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Lecture Two: Issues in Sociological Analysis of Mass Media

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McMaster University
David Young

Issues in Sociological Analysis of Mass Media September 5, 2013 – September 9, 2013 Structure and Agency • Structure: refers to an organized, stable pattern within a social system o Any institution is a structure (marriage, family, education, religion, politics, mass media, etc.) o Impact of structure: structure imposes constraints on individuals  Example: The institution of education is made up of schools, colleges, universities, etc. • Within, there are students, teachers, professors, and various other individuals • These individuals are constrained (i.e. respecting academic policies that a university creates) • In order to graduate from a university program, you must complete a certain amount of credits or courses for your program • Agency: refers to intentional and undetermined human action o Refers to intentional and undetermined human action o Despite the constraints that are imposed on us by structure, we need to realize that individuals have a certain amount of freedom or autonomy Structure, Agency, and Mass Media • Relationships between Mass Media and other social institutions o We need to understand how the institution of mass media is connected to the institution of economy and the institution of politics  The connection is one that involves structural constraints  Example: The issue of the economy and how it is a structural constraint for the mass media – there is a recession in the capitalist economy, private media organizations are going to have to lay off workers (Structural constraint – existence of recession)  Example: The issue of the institution of politics, constraining mass media. The broadcasting act is a structural constraint on the mass media. The broadcasting organizations have to comply with the broadcasting act (political) o Organization or groups that make up the mass media have agency  Example: Private media companies that are part of the institution of the mass media have some autonomy of how they want to respond to the recession. They can choose to introduce technologies, or lay off workers, etc.  Example: Mass media can choose to obey the law of the broadcasting act, enforced by the institution of politics, or they can choose to ignore/break the laws of the broadcasting act • Relationships within Media Organizations or Groups o We can’t understand the decisions that are made by media personal without understanding the relationships that exist within media organizations or groups o We have to be familiar with the internal workings of media organizations or groups  As well as the processes of professionalization • Relationships between Media Organizations or Groups and Audiences o Structure vs. Agency  Tension takes the form of the power of media organizations or groups  On the other hand, always partial autonomy of audience members o Do audience members actually interpret the messages?  They can accept the meaning that was intended or they may choose to ignore or reject that meaning Theoretical Perspectives and the Institution of Mass Media • The Functionalist Perspective: analyzes social institution including the institution of mass media in terms of their contribution to the order and the maintenance of society • A brief history of the functionalist perspective: o The Ideas of Emile Durkheim  Work laid the foundation for the functionalist perspective  Analysed social activity  Durkheim argued that the function of deviance was to assert the social norms of the group and to contribute to social interaction o The Ideas of Talcott Parsons  Late 1930s, Parsons was building on Durkheim’  Did so to establish what became known as structural functionalism  Structural functionalism analyses the structure in society, such as institutions and the functions of the structures • Theoretical Developments in the Functionalist Perspective o Late 1940s, Harold Lasswell made an early attempt to identify the functions associated with the institution of mass media  Specified three spe
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