Chapter 1: Mass Communication: A Critical Approach Chapter 15: Social Scientific and Cultural Approaches to Media ResearchCampbell, R., et al. (2011). Media Essentials: A Brief Introduction. Bedford/St.Martin’s. p.3-29, p.420-443
Mass communication: A critical, social scientific and cultural approach
Chapter 1: Mass Communication: A
Chapter 15: Social Scientific and Cultural
Approaches to Media Research
Campbell, R., et al. (2011). Media Essentials: A Brief Introduction.
Bedford/St.Martin’s. p.3-29, p.420-443
Aitza M. Haddad Nunez, J.D., LL.M.
Introduction to Mass Communication
Study: Adolescents without Television
By Sven Windahl, Ingrid Höjerback, and Elias Hedinson
1980 Swedish Television Strike
Purpose – To look at the determinants and consequences of perceived
◦ Significant relationship between aspects of media use (amount, motives,
identification with content), and the degree of deprivation.
◦ Relationship between media use under normal conditions and functional
alternative use during a period of deprivation.
People deprived of media content
◦ Degree of dependency or affinity with, or felt importance of media use
◦ Uses and gratifications concept of functional alternatives
Thinking about our relationship with the
- How does media both affect and shape our world?
- What roles and responsibilities do mass media have?
- Watchdog for democracy?
- What is our role in media processes?
- How (if at all) should these processes change?
- Why its important it is so important to acquire media literacy?
The Evolution of Mass Media
- Mass Media: “the industries that create and distribute songs, novels,
newspaper, movies, Internet services, TV shows, magazines, and other
products to a large number of people.”
- Historical eras:
- First two: Oral and Written
- Media existed only in tribal or feudal communities, and agricultural economies.
- Last three: Print, Electronic, and Digital
- Media became vehicles for mass communication
- Mass Communication: “the creation and use of symbols that convey
information and meaning to large and diverse audiences through all manner
- Channels of communication are converging.
The Oral and Written Eras
- Transition from slow oral or spoken tradition to a
manuscript or written culture.
◦ Manuscripts were commission to the ruling classes
◦ Religious works and prayers, literature, and personal chronicles.
◦ Critics “feared that the written word would hamper conversation between
The Print Era
-Europe in the 1400s and early 1500s – Books were large,
elaborate, and expensive.
- The cost and size reduced becoming available and affordable to
- First mass-marketed products in history.
- Mass production of books “spurred significant changes”:
- Increase resistance to authority figures
- The rise of new socioeconomic classes
- The spread of literacy, and a focus on individualism
The Electronic and Digital Eras
-Electronic era – Telegraph
- Made media messages (dot-dash electronic signals) available instantaneously.
- It laid the ground for future technological developments.
- From film and radio in the 1920s to television in the 1950s and 1960s.
- The electronic era gave way to the digital era.
- Digital era – Internet
- Encoding and decoding messages – communication is digitally reproduced and transmitted
- Those who long controlled the dispersal of information have lost some of that power.
- Taking over some of the postal services functions.
- Outpaces governments attempts to control communications beyond national borders. (p.9)
- Two meanings:
◦ Technological merging of content in different mass media.
◦ Songs, TV shows, and movies are now available on computers, tablets and
◦ Particular business model by which a company consolidates
various media holdings under one corporation umbrella.
◦ One single company can now offer phone services, cable connection,
television transmission and Internet access.
◦ Purpose not to provide more choices to consumers but to better manage resources, lower
costs, and maximize profits – Consequences on society?
Mass Media and the Process of
New mediums emerge thanks to inventors, and to social, cultural, political, and
economical changes as well.
1. Novelty or development stage – Inventors and technicians are trying to solve a problem.
2. Entrepreneurial stage – Inventors and technicians determination a practical and marketable
use for the new device.
3. Mass medium stage – Business figure out how to market the new device as a consumer
Media’s Role in Everyday Life
◦ Ancient Greeks – “Theatrical pays would corrupt young people by exposing them to messages
that conflicted with those promulgated by their teachers.” (p.11)
◦ Today newly arrived immigrants gravitate to media to understand what is going on.
◦ Overwhelming amount of information available
Media Literacy: Ways of Understanding
How the media works and what impact it has in our lives?
◦ Importance of strengthen our media literacy
1. The Linear Model – Focuses on the communication process
2. The Cultural Model – views mass communication as a cultural
characteristic and uses anecdotal evidence to interpret media
3. The Social Scientific Model – uses data gathering and analysis
How to understand Media
Chapter 1: Mass Communication: A Critical Approach
Chapter 15: Social Scientific and Cultural Approaches to Media Research
The Social Scientific Media Research Model
From 1930s to 1960s: The Rise of Modern
o Propaganda Analysis
o After WWI – How governments used propaganda to advance the war effort.
o Lasswell – “the control of opinion by significant symbols.” (p.424)
o Criticized as “partisan appeal based in half-truths and devious manipulation of communication channels.
o Public Opinion Research
o After WWII – How the mass media filter information and shape public attitudes.
o Surveys and polls.
o Social Psychology Studies
o Measures “the behavior, attitudes, and cognitions of the individual.” (p.424)
o Payne Fund Studies – establishment of the film industry’s production code, which tamed movie content from the 1930s to the 1950s
o Marketing Research
o Emerged in the 1920s – Explores consumers habits and other behaviors to determine consumer preferences and
Early Media Research Methods
o The Linear Model
oTraditional Approach – How a mass medium communicates messages to
large audiences and how this audiences understand those messages.
Senders → message → mass media channel → receivers
o In the process, gatekeepers filter those messages by making decisions
about what gets produced and for what audience is produces. However,
“Media messages do not always get their intended receivers, nor do receivers
always interpret these messages in the way the media wanted” (p.13)
The First Social Scientific Research Models
o Emerged between the 1930s and the 1970s out of intensified concerns about the four
o Behavioral science became the focus of many media researchers’ work – “Who says what to whom
with what effect?” (p.428)
1. Hypodermic Needle
o Media “shoots” its effects directly into unsuspecting victims.
o Although its been disapproved many still subscribe to it – media’s impact on children.
2. Minimal Effects
o “[M]edia alone do not cause people to change their attitudes and behaviors” (p.429)
o Selective exposure and retention – media reinforces preexisting behaviors and attitudes rather than
3. Uses and Gratifications
o “[P]eople […] actively engage in using media to satisfy emotional or intellectual needs” (p.430)
o What v. Why –” has never become a dominant or enduring paradigm” but it helps “to understand
why people use new media.”
The Social Scientific Research Model
o “[I]s informed by an approach that tests hypothesis with measurable data”
oNatural sciences – pursuit of objective research. (p.15)
o Early studies used of electronic mechanisms to detect responses.
o Goal – “to develop testable hypotheses (or predictions), about media, gather relevant
data, and then determine whether the data verifies the hypotheses.
o Public Research v. Private Research
o Business, corporation or political campaign v. academic and governmental settings
o The problem of solving a real life problem or need versus theorizing about it. (p.430)
o It analyzes content without interpreting its meaning
o Produces “hard numbers,” which suggests clear cause and effect or statistical
o Policy makers find it attractive and comforting. (p.20)
Social Scientific Media Research
o Seven Steps:
1. Identify the problem
2. Review existing research and theories related to the problem
3. Develop hypothesis or predictions
4. Determine a method or research design
5. Collect information and relevant data
6. Analyze results to test the hypothesis
7. Interpret the implications of the study
o Reliance on:
1. Objectivity – Eliminating bias or judgments on the part of the researcher.
2. Reliability – Getting the same answers or outcomes during repeated testing.
3. Validity – The study actually measures what it claims to measure. (p.431)
Social Scientific Media Research Methods
o“[I]solate some aspect of content; suggest a hypothesis; and manipulate variables to discover
a particular medium’s impact on people’s attitudes, emotions, or behaviors.” (p.431)
o Subjects are picked and randomly assigned to an experimental group (exposed to media content) and to a control
group (not exposed) to test whether a hypothesis is true or not.
B. Survey Research
oCollection and measuring of data taken from a group of respondents gathered by random
sampling techniques to explore their attitudes, knowledge, or behavior about or towards a
o Collects demographic factors in addition to responses to questions related to the survey
o Easier to generalize results to a larger population, to study populations for larger periods of
time, and to conduct longitudinal studies.
o Can only show correlations or associations between two variables.
o Cannot show cause-effects relationships.
Social Scientific Media Research Methods
C. Content Analysis
o Systematically describe various types of media content.
o Does not measure the effects of various media messages on audiences nor
explain how those messages are presented.
o Define terms and develops coding schemes so that whatever is being
studied can be accurately judged and counted.
o Problems of definition
Contemporary Media Effects Theories
o The rise of PhD graduates in communications the 1960s produced the
emergence of four particularly influential contemporary theories:
A. Social Learning Theory – Link between social media and behavior in four
1. Attention – subject must attend and witness the behavior
2. Retention – subject must retain what it saw for later retrieval
3. Motor reproduction – subject must be able to physically imitate the behavior
4. Motivation – there most be a social reward or reinforcement to model the behavior.
B. Agenda-Setting Theory – media, by focusing or a particular subject or event,
determines, or sets the agenda, for what people discuss and what they pay
o Media tell us not only what to think but also what to think about.
Contemporary Media Effects Theories
C. The Cultivation Effect Theory
◦ “The more time individuals spend viewing television and absorbing its
viewpoints, the more likely their views of social reality will be “cultivated” by
the images and portrayals they see on television”
◦ Critics suggest that there is limited evidence to support this theory and that “perceptions of heavy
television viewers and nonviewers regarding how dangerous the world is are virtually identical”
D. The Spiral of Silence Theory
◦ Developed in the 1970s and 1980s – links mas s media, social psychology, and
public opinion information.
◦ “Those who believe that their views on controversial issues are in minority will keep their views to
themselves for fear of social isolation” (p.435)
◦ Acknowledges that not everybody will stay quite – “hard-core nonconformists”
Evaluating Social Scientific Research
o Researchers may neglect to ask all the correct and possible
o“Options provided in a multiple choice survey question might not cover all the
possible responses that participants could have” (p.20)
o Funding restricts the scope of some media effects research when
entities do not align with researchers interests.
o“Few studies explore how media shape larger community and social life”
o Impact of media technology on international communication.
The Cultural Studies Media Research Model
The Cultural Model
o Emerged in the 1960s to challenge social scientific theories and to
complement these theories limitations.
o Media is a characteristic of a culture
o Is defined by how people live and represent themselves at particular
o Fashion, sports, architecture, education, religion, science and media. (p.13)
o Enables the individual to make sense of its daily and to articulate
o “Individuals assign diverse meanings to messages, depending on personal
characteristics such as […] gender, age, educational level, ethnicity,
occupation, and religious beliefs” (p.14).
o We shape the media and the media shapes us
The Cultural Model: A Closer Look
oWhat is culture?
oThe Skyscraper Metaphor
o High culture – good taste “higher education” fine art
o Low or popular culture – “questionable taste of the masses”
oThe Map Metaphor
o Culture is an ongoing process that accommodates diverse tastes
o Human beings are attracted to both consistency and change
o Media can satisfy both of those desires.
oTracing Changes in Values
o Exploration of how our values have changed along with changes in mass media.
o Special interest in the shifts during the modem era and the post modern period.
Cultural Approaches to Media Research
o Europe has always favored interpretative rather than scientific
◦ Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci – Mass media supported existing hierarchies
o Frankfurt School – “European researchers who emigrated from Germany
to escape Nazi persecution in the 1930s” (p.436)
oIntroduced cultural approach “to investigate mass media’s long-range effects
on audiences.” In other words, to explore “how media and culture are tied to
the actual patterns of communication in daily life.”
o“[T]hrough the lenses of race, gender, class and sexuality, and of imbalances of power and
status in society.”
oAnd with and emphasis “on how some groups have been marginalized and ignored
throughout history […] and recover these lost or silenced voices” (p.437)
Major Cultural Approaches to Media
o Textual Analysis
oClose reading and interpretation of cultural messages.
o Ritual, narratives, and meaning
o Often ignores artistic traditions and social context.
oThe subject being researched is the audience for the text, not the text itself.
o “[H]elp to define culture as comprising both the product as society fashions […] and the processes that forge this
oPolitical Economy Studies
oFocuses on the production of popular culture and the forces behind it.
o Examines “interconnections among economic interests, political power, and the ways that power is used” because
“money [and] not democratic expression is now the driving force behind public communication and popular
Evaluating Cultural Research Studies
o “Best at recognizing the complexity of media culture and providing analyses that draw on descriptive,
critical historical, ethnography[[hic, political, and economic traditions.” (p.20)
o Since cultural studies is not bound by precise control variables,“researchers can more easily examine the
ties between media messages and the broader social, economic, and political world.” (p.p438)
o “[T]he conclusions laid out in a particular study may just be the author’s interpretation [and] may not
necessarily explain cause-and-effect connections in situations other than what the author examined.”
o “Sometimes cultural studies have focused exclusively om the meanings of media programs or “texts,”
ignoring their effect on audiences.” (p.438)
Media Research in a Democratic Society
o Can be a force of good and evil:
oIt can be used to strengthen democracy.
o “A society which only a few voices are telling us the stories about what’s important, what our values
should be, and how we should behave is hardly a healthy democracy.” (p.22)
o It has also help to create a powerful commercial culture.
o Critical to be careful “about which media we consume, what messages we draw from those media, and
how those messages are affecting our actions, the quality of our lives, and the health of our democracy.”
o Academic studies don’t address everyday life problems.
o Larger public don’t have access to the research processes and academics find it more difficult to
communicate and have become more isolated from the world outside the universities (p.439)
o An informed critical perspective on the media enable us to
participate in debate about media’s impacts on our democracy and
o We “need to transcend our own preferences and biases” in order to be
able to understand what the different genres and mediums say and why
those messages appeal to particular audiences. (p.21)
o We need a working knowledge of the medium we intend to study –
familiarize with it and think about what messages they seem to be
o We have to use academic studies to address the everyday problems of life. (p.439)
o“[W]e cant rely on professional media critics or watchdog organizations to do all the
work of critiquing the media.” (p.23)