New Perspectives on Critical Communication Studies, Vol. 11 - 2004, No. 3
One of the questions addressed by the colloquium focused on the changing status and character of communication and media studies in universities. This article follows that institutional perspective about communication research in general and critical media studies in particular. First the evolution of the field since the 1950s is reviewed through a number of stages, which coincide with the history of leftist thinking – six ferments, one for each decade. Then the disciplinary nature of the field is discussed, with special reference to the ongoing reform of higher education in Europe known as the “Bologna process.” An illustrative case is provided by a survey of the field in the Scandinavian countries. The conclusion is that there is a need for radical reflection about the discipline in the contemporary world, calling for an approach to media studies in terms of the philosophy of science. The article presents notes for further thought rather than suggests final scenarios, and this is done from an admittedly personal and national perspective – as a veteran of the field and as a member of the Finnish community.
Moving Forward on the Left: Some Observations on Critical Communications Research in The United States
With the Soviet Union’s demise, some academicians argued that Marxist scholarship was similarly irrelevant. Yet, critical voices are still raised in the United States and critical analyses of corporate America remain central in the political economy of mass communication. Within US communication research, “political economist” is closely identified with the North American Critical School and thus with Marxist scholarship. While that glosses over the wide variety of positions taken by American practitioners of political economy, it is a fairly reasonable assumption within the field of communications. In the 1950s, a self-consciously critical approach emerged in the work of Dallas Smythe and Herbert I. Schiller. Although ostracized by the field’s administrative “mainstream,” Smythe and Schiller published widely, found an organizational home in the International Association for Media and Communication Research, and inspired a generation of scholars. Their legacy remains vibrant as critical communications research has taken root in the academy, figured in the creation of anti-neo-conservative movements, founded and sustained professional organizations, played a major role in the critique of the mainstream, developed traditions of internal debate and critique, and been targeted for scholarly attack. While much remains to be done, the critical school is clearly moving forward.
This paper tracks the development of critical communications research in Australia over a 30- year period. It assesses the relative significance of critical theory, Marxist political economy and cultural studies to the development of such a tradition, linking this to distinctive elements of Australian politics and culture, particularly the weakness of the institutional left and the significance of populism as a mode of political engagement. The paper also evaluates the rise of “creative industries” discourse as an emergent development, and a distinctive contribution of Australian media and communications research to the field internationally.
Global Changes in the Economic System and in Communications: A Latin American Perspective for the Political Economy of Communications
In the past few decades, there has been an accelerated and transversal change in the “techno-information mechanisms” of production and reproduction in modern society. This change belies a new cultural ecosystem whose configuration and organizational logic is clearly unstable and random. This has affected the cultural codes, the methods of configuration, representation of space and time, the habits and forms of interaction and public knowledge, the models of regulation and control of the networks and infrastructures of data transmission. The very roots of the relationship between capital, work, and knowledge have been altered. The unfolding of the digital revolution and the accelerated expansion of the media and industries of information and culture have not only served to alter the map of social communications systems, but also led to a profound transformation in the organizational system of public life. The authors emphasise the main intellectual predecessors that can contribute to a diagnosis and alternative transformation of the universe of communications. Thus we will establish a basis for a new critical viewpoint of the peripheral, dependent countries of Latin America and the international division of intellectual work in the context of computerization.
In this article, I will look at the status of critical research in contemporary analyses of the media. This kind of assessment should only be done keeping Fredric Jamesonís famous injunction in mind: always historicize! Critical communication scholarship is a historically evolving field of research which has, since its inception, responded to key social and theoretical developments, of which globalisation is the most significant recent example. After a brief historical overview of critical media research, I will concentrate in a more detailed way on the question of how critical perspectives relate to contemporary discussions of the media and globalisation (which are mutually constitutive). I will present several accounts of the relationship between media and globalisation and offer an analysis and criticism of these. The critical starting point for this essay is the fact that during the last couple of decades communication research and the development of media have largely followed their own separate paths. At a time when the media has become more and more commercialized throughout the world, the field of media studies has neglected critical economic considerations of the media. Therefore, the ire-introductionî of critical economical considerations of the media is a necessity. I conclude the paper by briefly examining the question of how critical media theory should position itself in light of the changes that the current wave of media commercialization and globalisation have brought about.
The Internet has enabled many individuals and groups to articulate and contest positions on a myriad of local, national, and international issues, thereby extending the public sphere(s) of critical communication at the heart of strong democracy. However, a number of commentators argue that this critical communication is likely to become ever more restricted given the increasing corporate ownership and control of cyberspace. In this paper, I undertake a general investigation of this corporate takeover and the limits it places on the possibility of the Internet extending the public sphere. Focusing primarily upon the United States, I find that the increasing ownership of the network’s content, code, and bandwidth by a few huge vertically and horizontally integrated media corporations is providing the basis for the control of online communication. Content discrimination is already being undertaken by some broadband network providers. These trends suggest that the Internet is being developed toward an arena where critical voices and practices will be increasingly marginalised. Given this situation, significant steps will be needed to secure and extend online critical communication. I conclude by suggesting a number of such steps, focusing upon legislative measures that should be urgently considered by Internet researchers and policy makers.
In analysing the current useful of a class analysis of the media this article places the political economy of the media in the context of a political economy of the Information Society. It argues that the Information Society does not refer to one thing or trend, but is made up of a number of competing, and often contradictory analyses of the development of the mode of production, each with different concepts of the role of information in economic development and different definitions of information workers. Media centric versions of the Information Society are then critiqued in the light of empirical evidence. Finally an assessment is made of what Information Society theory can contribute to our understanding of changes in the structure of the labour market associated with the growth of information work in relation to class and of globalisation through the concept of the death of distance.
The article identifies contradictions and ambiguities at all levels of the present social changes in order to exploit them and nurture the “culture of choice” we may practice. Ambiguity gives rise to alternative perspectives, which may help us to better understand the social processes in the so called “Information Society” and knowledge industry, avoiding the technological determinism that is so often called forth nowadays. Our research should explore relations between structure and culture, gender, and individual and social groups to highlight differences instead of common values and behaviours, and to enforce the possibility to choose among the different alternatives. Research should also be focused on the subjects able to make the choice and, finally, practice the change they choose. The article tries to single out the problems that arise among the “autonomous workers” who are constantly increasing their presence in the labour market and the problems that arise among the people who try to use innovatively the “old” and the “new” media.