhalgh and Jason Toynbee

Edition: First

Publisher: Routledge

Pages: 312

Price: £85.00 and £23.99

ISBN 9780415447997 and 8000

This is a thoughtfully edited collection of intelligent contributions that call for the boundaries of media studies to be challenged and reconfigured. David Hesmondhalgh and Jason Toynbee set out to demonstrate the need for greater critical and political analysis of society within media studies, and they propose for this to be achieved through enhanced interdisciplinary interaction with social theory. More pertinently, they argue for media studies to embrace social theory as a means of allowing social science and media research to become more critical and more able to question social existence and social possibility.

Not uncommon accusations of crudity are levelled at media studies here, and the field is called to account for lacking necessary depth of analysis, particularly in terms of the social impact of the media, historically and presently. Here too it is noted that while key social theorists and their theories are introduced and discussed in media studies discourse, all too often the corpus of their lives and works is neglected, and thus any extensions of their thoughts within media theory are insufficiently grounded.

Divided into four sections - Power and democracy, Spatial inequalities, Spectacle and the self and Media labour and production - the book tracks and expands upon various media and social theory debates. It takes on discussions of pluralism, neoliberalism and the post-Habermasian public sphere while reflecting upon the media's relationship with market, state and labour through examinations of diverse media texts.

Each of the 16 chapters is engaging and valuable, but those of particular interest include Annabelle Sreberny's "A contemporary Persian letter", Helen Wood and Bev Skeggs' "Spectacular morality" and Toby Miller's "Step away from the croissant: Media Studies 3.0".

Sreberny looks at the interpellation of public and private communication, through a masterfully entwined discussion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's public letter to US President George W. Bush and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter" and the debates surrounding each. Wood and Skeggs discuss the political nature and overtly "classed" framing of reality television shows and Miller focuses on the media student, while forthrightly demanding the inclusion of labour conceptualisation in media studies.

Who is it for? Anyone interested in the media and their influence; essential reading for media academics and upper undergraduate to postgraduate-level students of media and communication and sociology.

Presentation: Well written with depth and aptitude; the chapters are insightful and interesting when read together or individually.

Would you recommend it? Highly. With its enthusiastic proposal of different approaches to media thought and research, this book has really got me thinking about the study of the media and the role of the media within the social sciences.

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