Sunday, March 29, 2009

Marcus' questions

Q1) I don’t know much about Sao Paulo or Brazil, but the impression I got from the Herscovitz piece was pretty subtle – he says that American media is traditionally cast as independent from government, but I suspect most American readers would say something like “Seriously?” There’s obviously a serious connection, but what if he meant his comment literally? The New York Times is obviously not connected to the government in the same way the BBC is connected to the British government. Ours is at least legally separated, even if it’s not practical these days. How big a difference does that make?
Q2) And now that I’m thinking about it – if Sao Paulo is so unique, as Gabino says, then what about the rest of Latin America? If it’s different, then how, and why?
Q3) Benson, I think, has a pretty obtuse definition of “politics.” I know we covered that in the last class, but I still think it applies here – saying that ideas can be measured against a political yardstick of sorts is a bit naïve. It’s also pretty American-centered – how seriously are those concepts taken in the third world? I know Herscovitz talked about Brazil, but beyond that, doesn’t this theory imply that all politics is American?
Q4) Similarly, doesn’t it also imply all politics are national? These readings seem to emphasize the big picture over the smaller ones. Is there evidence that, say, metropolitan newspapers follow the same pattern – that local news is either relevant politically, or not? Or is it all national?
Q5) Have there been any studies to take those theories beyond politics? It may sound like a strange question, but what about other areas? Plenty of scholars have criticized the links between the media and political power structures, but how universal are the theories? It may be less significant in the long run, but looking at, say, the entertainment media’s relationship with Hollywood could serve as an interesting sidebar to the political discussion. If there’s association in one area, why not another?

Yukun's questions

Question about sociology and journalism
In page 78, the author mentioned that “much contemporary work on journalism no longer comes from sociology.” “The centrality of sociology in journalism studies is no longer certain.”
In my mind, journalism study is affected by different disciplines such as, sociology, political science and economics. Now does journalism study become a more inter -disciplinery or become a real independent subject?

In page 61, study of lang and lang showed how TV produced a mistaken impression of widerspread support for MacAuthur and his politics.
I am wondering how to improve the news practice. Duty of a journalist is to select different “important” elements to “construct” a story for audience. Based on news values, journalist always stresses exciting perspectives of an event. Without doing so, the stories will be bored. Readership will decline. What is the solution for it? I have no idea.

Question about the sociology of news production
In page 5, the political economy of news, the author indicated that “there is a ruling directorate of the capitalist class that dictates to editors and reporters what to run in the newspapers.”
Does the political economy be limited in capitalist societies? Can we apply this theory to the media in other state-systems rather than democratic countries?

Question about Brazilian Journalism
In pages 84, this paper indicates that more American journalists perceived themselves as interpreters but disseminators than Brazilian journalists.
Instead of viewing this from media sociology or political economy, I will attribute this to media themselves. Unlike western countries such as UK, France and America, most media in developing countries don’t have a good system for senior journalists. After several years, a young journalist must get a position of management or this journalist must change the career track. That is the reason why more Brazilian journalist perceived themselves as disseminators.

Question about Benson
He viewed media as an independent factor. However, most important of assumption of critical approach on media study is to view media as a dependent factor. Therefore, I am confused about that. If we view media as an independent factor, how can we explain the media through political economy? I don’t know how Benson solve this question.

Seongbae's questions for 3/30

1. Benson in his “Why Conceptual Models and “Big” Institutions Matter: A Response to David Altheide, Nina Eliasoph, William Gamson, and Todd Gitlin” introduces a notion of “field”. This was his attempt to reinvent media sociology. I liked this idea because this notion can seem to explain diversified nature of journalism. Although Benson provided the 획기적인 idea of field, he did not provide how to define or analyze these “fields”. What could be the best way to identify or measure these different types of fields?

2. By criticizing “an institutional approach”, Benson argues that audience is more active than what most scholars have previously assumed: audience is passive. His assumption on the last page seems to deal with possible influence of audience on big institutions and newspapers. Was he possibly referring to the change from traditional media to more interactive new media? The article was written in 2004, so I assume he was concerned about the growing power of audience due to new media environment.

3. On page 280 of Benson’s “Bringing the Sociology of Media Back In”, he refutes traditional categorization of the major factors shaping news coverage of politics, and introduces his own categorization of the factors. After reviewing his categorization, I am not convinced that his idea is better than the traditional categorization. Benson removed “journalists” as the major factors affecting news coverage. I believe journalists themselves play a certain role in news coverage even today. Perhaps, Benson is looking at the field of journalism from too audience-centric perspective. Or he is trying to defined journalism as independent rather than dependent?

4. Would Benson’s recategorization work in the new media setting? as I mentioned above, I find it difficult to apply it to the traditional media, but his idea of interorganized field of journalism might work with the environment of internet where audience is much more active.

5. Herscovitz’s article about Brazilian journalism makes an interesting claim about American journalism on page 75. “Media organizations [in America] are perceived as autonomous enterprises in which journalists enjoy great autonomy free from state, political parties and institutional pressures.” Then Herscovitz continues, “Journalists have the illusion of autonomy, but in fact they internalize the norms of the dominant culture and reproduce them at work.” I couldn’t agree with this more. I think journalists in general have this fantasy of autonomy and that they are the key to affect public. But the reality might be harsh for them. They might be just the ones delivering more dominant culture to public. Are there any studies that discuss this? Maybe a role of journalists or their power in affecting public?

Sociology and... an interesting quantitative piece!

I’ll begin with the Benson piece. On page 270 the three major factors that “shape news coverage of politics” are discussed: “journalists themselves, organizational structures of news outlets and institutions or social conditions outside the news organization… technological factors, national culture, economics, the audience, the most powerful news sources, and/or the ideologies of the dominant social powers.” I found this list very thorough and to the point, yet when you read it all together, you get the sense that the coverage of politics is more a process of creation that takes into account a large number of factors. How can we shoot for a certain level of standardized objectivity when everything around us is changing so fast (i.e. technology, economics, culture)?
Further down, the impact of culture is called a “paralyzing truism” and culture itself is defined as “sediment” of past struggles. Can we really begin to understand media and political communication without considering culture? Wouldn’t this result in chaos and a false understanding? I guess we do take into consideration… and yet voters seem to find a way to mess the whole thing up almost every time…
Benson then proposes a recategorization that seems more or less the same, with “the interorganizational filed of journalism being the biggest difference” (p. 280). I truly believe we would arrive at the same place after separating political economy into politics and economics and the interorganizational field of journalism, with its “broader” view, would end up being culture.
The list of hypotheses that starts on page 282 was a very interesting exercise. I will not copy all of them here; instead I will refer to them by their number. 1a beats the living crap out of 1b and 2a, at least in my opinion. 2b sounds alright, but isn’t sensationalism just a tool used to increase sales? 4 is right on. 5 is an ideological dream. Anyone who has ever taken a law course (I spent a year in law school before deciding I wanted to keep my soul) knows that defamation and libel cases are almost always long uphill struggles that end up nowhere. The percentage of them that end up somewhere is minimal. 10 (on page 284) is especially important today with “insecurity” becoming a greater issue every hour. Now, granted they’re all very well-discussed, what do we do with these hypotheses now that newspapers are dead and the media landscape changes every minute?
The Herscovitz piece on Brazilian journalists was very interesting. I believe that saying that Latin American countries are still “in search of their own model of democracy” (p71) could be a little dangerous; what if they’re simply struggling? Should we then forget about non-democratic nations? The other little issue was the fact that the study took place in Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is not Brazil, just like Austin is not Texas.
The discussion of a value system and the comparisons done with the United States and France were attention-grabbing, funny and enlightening at the same time. This type of research should definitely be done more often.
On page 75 it says that the American liberal-pluralist tradition perceives media organizations as “autonomous enterprises in which journalists enjoy great autonomy free from the state, political parties and institutional pressures.” Juts one question: really?
The discussion of the research showed that, with a little imagination, quantitative research can be a little less mind-numbing and sleep-inducing. The fact that Sao Paolo is not Brazil comes back in page 76 when the typical journalist there is described as “young white middle-class Catholic married male, politically left-leaning, underpaid but generally satisfied with the job” and lives in a house with a white picket fence, has a cute puppy and 2.5 children with his second-place trophy wife. At least she had the guts to state it. The three foreign publications most read by paolistas were no surprise.
About the research itself, I think most of the respondents answered what they felt they were supposed to answer and not what they really believe; how else could be explain the fact that providing entertainment always ranked last in the tables? Are we supposed to believe that 66% of them investigate government claims regularly? Have you people read O Globo? I know they want to be watchdogs, but the watchdog has to do some entertaining tricks to sell papers, programs or anything else.
The discussion on ethical behavior was truly interesting, but I’m sure it will all be talked about in class.
On page 84 it establishes that the “American influence is more noticeable in management decisions, such as how to increase circulation…” This study was publishes in 2004, which means it was done earlier than that. What about now? If we imitate the economic model of the NYT, what do we do when it all starts crumbling?
The Zelizer piece was very informative, although making sense of the copies I made was the hardest part of my weekend. The gatekeeping explanation and the application of ideology to journalism read like a very comprehensive literature reviews. What we’ve been discussing since the begging of the semester, “where to locate evidence of ideology, how to agree on its presence…” (p. 76) is here again. Could we come up with a model, even if it’s a bad one, to help with this?
The Schudson piece was, as always, clear and instructive. The fact that we construct the news was something I dedicated two week to when I taught News Production. Here at UT, I also make I point of working with my students to make them understand this. Gatekeeping and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent are also validated in this piece.
The highlight of the piece, for me, was “Molotch and Lester reject what they call the “objectivity assumption” in journalism, - not that the media are objective but that there is a real world to be objective about” (p. 13). This comes back to my concepts of illusory objectivity and self-centered objectivity. Why do we keep trying to teach objectivity? Now that blogs are such a huge source for news, does objectivity still matter?
The shorter Benson piece has two little gems. “Concepts matter to the extent that they direct (or fail to direct) our attention toward potentially relevant social phenomena” (p. 312). Hegemony, public sphere, etc., it’s all good! Second, “…does studying “big institutions” mean that one assumes the public is passive? Not at all.” (p. 313). Those of you who are tired of Marx can now start looking at the actions of the oppressed. I promise you, it gets more interesting.

Lei's questions

(1)Herscovitz talked about two different research traditions of media sociology respectively from U.S and Europe. In U.S liberal-pluralist tradition, individual journalists enjoy great autonomy; while in European critical, cultural and Marxist tradition, journalists just have the illusion of autonomy. Also, in Schudson and Benson’s articles, they talked about the interrelationship among individuals, organization and other social powers. And I remember in Giltin’s book “the whole world is watching”, he also suggested that journalists in U.S also don’t have the autonomy to report the stories due to they are limited by the newsroom routines and official pressures. My question is: how can we understand a journalist’s autonomy in newsroom? Does “autonomy” really exist in newsroom? If it does, to what extent can it influence organizational routines or structures of power?

(2) Schudson: “It seems to me too simple, though common now, to label this as 'ideology' or the 'common sense' of a hegemonic system. It makes of human beliefs and attitudes a more unified, intentional and functional system than they are. Many beliefs that ruling groups may use for their own ends are rooted much more deeply in human conscious ness and are to be found much more widely in human societies than capitalism or socialism or industrialism or any other modern system of social organization and domination.” Was he saying that there are some cultural beliefs, such as patriarchy, unrelated with political ideology that shapes the new construction? Are these beliefs universal? So, inevitable?

(3)Benson suggested a basic re-categorization of the “major factors” shaping news coverage of politics. These factors are (a) commercial or economic, (b) political, and (c) the interorganizational field of journalism. Is the main focus of media sociology research is on the news coverage of politics? What about news coverage of other issues? Do different news coverage have the same dynamics of construction process?

(4)In terms of empirical studies examining media sociology such as Brazilian one, are most of the surveys or interviews conducted on journalists as a whole? Is there any study that identifies and discusses the difference between reporters and editors in shaping the news?

(5)In media sociology, it seems that there are many articles discussion how individual journalists are restricted by newsroom routines, social and cultural powers, and etc. Is there any research that focuses on how they break through the restriction?

David's Questions for Mar. 29


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teresa's questions on media sociology

1- Benson in his article “Bringing the sociology of media back in” proposes focusing on the journalistic field as a mezzo-level of analysis based on field theory (Bourdieu) and new institutionalism. New institutionalists –who come from Political Science-- tend to see “the press” as an undifferentiated and monolithic institution. This uniformity would provide the press power within larger political or economic structures. In my point of view, this theoretical proposition or assumption is a two-handed sword for democratic theory: On the one hand, from a normative and democratic perspective, the media should provide different and plural views. On the other hand, if the press doesn’t have a unique and powerful agenda, would it be possible to exert some pressure over political powers and fulfill its watchdog role?

2- Benson’s propositions and hypotheses seem to be based on an older media environment. Now, the journalistic field and the factors that change the news coverage –commercial, political and interorganizational—are changing completely… how this mezzo-field category would work in this new media environment? Or would it work at all?

3- The article about Brazilian journalists shows the American influences on Brazilian journalism. Although there are some differences, journalists in both countries tend to use the same model in terms of professional values and roles. This same trend is seen not only in Latin America, but also in Europe and elsewhere. In general terms, journalists share similar routines, formats and objectives. Does this phenomenon reflect an Americanization of the media and journalism, as the article suggests? Or does it reflect a transnationalization or modernization of the media and journalism?

4- Schudson criticizes the “gatekeeping model” for not taking into account the complexities of the making news process. If we consider the process of making news in a corporate media environment, this assertion certainly holds true. But I wonder whether there might be a revival of the gatekeeping model in the blogosphere environment, especially if we consider blogs that fulfill journalistic roles.
5- Schudson divides the field that studies the factors that shape media content in three different lines of research: political economy, sociological and cultorological. What are the basic assumptions behind these three approaches that make them distinctive? Can they be complementary rather than different, especially in the cases of sociological and culturological approaches? News is socially constructed but it also reflects cultural symbols.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Yukun's questions

In the Networked Public Sphere

1 in page 21 the author proposed two objections toward Benkler’s opinion. One is hierarchy and concentration of network. I am wonder how and why does this hierarchy or concentration form. Does it mean that news organization or group still control the power of setting the agenda like before?

2 in page 23, Benkler argued that “this phenomenon represented more of an internal forum than an echo chamber, as like-minded people develop their arguments with each other.” He believes polarisation will be deleted through filtered, strengthened and tested.
However, supporters of those polarized opinions are more eager to promote than common people. Media always like the singularity of a story. Dose those polarized opinion be moderated? I doubt. Otherwise, those polarized opinions are always manifested in the mainstream media. Then they create some effects like the spiral of silence.

Hidden Debates
3 Cultural Citizenship VS Political Citizenship
In page 32, the author discussed the topics about cultural citizenship which is different from political citizenship. I am wondering is there any relationship between political identity and cultural citizenship. Is there any conflict between cultural citizenship and political citizenship?

4 in page 36, “the Roswell fans moved to political discussion of terrorism but also of American foreign policy.” Does it mean that cultural citizenship can change identity and impact political citizenship? However, I know America pop culture is very popular is some countries. But people in those countries still dislike America. This is a very interesting and paradoxical issue.

Why Conversation is Not the Soul of Democracy?

5 in page307, the author said “I prefer two-person conversations to larger gatherings.” “I prefer seminars to large assemblies.” “The larger the group, the more I want rules of engagement because I am slow of speech.” In page 308, democracy may require withdrawal from civility itself.

Does the author prefer direct democracy rather than representative democracy? I guess his opinion will attract the critique of elitist. What is other scholars’ opinion about that?

Marcus' questions

1) The comment about the “public sphere generating legitimacy” in the Networked Public Sphere readings also caught my eye, mostly because I think it’s completely untrue. I think there’s a predisposition within communication studies to think our work matters, and I think in a lot of cases, it does … but not all of them. There are plenty of communities, and countries, where the media is by and large completely irrelevant to a population’s daily life. The first example that pops into my head is from my never ending Poindexter paper – if you live in a small town, and the local newspaper doesn’t do very much, then how does that media reinforce legitimacy? If anything, it undercuts it, and people have to build their own relevance outside the boundaries of the published word. It’s the same in company towns and much of the third world – if the local media is simply Ceasar’s Wife, so to speak, and is just a megaphone for the government, then how does that build legitimacy? There are certainly public spheres and power structures in both those cases, but both are effectively independent of media.

2) Have Schudson or Fraser ever been to a city council meeting? As far as rules in a democracy go, most pretty much play it by ear – at election precincts, public hearings, the works. There’s technically a time limit for speakers at most hearings, and there are technically rules about only speaking when you have something new to say. Neither, really, are followed with great consistency. It depends on the topic, how close you are to the discussion, how emotional you are, who you know in the government, who you don’t know in the government … and that’s not to say there isn’t a certain logic to it, ‘cause if I were sitting up there, I doubt I’d cut off a crying homeowner after only 3 minutes of discussion. Most let them say their piece, and only cut them off after quite a bit longer. But if the focus is on the rules, and not everyone is really following the rules, then uh … aren’t we missing something?

3) To follow up on Teresa and David’s string, I agree – the concept of “public sphere” is a bit contrived. The traditional focus is on politics and the economy, but where do you draw the line – is Bristol Palin in the public sphere? What about the Laundromat cutting half its staff? Are the auxiliary and small items as important, or does it have to be in the New York Times to count? I think it’s an artificial distinction. I can’t remember his name to save my life, but in the early days of the Supreme Court, there was a justice that tried to make the same separation – speech relating at all to politics was public and protected, but anything else could be regulated and brought to court easily. It didn’t work at all, “politics” is just too broad.

4) I also tend to be skeptical of anyone touting revolutionary change. Yes, Friedland, Hove and Rojas are right that the internet makes it easier to connect, but I’m not sure that it’s really any different. How do you define communication, or difference? If communication is simply expressing thoughts and ideas, then it’s still the same. If it’s using the written word to express those ideas, then it’s still the same. If it’s going out of your way to find like-minded individuals, well, then that’s been going on for quite a while too.

5) And more generally speaking, where is the line between “new media” and “old media?” Once upon a time radio was new media. So was television. So is it simply a construct of context, whatever happens to be new when a study is being conducted, or is there broader context that I’m missing? Because I don’t think there is.

More public sphere

I’ll begin with The Networked Public Sphere. I think this folks really took the whole concept to another level, but I don’t know what that level is. For example, they noted that networks have changed severely: “…they have loosened sub-systemic dependencies, increased flows of communication from below, and created greater instability throughout the entire system.” (p. 9), but they never take a stand; they don’t say that’s a good thing. Isn’t the new system a bit more democratic, even with all its flaws?
Then they start discussing the need for media independence and media reflexivity as the two main prerequisites for media to be able to facilitate deliberation (p. 10). They go on to say, basically, that such a status is rather impossible, so why discuss the real-life potential of something that can’t happen?
A little later, they bring in the idea that “the political system depends on the public sphere’s capacity to generate legitimacy” (p. 11). This part was very interesting, especially the idea that legitimacy can’t be bought or blackmailed. Nevertheless, the intricate relationships between power structures and agents with the capacity to generate public opinions (i.e. opinion leaders) is always threatening that statement. If we have such a multiplicity of public spheres, how can we be sure that hegemonic powers aren’t somehow manipulating more than a few? Maybe it sounds a tad like a conspiracy theory, but powerful interests are not usually very vocal about their doings. Also, this relationship is really a threesome; the media is always in the middle. If we accept that, can frames and angles be bought or blackmailed? I think we all know the answer to that one.
On page 15, the really interesting part begins: online communication. Now we have younger people basically living online and the authors take the positivist approach: “The lifeworld of young people is increasingly merging with online space, and the effects of this “secondary” lifeworld interact systematically with the primary lifeworld of socialization” (p. 15). I can say that a bullet quickly merged with someone’s face, but that way of putting it makes it sounds way less painful and tragic that saying someone got shot in the mug. Younger generations are truly disregarding, in many cases, that primary lifeworld in favor of what they called the “secondary” one. What “person” shall participate in online public spheres, the real “me” or the “digital me”? What are the consequences of my ideal-based “digital me” generating public opinion?
They also say: “Some have claimed that the online space of interpersonal communication forms a new type of public space, especially for young people, with different dynamics that cannot be simply compared to those of twentieth century modernity” (p. 17). First of all, blame me, you cowards, I’m saying it. Second, moving from modernity to hyperreality, skipping postmodernity as if it was just a small puddle, is a bold move. Interpersonal communication is now so different that it probably needs a new name. The authors also discuss the fact that social movements have “moved online” (p. 16). Being one of the areas of research I’m currently interested in, all I can say is that the effect of that, so far, has truly been limited.
Finally, I want to bring into the discussion the idea that “networked communication has begun to surround the traditional media system” (p. 19). What's the effect? Is the “agenda-setting power of the traditional media” (p. 19) truly loosing its power?
Let us move on to the Hermes piece. On page 29 he addresses the fact that young people don’t read newspapers and that that could be a “matter of concern”. Finally! What if the public sphere, instead of moving online, simply fades out as the last news/politics-conscious folks die out? Also, Hermes discusses ordinary people and their appearance in “new roles both as producers and as faces in the news” (p. 29), but immediately clarifies that “this has had little political impact” (p. 30). Is that because, as soon as they entered the media, the lost all their “public” power? Is it because we look at them differently if they’re on that side of the screen?
The polls part was also interesting. Some of the best reading I’ve done on the subject was a book by Giovanni Sartori titled Homo Videns: Remote-Controlled Society. In the book, Sartori deconstructs the psychological process behind polling and what people answer. Spiral of silence has a lot to do with it, but the greatest critique in the book is to the fact that we usually just walk out there and poll anyone who would like to participate… and never mind if they’re complete idiots on the subject. Hermes also believes they have “little political meaning or impact” (p. 30). So why do we keep on doing them?
On page 33 he discusses the fact that the knowledge class has “preferred to understand drama, literature and indeed popular culture as areas of determination …rather than areas of production.” Can’t we look at them as both?
Last but not least, his discussion of the way we relate to popular cultural texts in a “more real” way than politics (p. 37) sort of brigs together the whole idea that the public sphere is always looked at as being related to politics, when it can be two guys having a beer, two women chatting in the gym, people watching a movie, students discussing a game or a club of fans of…something. Nevertheless, I do have a little issue with the idea that we are fascinated with this popular cultural texts because “they allow us to fantasize about the ideals and hopes we have for society, as well as ponder what we fear” (p. 38). Do we really want our society to be like the one in the movies, TV series and videogames we consume with such passion?
The Heikkilä and Kunelius article was a bit too long for my taste and I would’ve liked to read more answers from their interviews. The fact that they were semi-structured means that some very interesting and unexpected avenues of discussion opened up, but I don’t think we got to read about them. I don’t have much to say about the reading except that I’ve lived in different countries and the US is always news. We could blame it of the fact that US politics affect the world. We could also agree that it’s more “an economic rather than political” issue (p. 71), but the fact is that what happens in the US usually has some impact in the world. Last but not least, we could argue that the US is constantly producing goods that further strengthen its already powerful cultural imperialism. Why not all of them rolled into one?
Finally, the Schudson piece was very entertaining. The idea that conversation “has no end outside itself” (p. 299) is something I can agree with, although not all the time. How can we classify conversations? The “two kinds of conversations” thing (p. 302) strikes me as something that needs to be applied to online communities. I believe that, when faced with the infinite amount of information and sites online, people gravitate towards what they know and like. In that sense, the Internet helps reinforce their ideas, turning the hope for a more diverse, informed and accepting public sphere on its head. Also, the author states that “what democratic conversations are about comes from public sources” and that the main source has historically been newspapers (p. 305), so what happens now? Are important conversations less and less as younger generations turn their backs to newspapers? Also, if “democracy creates democratic conversation more than conversation naturally creates democracy” (p. 306), how bad are we ignoring none-democratic societies? What about conversations that, for political reasons, have to be kept quiet, do they count?

Lei's questions

(1)In Michael Schudson’s view, the most important things of a public sphere are rules allowing citizens to speak and problem solving as its result. Is what Schudson conceptualized as public sphere similar as what Fraser defined as “strong public sphere” which regarded its goal as to influence the decision making? In other word, is Schudson too narrow since he only valued one kind of public sphere?

(2) In Schudson’s rule-governed public sphere, ground rules are used to encourage pertinent speaking. However, in Fraser and other public sphere scholars’ discussions, rules are used to exclude ordinary people from accessing the sphere. The dilemma made me think what could be the best approaches to make sure the participatory equality. And how can we deal with the contradictory nature of the “rules” of the public sphere?

(3) When Joke Herms talked about internet as public sphere, he said that “What we are witnessing is not the coming together of groups of friends, but groups of strangers who aim to connect to others based on shared and disputed agendas and goals.” On the contrary, Schudson argued that “Democratic conversation is conversation not among intimates nor among strangers but among citizens who are acquainted by virtue of their citizenship.” As analogy, I also remember that when speculating on citizen media, quite a few scholars don't like the word “citizen” since it cancelled the qualification of those people without citizenship. Then, how can we understand the participants of public sphere? Do we need to have a fixed definition of the public sphere participants as what Schudson did?

(4) Friedland et al “Even though the public sphere produces only this ‘weak’ form of power, the political system depends on the public sphere's capacity to generate legitimacy.” In the age of internet, the media system depends on the weaker form of power developed in the online public sphere that “the informal public sphere has a medium that in principle allows for large-scale expression of mass opinion in forms that systematically affect the institutional media system.” Do political system, institutional media system and informal online sphere constitute a hierarchy of public spheres? Or are the latter two parallel?

(5) “In the contemporary networked public sphere, however, Habermas's requirement of media independence and autonomy may no longer be either possible or necessary”. If nowadays institutional media system is inevitably more and more intertwinement with political and commercial power, and internet provides more ideal condition for public sphere, how can we understand mass media as public sphere? How much feature left for it to be public sphere?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Teresa's questions

1- As Friedland et al.’s article demonstrates, Habermas’ public sphere theory has evolved, leaving behind the idea of a monolithic public sphere as well as the historical and normative accounts posed in Structural Transformation. Now, the theory seems to take into account the complex relationships between different parts of a society. These theoretical evolutions are common. The current state of, for example, agenda-settin theory is very different from the 1972 study. The same happens with feminist theory, knowledge gap hypothesis or any theory we may think of. How do we, as scholars, deal with this evolution? Is it fair to criticize a theory based on the early stages as it happens with public sphere? It seems that many of the criticisms –e.g., that there are multiple public spheres, that the notion of public sphere is based on an idealized historical account, etc—were addressed by Habermas. But many scholars are still relying on his first work. How should we deal with this?
2- The idea of public sphere is inherently linked to democracy. There is an underlying, taken-for-granted, assumption that the fact of getting together and talk should contribute to the democratic project. Schudson criticizes this notion by saying that not any kind of conversation serves democracy. Related to this idea, David asks what type of conversation would serve or be part of the public sphere.. civility? rationality? But I go beyond and wonder… Why the notion of public sphere is necessarily associated with a traditional role of politics, deliberativeness, rationality and so forth. Related to what Hermes posed in the article about popular culture, I go back to my question posed last class: Does a group of women talking about family issues and supporting each other constitute public sphere? This is just an example that comes to my mind but we can think of anything... a group retirees, etc. If we think that a public sphere has a traditional political role, the answer is no. But why should we link the concept of public sphere to democracy and traditional politics? Isn’t it beneficial enough for society to think about public sphere as a group of people who get together to support each other and organize themselves for whatever purpose? Has the concept of public sphere been hijacked?
3- Schudson distinguishes two types of conversations: the sociable and the problem-solving talk. He argues that the latter contributes to the democratic project rather than the former. Although it is a very good point, I wonder to what extent we should dichotomize both types of conversations. Aren’t they so closely related that one may lead you to the other? Although we can make a theoretical distinction, is it practical to make it?
4- Habermas asserts that the public sphere that serves democracy is the one where people get together and discuss in egalitarian terms. That is, people from different backgrounds assemble and form consensus. Schudson argues that is the problem-solving conversation the one that serves the democratic project. If Internet facilitates connection but, as Hermes said, “reflection” is not what Internet users want or do. So, I wonder to what extent the Internet is the new public sphere in Habermasian terms?
5- One of the goals of Heikkila’s article was to reveal ideas about the European public sphere that shape journalists’ work. In order to do so, the author interviews over a hundred of journalists, and admits that journalists found the questions “baffling and irritatingly theoretical.” The author argues that this reaction may be due to their self-perception as “down-to-earth.” I wonder whether is it meaningful or methodologically valid or fair to force our interviewees to think about the topic in our terms rather than use their language –or a common language-- and interpret their ideas afterwards?

5 Questions from David for Mar 23

In “The Networked Public Sphere” Friedland, Hove and Rojas push their idea that “the realm of interpersonal communications is …(being) radically transformed by the extension of networked communication (p. 17)”, but the examples they give primarily illustrate how the internet is creating these networks. I wonder if their analysis overlooks the operation and creation of new networks in ‘old’ forums such as ‘Daily Show’ viewers, NPR listeners, and the potential for other new public spaces emerging in old channels…?

Is deliberation idealized? On p. 23 of “The Networked Public Sphere”, Friedman, Hove and Rojas” point to Sunstein and Benkler’s arguments that the Internet can be used to ‘obtain access to many minds’, via wikis and so forth. But on the web, such intelligence aggregators are equally weighted with unipolar blogs or sites espousing narrow perspectives and special interest agendas; aren’t we assuming a great deal about both the wisdom of the masses and the intelligence (and inquisitiveness) of the participant/deliberator?

Heikkila and Kunelius claim that “…the transnationalisation of power …calls in turn for transnationalised public spheres.” (‘Journalists Imagining The European Sphere’, p. 78) Isn’t this just longhand for a Habermasian concept of global citizenry? That is, doesn’t this presume the possibility for global deliberation? Id so, how might this global delivberation differ from what we currently have (whether we’re talking about transnational communication via the web, or transnational institutions like the U.N.)?

Schudson makes the argument that “Democratic conversation is …dependent on…the prior existence of a public world” (‘Why Conversation is Not the Soul of Democracy’, p. 304). But why should this ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ proposition matter, except to deflate the romance of conversation? Is Schudson suggesting that because the conversation comes later that democracy is any less dependent upon it for its survival or fulfillment?

As a follow on to Schudson’s inquiry about the ‘constitutive element of democracy’ (p. 297): what are the qualities of conversation for it to serve its purpose in the public sphere? Civility? Rationality?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seongbae's questions for week 8

1. At the end of page 76 on The Public Sphere, Habermas says, “in the trasition from the literary journalism of private indicidulats to the public services of the mass media, the public sphere was transformed by the influx of private interests, which received special prominence in the mass media.” The notion of “influx of private interests” seems reasonable considering that we are living in a democracy full of different ideas. To me, however, the influx of private interests seem to narrow down to one or two dominant ideas over time. So could this mean that public sphere is always narrowed down to a representation of single powerful opinion?

2. Habermas points out that the role of daily newspapers has changed from mere institutions for the publication of news to a dealer in public opinion. I believe newspaper industry has been maintained this way since this change happened. But what about opinions of minor view? I know newspapers today present minority opinions often. Has this hindered formation of public opinion? Or perhaps has this possibly reinforced the formation of public opinion by showing weak resistance to the majority opinion?

3. I am confused by the following statement on page 77 from Habernas’s article: “the liberal model of the public sphere cannot be applied to the actual conditions of an industrially advanced mass democracy organized in the form of the social welfare state.” I tried to find out major reasons behind this claim, but it wasn’t clear from the text.

4. What exactly is the process of forming public sphere? Is it something that occurs naturally or does it need some sorts of opinion leaders? Would public sphere be generated when random people gathered to talk about random issues?

5. From my understanding, all three scholars regarded democracy as the fundamental base or prerequisite for public sphere to take place. Would it be impossible to form public sphere in other types of political systems?

Lei's questions about public sphere

Fraser proposed the idea of “subaltern counter-publics” where “subordinated social groups invent and circulate counter discourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.” And one of its two functions is as “bases and training grounds for agitational activities directed toward wider publics’.

Kellner argued that “he (Habermas) omits the arguably necessary presuppositions for democratic deliberation and argumentation—an informed and intellectually competent citizenry.”

I found Kellner’s argument of “competent citizenry” also applies to Fraser’s counter or alternative public sphere. So my questions are:

(1)Is that the precondition of alternative public sphere still needs the participation of people in higher socio-economic status? For instance, many participatory video projects are always led by media professionals and participated in by some illiterate people in rural area.

(2) If not, how can they be “trained” to wider publics, thus realizing inter-public communication, if all of them in this public are not literate and without and economic or cultural resources at all? There still exists inequality among “a multiplicity of public spheres”.

(3)If the above precondition assumption is true (i.e. led by professional), then is that the counter-publics or alternative publics still “accommodate some expressive modes and not others”?

Kellner, “from this perspective, then, the media are part of a constitutional balance of power, providing checks and balances against the other political spheres and should perform a crucial function of informing cultivating a citizenry capable of actively participating in democratic politics.

(4)Combining both Kellner and Fraser’s critics of Habermasian public sphere, can we say that we need a preliminary sphere to prepare ordinary citizen to enter a public sphere (either Habermasian or counter/alternative public sphere)?

At the end of the article, Kellner pointed out that “a new democratic politics will thus be concerned that new media and computer technologies be used to serve the interests of the people…allowing a full range of voices and ideas to become part of the cyberdemocracy of the future.”

This argument reminds me of Mouffle’s thinking of new media as public space. “…For me democracy is precisely this agonistic struggle where you are being bombarded by different views. The new media are not going into that direction. It reminds me of a form of autism, where people are only listening to and speaking with people that agree with them. To put it in a nutshell, I do not see that the new media would automatically be supportive to the creation of an agonistic public space.”

(5) Can we undertand like this, new media produces a multiplicity of public spheres, yet could not help realize inter-public communication? Or, is that inter-public communication can only be achieved offline?

Teresa's discussion questions

1- Kellner argues that the new media have multiplied information and discussion. Thus, it provides potential for a more informed citizenry and more extensive democratic participation. I wonder to what extent this is an idealized view of the Internet. On the one hand, it is true that new technologies open new public spheres for discussion. But, on the other hand, it has been demonstrated that more media choices is not necessarily good for creating a more informed citizenry. With more media choice, the audience for news becomes smaller because those who prefer entertainment can avoid completely politics and public affairs issues (Prior, 2007). Therefore, does the Internet really provide potential for a more informed citizenry?

2- Kellner asserts that in his book Television and the Crisis of Democracy, he contends that the mainstream broadcasting media are not serving the public interest, therefore they are not helping in constructing a democratic society. Although I haven’t read his book, this argument is similar to Putnam’s idea of television as the culprit for disengagement. I find this argument very problematic: Should we blame the technology (television), the system (commercial, public), or the content for serving or failing to serve the public interest? Not all mainstream broadcasting media are the same. Perhaps, one could argue that the American mainstream broadcasting media are not helping but it is harder to make such a case for the European media. Therefore, does this means that rather than the technology, i.e., television, the culprit would be the system or how it is managed?

3- Many critical authors seem to be anchored in the past. Adorno and Horkheimer criticize the emergence of popular/mass culture. In addition, Habermas applies as norm or ideal a face-to-face communication and discussion. Do these critiques lead us somewhere given the fact that mass media and new media will not fade away? I understand the point of being critical and aware of the system we are immersed. But what’s the idea of keep idealizing the past. It will not come back. Isn’t it better to seek alternatives in the present era?

4- Fraser criticizes Habermas for proposing a single, comprehensive burgeois conception of the public sphere. According to her, this excludes other less official public spheres. Although it is a good point, Habermas defines public sphere as a body of private persons gathered to discuss matters of public concern or common interest. Is it fair to focus the criticisms on the burgeois aspect of the public sphere rather than the definition?

5- Is the public sphere defined by the act of gathering and discussing or by the content of the discussion (enlightened conversations of public interest)? In other words, if women gather to discuss about private/family issues, would that be considered public sphere?

Yukun's Questions

Question about bourgeois class and middle class

I am still confused with bourgeois class. Most critical theories criticize bourgeois class. After I read Habermas’s and Nancy’s works, for me, bourgeois class and middle class are identical. Is it true? If it is true, most theories or political scientists agree with that strong middle class is the basis of democratic society. So shouldn’t we take more positive attitude toward to bourgeois class?

Question about institutional research approach to study public sphere and democracy.

No matter Habermas, Kellner or Nancy, all took an institutional research approach to study public sphere and democracy. Their differences or debates are about how to build an institution to achieve the best public sphere and democracy. But, based my personal experience, I believe democracy is a value or culture rather than an institution. Without this value or culture, public sphere or democracy will be ruined. I don’t if there is any scholar studying public sphere from other perspectives.

Question about civil society

Debates about civil society of public sphere remind me the debates of global governance. There are two critiques about civil society in global governance. I applied them in public sphere. First, how does civil society represent all various opinions? Second, how does the civil society form agreements accepted by majority member to achieve well-governance?

Without an authority, it doesn’t mean that civil society will reflect all the opinions among society. It is always controlled by some classes in the civil society. Like what Nancy mentioned in page 522, the civil society is dominated by male hegemony. Many scholars have argued that this is the myth of civil society. Pluralist model doesn’t guarantee the formation of plural opinions. Nancy and Kellner have many comments about that. However, if there are too many different opinions in the public sphere, how to form a consensus wasn’t mentioned in those articles.

Question about polarized opinions in public sphere.

From Habermas, Kellner to Nancy, all believed that finally there must be a consensus in public sphere, no matter comprehensive or un-comprehensive, just or unjust. I doubt that. If we thought public sphere as a market, sometimes the market is big enough to form polarized opinion. For example, due to booming development of Internet, radical opinions or people can be organized through virtual platforms. I am wondering if unlimited development of public sphere will bring polarized or fragmented opinions rather than consensus.

Question about democracy

At last, I want to discuss a normative question on democracy. It seems that all three scholars deemed that democracy is a goal. The aim of public sphere is to achieve democracy. But I challenge this logic. Sometime more inclusive public sphere brings more exclusive democracy. From my original country Taiwan’s experience, comprehensive open of public sphere just bring a format of democracy rather than high quality democracy. Without value, culture or tradition of democracy, the cost of democracy is that one generation of young people was destroyed. For me, the public sphere and democracy mean the rise of extremely right wing politicians, more ethnic conflicts and a more fragmented society.

On the other hand, Singapore, without open public sphere or democracy, has most incorruptible government in the world, the best economy performance and multiple cultures.

Democracy? So What?

Sun Ho's Questions - Week 8

Week eight: Media, Democracy and the Public Sphere

* From Habermas’s concept of “the public sphere” (pg 73): it means “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed” and “access is guaranteed to all citizens.” There, “citizens behave as a public body” rather than “behave like business or professional people transacting private affairs.”

Q1. Since the Internet and blogs gained our attention, their potential impact on the public sphere has been largely discussed. But to what extent does this space meet Habermas’s ideal of the public sphere?

Q2. Does it serve as the “media of public sphere” like newspapers and magazines, radio and television? Or is it somewhat different from those traditional media in that it facilitates two-way communication between citizens?

* Some other terms used to describe what we see now on the Internet in relation to Habermas’s public sphere: public discourse and civic engagement.

Q3. Those scholarly works often see online discussions as facilitating public discourse and fostering civic engagement. It’s been years since the term virtual democracy was first introduced – is the Internet really opening up public discourse and engaging citizens to address common issues? What do you we think of this possibility now?

Q4. What are some of the barriers to participation? The concept of digital divide has dominated the debate so far. For those who are uninvolved and suffer from Internet illiteracy and information poverty, is the Internet another form of ‘top-down’ communications?

* On page 18, Kellner states, “the rise of the Internet expands the realm for democratic participation and debate and creates new public spaces for political intervention.”

Q5. Another set of terms related to Kellner’s statement as he mentions about political intervention: informed citizenry and deliberative democracy. There are different thoughts and research results on whether we are better informed or still under-informed citizens with the new technology. Assuming we are better informed, can we really say citizens are “deliberating” online? Is this leading to the formation of “rational” public opinion?

Public Sphere

This weeks readings where all related in a way that it just makes sense to discuss them as a whole. To start with the original work, Habermas, it semmed to me, had a utopic idea in mind in the sense that "all citizens" are guaranteed access to it. I think we all know just how untrue that is. Second, he spoke about both opinion and control (p. 73)... what control? All my democratically-inclined cohorts will surely point, just as Habermas did, that control rolls around every four years... so what happened to guaranteed access to all? In this sense, to participate in the public sphere you need to be a certain age, have certain standing and, up to a few years ago, a certain sex and color. In other words, I truly beleive that the public sphere is usually the less powerful middle-aged white man complaining about what the very powerful middle-aged white man is doing or not doing.
This forces me to bring in Fraser: "The claim to open access in particular was not made good" (p. 521). She brings in a plethora of reasons of why the initial idea didn't work and what historical developments forced it farther away from what it was originally intended to be. Most powerful, in my opinion, is the "welfare-state" in which "society and the state became mutually interwined" (p. 521). Now we have a weird mix of private, public, state, market, church and a multiplicity of groups with very different, and in some cases violently clashing, ideas of what should be discussed in the public sphere. This "plurality of competing publics" (p. 523) was totally ignored by Habermas: can we really blame a middle-aged white man for ignoring women, blacks, latinos, the working class, noisy nationalists, screaming revolutionaries, peasants, etc? Fraser thinks we can, and so do I.
Ths discussion on stratified societies and egalitarian societies was truly fascinating. The idea that a single public sphere could be better in some cases than multiple publci spheres gave me something to think about for a few hours. In anyc ase, I felt like the discussion fell back into a utopian-hole in an attempt to apply the concept to an utopian society: a society "whose basic framework does not generate unequal social groups in structural relations of dominance and subordination"..."societies without classes and without gener or racial divisions of labor" (p. 529). What society is that? Can I move there tomorrow? If we cannot separate public sphere from democracy and the US is the craddle of democracy, can we say the US has succesfully applied publci sphere multiplicity? Is it an egalitarian society then? Isn't the idea of a single public sphere a silly return to hegemonic controls and pressures?
The next important point, as far as I'm concerned, was the discussion of private and public matters. According to Fraser, "only participants themselves can decide what is and what is not of common concern to them. However, there is no guarantee that all of them will agree" (p. 531). What happens to those that don't agree? Lets say they go on to from another public sphere (we already agreed on the fact that many is better than one). Then, at some point, the members of that new group come to a disagreement: a new group is formed and so on and so forth. This has actually happened due to political, sexual, economic and religious differences, to name just a few. And this brings me to one of my areas of research: publci engagement.
If the purpose of the public sphere is to generate publci opinion and actions in search of a common good, how can they be succesfull if they have 11,342,987 different common goods? Should we homogenize the whole deal...for the common good? Who will chose what that finally is? How can we ever get over "individual preferences" (p. 531) when we are dealing with so many individuals? In my research, the end result of the power to create as many spheres as we want is that they become lost amongst so many others and their power is null due to overcrowding and lack of support. Diluted drops of social concern in an endless sea of public spheres with no power to get to the media and effect change. That is the biggest problem I have with the Kellner piece: "A democratic politics will teach individuals how to use new technologies, to articulate their own experiences and interests, and to promote democratic debate and diversity, allowing a full range of voices and ideas to become part of the cyberdemocracy of the future" (p. 19). Please, I beg you to excuse my language: Bullshit!!!!! Will this new democratic politics close the digital divide? Will they provide the poor with that new technology so that they can give their two cents? How will cyberdemocracy reach those that are not cyber?
The technological revolutionof our time thusinvolves the creation of new public spheres and the need for democratic strategies to promote the project of democratization and to provide access to more people to get involved in more political issues and struggles so that democracy might have a chance in the new millennium" (p. 19) . Oh, God, please. Utopia anyone? Seems to me that democracy will forget about you even quicker if you don't get yourself a computer soon. How can we critique Habermas and finish our piece with this democratic fest of positive technological revolution? Look at the current state of civic engagement, public manifestations "for the common good", etc.
Lets move on, lets say we do get together, we do find a common concern, we do create a general public opinion about it and we finally have "an aura of independence, autonomy and legitimacy on the 'public opinion' generated in it" (p. 534). What do we do with it now? What power does that grant us? Why were Molotov cocktails never mentioned in any of the readings? Maybe that's what Fraser meant when she spoke of "authoritative decisions"?(p. 535). I hope so.
If our theories need to help us understand the world, we really need to work on this "indispensable" (Fraser, p. 520) theory that is perfectly applicable to white male-ruled "democracies" and not the rest of the world. If you don't think I'm right, try to publish your opinionated articles in Cuba or Colombia... best of luck with that. The public sphere is two things: a total waste of time and the most important tool we have to effect change in our society. It is truly important that we learn how to use it effectively, overcoming all of its shortcomings, in order to get something done. We can't keep our "as if" mentality and hope for a better tomorrow. We can't pat ourselves in the back beleiving that the Internet really "expands the realm of democratic participation" (p. 18) because it does only for those that can afford it. We need to kick the"social passivity" (p. 9) created by media to the curb and grab those Molotov cocktails... than again, I'm probably alone on that one, totally left out of the public sphere. No big deal, I'll create my own!

Week 8 questions from David

1) Does Habermas idealize the public sphere? Has public opinion ever been formed by genuinely open political debate aimed at forging consensus on public issues? Moreover, doesn't Habermas' public sphere essentially conform to the same basic rules and modes as bourgeois society in general (white, property-owning males?) If so, doesn't this suggest that 'public consensus' is at its root about forging agreements that protect private interests?

2) Habermas' underlying assumption appears to be that democracy without active participation is not truly democratic; that it is essentially rooted in "the conversation" ("citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion...about matters of general interest." D&K p. 73). Without repeating the question of whether this may be idealized, isn't Habermas overlooking those institutions that make it possible to have such a forum (from the people necessarily left out of the conversation because they're running the coffee houses, to the farms busy at work producing the milk and cream, the shop-owners, or even the police maintaining order in the streets)? In other words, is Habermas's conception of democratic participation too narrow?

3) Habermas' observations seem rooted in the idea of consumer passivity, in which citizens "ingest and absorb passively" entertainment and information (Kellner, p. 6). Can't consumerism be viewed as an active (albeit binary) function? That is, if consumption is either done or not done, entertainment or information is either accepted or rejected by the masses thereby forcing a change in production and tailoring production to suit the tastes and demands of the audience. Why does Habermas conceive the production/consumption role as a one-way street?

4) Why does Kellner believe that the media must 'mediate' between political spheres (Kellner, p. 16)? If the public spheres are sufficiently expansive, couldn't technology serve as a conduit for the transmission of information necessary to maintain the kind of watchdog role that Kellner imagines the media serving (a bit more like what McLuhan suggests)? Moreover, isn't media essentially a private function with its own interests and, therefore, not to be trusted?

5) Kellner seems to long for a kind of public access media (akin to his own 'award-winning' efforts in Austin, see Kellner p. 18) which would make it possible for the forging of legitimately public consensuses. But in the real world, is there any evidence that public access contributes to a greater (or even better) conversation, much less a healthier democracy? Whether one is talking about public access TV, or even the unhinged frontier of the internet, don't interest groups tend to coagulate rather than intermingle? In other
words, doesn't real-life tell us that in those places where public forums are created, they tend to be populated by private interests contending for broader public recognition?

David D. Brown

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Marcus' weekly questions

Q1) I agree with Ang’s argument that a great deal of academic research has a potential commercial benefit. I would argue that benefit does not always taint the research, and I would also agree that just about any research can be used politically. But I think it goes deeper than that – I think that a great deal of academic research begins because of commercial funding, either directly or through tuition dollars, so it’s difficult to disconnect it from the economic sphere. But that turns it into a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, and it’s impossible to determine completely if the market drives research or if research drives the market. So would it not be better to simply analyze the whole structure holistically, instead of critiquing one particular research field or academic practice?

Q2) If journalism traditionally reflects masculine hegemony, as Parameswaran suggests, then what does the future hold for feminism, journalism and journalism studies? The most patriarchal media are dying out, with newspapers leading the way – and even they aren’t as patriarchal as they once were, I think I’ve had one male managing editor in the … pause for thought, glance at a calendar since I’m awful at math … 22 months since I graduated undergrad, and most of my editors at the Trinity newspaper were also female. So as newspapers evolve and the internet continues to grow, will media studies and new media retain that same masculine tone? I doubt they will – I don’t think newspapers or TV news will cease entirely, but I think that the traditional hegemonic tone will have to change, since, well, they won’t be in charge anymore.

Q3-5) I agree with Williams, or at least with what I think Williams was trying to say – hegemony is complicated. It’s not always that a government or a media elite are trying to subjugate folks with particular ideologies, it’s just the standard practice that a culture has grown accustomed to. I’d agree with Gabino that most people don’t think about it every day, and I’d wager that most academics don’t integrate the concept into their personal lives. But if it’s not “singular,” as he argues, then how do you distinguish its natural elements with its media-influenced criteria? What if there are personal influences beyond media and political structures – are the media and political spheres of Austin pushing a pro-UT hegemony, for example, or is it simply that people in this town have personal ties to the school? And would that hegemony – which I don’t think has been studied in as great a detail – even be all that negative?

Seongbae's questions for week 7

1. On page 174 of Ien Ang’s “On the Politics of Empirical Audience Research,” Ang says, the “ethnographic approach has gained popularity in both critical media studies and mainstream mass communications research.” The definition of ethnographic from the article wasn’t clear enough to me, so I did some research on this topic to clarify the term. The most helpful definition of ethnography I found was “"a descriptive account of social life and culture in a particular social system based on detailed observations of what people actually do” (Johnson 2000). So does this mean ethnographic studies are more of a behaviorist approach? Meaning that thoughts and motives are not too important since it can’t be measured?

2. According to Ien Ang, qualitative methods are more effective and acceptable than quantitative ones in ethnographic studies. Since ethnographic studies tend to generalize certain characteristics about certain group of people, shouldn’t we rely more on quantitative method? Conducting in-depth interviews, of course, can be helpful. I just believe bigger sample sized study such as survey are more useful to generalize certain characteristics about particular group of people.

3. Ang makes an interesting argument about gender differences for TV audiences. “Husbands regard home as the site of leisure while wives view it as the site of work.” This seems like a convincing statement, but I think Ang (1991) and Brunsdon (1986) were too hash to draw a conclusion based on typical stereotypes of husbands and wives. Are there ways to prove this? I remember reading a newspaper article about women watching TV more than men thus having more relaxed feeling when watching TVs. Could that statement about men and women’s TV viewing attitude still applicable today?

4. After reading Dick Hebdige’s article about subculture and Ien Ang’s article, I became curious about relationship between ethnographic approach and subculture. Aren’t those basically same approaches? Both of them focus on particular group with certain cultural common ground. To me, the core concepts are really similar.

5. Stuart Hall on “Encoding/Decoding” talks about importance of decoding for message to have an effect. He says, “Before message can have an effect, it must first be appropriated as a meaningful discourse and be meaningfully decoded. It is this set of decoded meanings which have an effect, influence, entertain, instruct or persuade, with very complex perceptual, cognitive, emotional, ideological, or behavioral consequences.”

I don’t necessarily think this is true. We all know how subconscious mind can play a role when media effect kicks in. For example, people do not decode messages of advertisements most of the time. People might still watch it but do not process the information as a meaningful discourse. Some of the advertisements, however, still carry certain effects on consumer wants and behaviors. So is meaningfully decoding message is really a prerequisite for media effects to occur?


Although I consider the Williams piece a very good introduction to the rest of the readings, I can’t help but differ greatly in some points. As always, I want to start by stating that all of this could simply be the result of me misinterpreting the piece. In any case, I’ll start with his discussion of workers: “the most important thing a worker produces is himself, himself in the fact of that kind of labour, or the broader historical emphasis of men producing themselves, themselves and their history” (p. 133). I understand what he was going for, but when we read this 29 years later, we have a different perspective on the importance of what worker produce and what they are. I also think that “piano-maker is base, but pianist is superstructure” (p. 133) is really going back to all those things that we had already established were wrong with Horkheimer and Adorno and their hi/low culture debate. Am I alone on this?
Next, I found his… concern with emphasizing “that hegemony is not a singular” (p. 135) a little weird. I don’t think hegemony is a concept that everyone uses as part of their daily vocabulary. Those that do, I’m wiling to bet, are in academia, thus, those people are aware of the definition of hegemony and thoroughly understand that it’s not “a” or “the” but simply hegemony and all that it entails.
Last but not least, his idea that “most writing, in any period, including our own, is a form of contribution to the effective dominant culture” (p. 140) threw me off a bit. Does that mean that “subculture” books are hegemonic in some way? Revolutionary literature and banned books contribute to the dominant culture? What is the role of censorship in all this?
The Hebdige piece was very interesting. My thesis was on a very interesting subculture in Puerto Rico and I read parts of the translated Subculture: The Meaning of Style. I think this reading not only brings back almost everything we have read and puts it into perspective; it also serves as a starting point to discuss the interaction between hegemony and culture. I believe the central point of the piece is that, by a process that has been repeated time and time again, media takes the “noise” (p. 153) and somehow finds a way to incorporate it into society. We could say that the essence of subcultures is killed by turning them into mainstream, understood, almost accepted, imitated “sounds” that even contribute to capitalism (i.e. clothing). In other words, Otherness is always reduced to Sameness. Is there a way to escape this? How much of that can be blamed on the research we do?
Also, I couldn’t help feeling like this had a lot to do with our society being “spectaclist”, as discussed last week. We like to look at “freaks”, put them in magazines and reality shows; they’ll eventually become regular. As Dr. Tremayne once explained, this practice forces us to perpetually reinvent what a freak is.
The Encoding/Decoding piece is central to all that we are doing in our individual research in one way or another. When we accept the fact that if no “meaning” is taken, there can be no “consumption” (p. 164), we can start to see why broadcast is more or less like a unidirectional train that leaves many, many consumers on the side. Then again, if we do a very specific product that will have much meaning for, say, Latinos, are we loosing Asians, withes and African Americans? Are they simply decoding in a very different way?
On the three hypothetical positions on TV deconstruction, I think the “dominant-hegemonic position” (p. 171) is, unfortunately, still seen today. Should we blame it on lack of education? The second one, the “negotiated code” (p. 172), is, hopefully, what that thing we insist on calling the “mass” is doing. Last, the “oppositional code” (p. 173) is, I believe, not only a tool but also a weapon. Now, for those quantitative intellects in class, how do we measure this?
This brings me to Ang. I think this piece should be re-titled: The power of interpretation. In any case, while reading it I couldn’t help but feeling like it was a call to move towards an academic understanding that respects the methodological differences: “What matters is not the certainty of knowledge about audiences, but an ongoing critical and intellectual engagement with multifarious ways in which we constitute ourselves through media consumption” (p. 189).
Now that the impossibility of achieving that one Truth has been stated, I completely agree with the idea that “the moment of decoding should be considered as a relatively autonomous process in which a constant struggle over the meaning of the text is fought out. Textual meanings do not reside in the texts themselves: a certain text can come to mean different things depending on the interdiscursive context in which viewers interpret it” (p. 177). What about the interdiscursive context in which the text is encoded? How do we deal with cultural differences inside an equal political/economical context?
The last thing I want to discuss about this is the female/male TV watching issue. Things have changed a lot since 1991, not enough, but a lot nonetheless. To say that the way women watch TV is more or less culturally arranged and not due to some “essential femininity” (p. 187) could de debated. I believe research has shown that men think in a more linear, simplistic way while women have the capacity to process many thoughts at one time. Men talk about one thing at a time while women can focus on a few things at once without getting them mixed. Isn’t this very important to all of our research? Is it politically incorrect to say that men are women are different in research?

I finally got my acrobat reader to work last night so I haven’t finished he Parameswaran article yet, but I will bring my thoughts to class.

Lei's questions for week 7

(1)/(2)Hebdige’s “from Subculture: the Meaning of Style” raised a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction between subculture and mainstream media. On the one hand, subculture such as Punk could only serve to challenge the dominating culture if it keeps in the local level. But a local-based Punk group could do little to influence the whole society. On the other hand, we agree that mainstream media is an arena where various groups contest for constructing meanings. But as long as the subculture is incorporated by mainstream industry/media, their challenging meanings become “frozen”. The band Oasis is just one of the examples. Its music got recognition and then soon got incorporated by mainstream music company. “Youth culture style may begin by issuing symbolic challenges, but they must inevitably end by establishing new sets of conventions; by creating new commodities, new industries or rejuvenating old ones.”(P156)

It seems that Williams had the similar concern when he talked about “the complexity of hegemony”. There are some alternative opinions/values/meanings within the hegemony, “whatever the degree of internal controversy and variation, they do not in the end exceed the limits of the central corporate definitions.” (P137)

My questions are:

(1) How can we deal with the paradoxical relationship between subculture and mainstream culture? Is that subculture will be inevitably mainstreamalized if they win the public attention?
(2) Is that alternative opinion/value/meanings could only be alternative to the hegemony when it is expressed through alternative media? Can mainstream media still be the battlefield?

(3)Hall proposed three hypothetical positions of decoding, namely, dominant-hegemonic position, negotiated position, and oppositional position. In terms of the third one, Hall said that “it is possible for a viewer perfectly to understand both the literal and the connotative inflection given by a discourse but to decode the message in a globally contrary way. He/she detotalizes the message in the preferred code in order to retotalize the massage within some alternative framework of reference.” My impression is that these three positions are all interrelated. It seems impossible for a viewer exactly understand the way in which the producer encoded the message. In addition, a viewer’s understanding, thus the decoding, is always restricted by his/her own cultural construction. So my question is, does there really exist an oppositional position? Is that most viewers hold the second position, negotiated position?

(4)Questions about “class”.
When speculating on “hegemony”, “ideology”, and other concepts in cultural studies, many scholars would use the concept “class”. For example, Hebdige “if we pause to reflect for a moment, it should be obvious that access to the means by which ideas are disseminated in our society) is not the same for all classes.” Hall “Hegemony… is not universal and ‘given’ to the continuing rule of a particular class.” Volosinov, “Sign becomes the arena of the class struggle.” I feel the concept “class” kind of confusing. And the understanding of “class” even influences my understanding of the author’s point. Some times these scholars referred to Marx’s use of “class” in the context of capitalist society. Some times it seems that scholars deconstructed Marx’s concept of “class” and regarded it as gender, race and other social dimensions. So my question turns out that, how can we understand, or use, “class”? If we regard sign/media/culture is the arena of class struggle, can we say gender is also a class in a patriarchy society? Or we can only use “class” in socio-economic sense?

(5) Williams said that “we should look not for components of a product but for the conditions of a practice. When we find ourselves looking at a particular work, or groups of works, often realizing, as we do so, their essential community as well as their irreducible individuality, we should find ourselves attending first to the reality of their practice and the conditions of the practice as it was then executed.” But he further argued that such conditions “have been alienated to…mere background.” (P143) Is “condition of practice” as Williams coined different to historical context? How can we understand the “condition of the practice”?

5 questions for Week 7 (from David)

1) It seems to me Raymond Williams is very much in keeping with the spirit of incorporating 'the voice of the common person' as part of his critique, a la the Birmingham crowd, but I also get a sense that he's trying to do something else, too. On p. 143 of D&K, Williams writes "(w)hen we find ourselves looking at a particular work, or group of works, often realizing as we do so their essential community...we should find ourselves attending first to the reality of their practice and the conditions of their practice." I get a sense he's trying to rescue Marxism from its modern critics by elevating some of the 'background' of production practices...and I wonder what Williams would think of McLuhan??

2) Let's get this out of the way: Hebidge rocks. But I do wonder whether Hebidge thinks (or would acknowledge) there's something basically generational about the "original innovations which signify subculture" (D&K, p156), and the media which freeze-dries it and commodifies it. I ask this because it seems to me Hebidge is basically saying something we take for granted/as a given today about the relationship between generations---though I wonder if that's because society/pop culture has embraced his critique?

3) I find the concept of naturalized coding (D&K p. 167) as explained by Stuart Hall simply fascinating (and difficult to refute); but I'm not sure I understand how these codes become "habituated' in the encoding/decoding process. Isn't there something more than mere repetition of images/language going on here? It seems to me there has to be, because otherwise the plurality of decoding (individuals hearing different messages) would, if anything (it seems to be) be I guess I'm trying to understand the real-world process of making a sign 'iconic' in the sense that most get the same message...

4) The longer I spend with these readings, the more I appreciate what Ang describes as "relativiz(ing) the academic commitment to increasing knowledge per se, and resist(ing) the temptation of what Stuart Hall has called the 'codification' of cultural studies into a stable realm
of established theories and canonized mythologies (D&K p.182). So now I'm thinking: are we basically looking at a fissure with the 'Stuart Hall's versus the 'Raymond Williams's both trying to reclaim the validity of cultural studies via separate paths? (Or am I reading too much into this?) Is seems to me as much as Ang is critical of the social sciences approach, she's also frustrated with the idea of cultural studies trying to develop strategies to outflank the empiricists, no?

5) I enjoyed Parameswaran's challenge to cultural studies scholars, but I did wonder about just how many ideas were bound up in the pursuit of feminist perspectives vis a vis globalism. It seems that the very foundation of critical studies is contentious enough, needing for conceptual clarity the definitions of hegemony, agency, etc. that Parameswaran discounts as 'turf policing barriers' (p. 200); adding in the feminist critique and the globalization critique adds even more theoretical complexity to say nothing of the (most likely) narrow perspective that an 'outsider' (i.e., a Westerner in India) would bring to the project. I respect the idea in the abstract, but isn't there a danger of expanding critical studies so far beyond its base that from a theoretical basis alone, it becomes unglued (and more the product of the researcher's rhetorical skills than a generalizable statement of knowledge)?

David D. Brown
Austin, TX | voice: 512.394.3532 | fax: 512.722.7740

Sun Ho's questions - Week 7

3/2 Subcultures, Audiences & Media Consumption

Q1-3. Hall identifies three different hypothetical codes or positions of reading strategies: dominant-hegemonic code, negotiated code, and oppositional code. And he suggests that "these need to be empirically tested and refined" (p 171), but (a) how do we find the "preferred reading" or the dominant ideology inscribed in a media text? How can we define a "preferred reading" more clearly? (b) Can we find an actual example of a "preferred reading" in a media text? (c) And how do we know we didn't intentionally divide them into those categories?

Q4. Ang suggests that "critical audience studies should not strive and pretend to tell the truth about the audience" (p 183) as their "answers are to be constructed, in the form of interpretations" (p 185). Then she adds in her conclusion, "what matters is not the certainty of knowledge about audiences, but an ongoing critical and intellectual engagement with the multifarious ways in which we constitute ourselves through media consumption" (p 189). But how do we make sense of our findings and place them in a theoretical framework if our assumption, "the reliability and accuracy of the methodologies being used" will somehow reduce our responsibility of that "interpretive moment," is rejected?

Q5. Parameswaran's “Journalism and feminist cultural studies: Retrieving the missing citizen lost in the female audience” provides a good overview of feminist cultural studies. One question about the terminology used: what makes someone a scholar in "feminist" cultural studies? What's the difference between someone who studies gender representation in the media vs a feminist media scholar? The distinction between the two seemed more obvious in the past, but does it remain the same today?

Yukun's Questions

1 Question about Barthes ”second-order semiological system”

In page 147, Hebdige’ “From Subculture”, he mentions Barthes’ classic opinion to analyze still images. Generally speaking, I agree with his opinion. But technically I don’t know if audience can be trained to understand connotation correctly or create more meanings. For example, most people didn’t know how to read pictures and understand visual information correctly 70 years ago. They were familiar with reading words but not images. Nowadays people have more ability to decode the images created by photographers than before. If most people can understand or recognize what photographers want to convey by connotation correctly, but it doesn’t mean that they should or will agree with the connotation with images, are they still part of hegemonic system? Or if most people have ability to decode image, can they transform connotation to denotation?======I know Hall doesn't believe there is pure denotation in the world.

2 Question about Hall’s denotation and connotation

In page 168,
“the terms “denotation” and “connotation”, then, are merely useful analytic tools for distinguishing, in particular contexts, between not the presence/absence of ideology in language but the different levels at which ideologies and discourses intersect.”

Here Hall assumed it is impossible to get rid of ideologies. And he also mention “ the class struggle for language”. Is it possible for the audience to misunderstand information provided by producers? Especially in photography, I believe images can reflect producers’ ideologies. But creation of images is more unpredictable than that of words. If the image can reflect the thought of the creator is a big problem. Sometimes pictures are indeed created occasionally.

3 Question about Ang’s convergence of perspectives

He spent many pages to illustrate the convergence of different perspectives. Though there are some convergence between critical theories and mainstream theories, he also distinguished the difference between them. Critical theories emphasize the structure power imposed on the audience. It reminds that Kellner’s article urged the return of political economy. I don’t know if the convergence includes political economy. How does political economy integrate with those two perspectives? Especially political economy is a macro-level approach.

4 Question about the growing acceptance of cultural studies (Parameswaran)

In P.201, the author indicated “Despite these tensions, recent developments indicate the growing acceptance of cultural studies in the field of journalism and mass communication.”

I am wondering why. Though the author list some advantages of cultural studies in this paper, I don’t think those reasons are powerful enough to explain it. Cultural studies are not new fields. Those advantages aren’t invented recently. Why do scholars in US start to accept cultural studies recently? Do they find the limits of their own paradigm? I don’t know if the backlash of globalization finally breaks the geographic isolation of United States and create new questions or situations which can’t be studied through behaviorism or quantitative methodologies. Most transnational issues should be studied though qualitative methodologies. Based on this reason, scholars here have to start to appreciate the advantages of cultural studies. I don’t know if this idea is right.

5 Question about globalization and the status of women

I don’t if I “decode” Parameswaran’s opinion correctly. For me, she believes globalization decreases the status of women. But I believe globalization increases the status of women. Though globalization triggers many problems such as labors, capital flow and tax…., those problems are not just gender issues and globalization also created many chances. Woman in the third world have more chances to leave their countries and go to foreign countries such as US, no matter by marriage or studying. Compared to their male classmates or friends in original countries, they are more powerful in class.