Culture and Power: A Media, Culture & Society Reader

Paddy Scannell

Philip Schlesinger

Colin Sparks

This is a much-needed and timely follow-up to an earlier reader by the well-respected British communications journal, Media, Culture & Society (M,C&S). This recent reader consists of 15 publications taken from the period 1985-1991, subdivided into three main sections or parts: culture and power, the audience and everyday life, and the media and public life.

Part I, on culture and power, thematically situates the book by outlining and critiquing major theoretical and methodological developments in the study of culture; reviews feminist concerns over the role of media in identity and ethnicity; and explores and effectively challenges postmodernist ideas about the centrality of media in social formations. Part II, on the audience and everyday life, combines overviews and case studies to address and evaluate contemporary research on audience reception. Lastly, Part III situates the production and distribution of information, ideas, and images within a socio-political context and explores the resulting consequences for informed democratic citizenry.

All of the contributions to this follow-up reader are, like the one before it, derived from submissions to M,C&S. The contributions are intimately interrelated in that, following the M,C&S tradition, they underscore the significance of power relations in the proper comprehension of "culture." This basic duality of "culture" and "power" in relation to media was, of course, first significantly explored by Raymond Williams's 1958 Culture and Society. It is also embodied within the contemporary dual concern with "high culture-low culture" on the one hand and "popular culture" on the other--even though both are deeply interested in the diffusion and reception of values and meanings in relation to communicative activities despite their respective disparate analytical foci and methodologies.

This reader is much needed and timely for several reasons. It re-establishes the politico-economic dimension in the study of the relation between culture and power. Such a relation has been downplayed and /or ignored in the recent academic rush away from the mediating role of ideology in mass media products towards a virtual fetish with the role of subjectivity and interpretation in that relationship. Scholarly attention thus has been diverted away from the impact of the exploitative structure of power relations in the broader society upon that subjectivity and interpretation. This suggests the necessity of re-examining culture as primarily a social rather than a subjective phenomenon, as an entity rooted in and flowing out of institutional arrangements of power rather than socially contextless states of mind (i.e., how "audiences" make "sense" of communicative "texts").

Another and probably even more significant reason why this reader is sorely needed is that it capsulizes the most damaging criticisms of postmodernist theory and its curious obfuscation, if not total denial, of the structuralist concern with the role of domination in the study of culture. The audacious postmodernist contempt for the canons of scientific theory and methodology, its offensive celebration of the contemporary disordered, fragmented, and dilapidated global environment, and its outright rejection of any possibility of deep structures operating to guide or at least to influence social reality in significant if complex respects--all of these postmodernist postulates deserve to be viewed with suspicion at the very least. This volume is certainly correct in making explicit its full-toned apprehension about the dubious postmodernist pretensions to valid social enquiry.

Another seminal contribution is the much downplayed but not atypical marriage between intellectual currents and politico-economic developments, and the resulting reformulation of accepted antecedent concepts in the study of culture, and in media studies in general, that such developments inevitably initiate, sustain, and legitimize. Reaganism, Thatcherism, and Bushmania ushered in a new de-centring era, an era that embraced "civil society" rather than the "state," a "private enterprise" rather than a "public" culture, and a focus on the "consumption" of culture rather than its "production." All of a sudden, scholars and students of "culture" and media studies began to employ the new politically correct academic jargon; all of a sudden, "culture" became social identity, interpretation, and "lived" experience devoid of structural context. This relationship between intellectual currents and politico-economic developments is often denied or not taken very seriously by many academics, but this book makes a serious effort in subtle language to lay bare and illuminate the ribaldry of that affair and makes a legitimate plea for its termination.

This comprehensive reader of integrated critical media research will surely become an invaluable asset for all those scholars and students of media studies struggling to place power relations back at the centre of the debate about the nature and dynamics of the culture-society relationship.



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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