The sociology of media versus cultural studies

Mass Communication and Research Methods

November 5, 1999

   This book describes research in "the three main domains of communication processes": media organisation and production, media content and media consumption (preferred to the term reception).

The authors write within a social science tradition, favouring quantitative as well as qualitative methods. Controversially, guest contributor James Halloran argues that only social science provides "an analysis ... which recognises the economic, political and cultural contexts of social struggle", in contrast to the "pretentious speculation" and lack of a "systematic approach to knowledge", found in some cultural studies. Strong stuff, and possibly bewildering to the many students studying both traditions.

That said, the book's chapters on domains traditionally associated with cultural studies, such as genre and narrative analysis, are useful introductions for social-science oriented students. There is a broad range of chapter topics, including participant observation, archival research, survey and focus group research, and, helpfully, computer analysis. The treatment is general, without much detail about practical procedures; further reading in a text such as R. Wimmer and J. Dominick's Mass Media Research (1995) might be necessary.

Apart from the chapters on genre and narrative, the book focuses primarily on news. Semiotically complex forms such as advertising and "women's" genres such as soap opera, are not discussed at all. Indeed, two big areas of concern in media research, including my own - gender and children - rate one passing reference each.

As an academic trying to interest the whole range of media-studies students, male and female, in social science methods, I find this disappointing.

Máire Messenger Davies is senior lecturer in journalism, media and cultural studies, University of Cardiff.


Mass Communication and Research Methods

Author - A. Hansen, S. Cottle, R. Negrine and C. Newbold
ISBN - 0 333 61710 X
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £14.99
Pages - 350

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