MDSA01 – Chapters 1 to 5
How we know what we know
Everything we know is learnt in two ways:
1. Somatically- these are things that we learn through direct sensory perception of our environment. For
example: Look, Smell, feel and sound. But, the things we know this way make up a very small
percentage of the things we know.
2. Symbolically- these are things we know through someone or something such as a parent or a friend.
This type of information is mediated via some indirect channel or medium.
Prior to the advent of modern mass media, people were the primary medium through which
information passed. This medium of transmitting information has several limitations:
Information travelled slowly as information was tied to human modes of transportation.
As information circulated, it often passed through multiple channels, each of which altered,
if only slightly.
Critical media studies are about the social and cultural consequences of that revolutionary capability.
Who are the mass media?
Mass media collapse space and transcend physical distance. There are four types of mass media; Print media,
motion picture and sound recording, broadcast media and new media.
1. Print Media – It is the first mass medium.
German printer Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type printing press in 1450. Suddenly
knowledge could be recorded for future generations.
Most importantly, it allowed for an unprecedented circulation of knowledge to far-flung cities
Although still limited by class distinctions, access to information from outside of ones immediate
context was a real possibility.
The New York Sun, which is considered to be the first successful mass circulation newspaper, did
not begin to operate until 1833.
The growth of newspapers started to reduce in 1973 and fell to roughly 49% by the year 2005.
The history of the magazine industry closely mirrors that of newspapers. The first US magazine,
American Magazine was published in 1741.
2. Motion picture and sound recording
Although they may seem like an odd pairing at first, their histories are deeply intertwined due to
In the span of 15 years, Edison and his assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson created what
would later develop into the first two new mass media since print.
Edison’s first invention of the phonograph in 1877, played recorded sound and his second,
kinetoscope in 1892, was an early motion device that showed short, silent films.
The first commercially successful, feature length talkie was a musical film, The Jazz Singer in 1927.
3. Broadcast Media
The development of broadcast technologies changed the media landscape once again. Instead of
media physically having to be distributed to stores, media could now be brought to audiences over
This freed mass media from transportation for the first time in history. Radio came on scene first during the 1890’s and making scheduled broadcasts in the 1920s.
Televisions soon followed and the first patent was by Philo T. Fransworth in the year 1927 and CBS
launched its first schedule in 1941.
The tremendous growth in the number of commercial radio and television station since 1950
suggests a strong consumer demand for their output.
The developments of satellite radon and cable television are considered to be analogous.
4. New Media
it is the broadest and hence most difficult of the four categories of mass media to delimit and
“New media are the cultural objects which use digital computer technology for distribution and
circulation. “ – Lev Manovich.
The ever-expanding character of this category raises a question, will it eventually come to include
all media and therefor be a meaningless category? The likely answer is yes.
The history of new media begins with the development of the microprocessor or microchip.
It was introduced in 1971.
It was initially developed as a communication technology for the US department of defence; the
internet began to catch the public’s attention in the 1970s when its potential for sending electronic
messages became evident.
The development of a graphic based user interface and common network protocol by the early
1990s that popularized the internet by transforming it into hyper textual platform we know now as
the world wide web.
Living in Postmodernity
Postmodernity is used to refer to the contemporary moment given its wide use by media scholars. There are
five key trends animating the mass media in postmodernity. They are Convergence, Mobility, Fragmentation,
Globalization and Simulation.
Contemporary media reflect convergence, the tendency of formerly diverse media share a
common, integrated platform.
Before Convergence could become a reality, it had to overcome two major obstacles.
Noise associated with analogue signals such as those used in televisions. This was overcome
through digitization, which reduces distortion by relying on bits rather than a continuous signal.
Bandwidth limitations prevented large data packets such as video, from being transmitted
quickly and easily. But, improved data compression techniques along with bandwidth
expansions have made possible the real-time transmission of large data packets.
Mass media has not been very mobile.
Microprocessors and wireless technology is changing this and today, instead of going to media,
media can to or go with us virtually anywhere.
There has been a dramatic increase in media channels and fragmentation of output that caters to
the increasing diversity of the consuming public.
As this technology improves, we can count on media becoming more and more tailored to
4. Globalization Globalization is a complex set of social political and economic processes in which the physical
boundaries and structural policies that previously reinforced the autonomy of the nation state are
collapsing in favour of instantaneous and flexible worldwide social relations.
For the mass media, which are owned and controlled by multinational corporations, globalization
creates opportunities to bring their cultural products to distant local markets.
Concept can be traced to ancient Greeks
Current cultural relevance due to Simulacra and Simulation – book by French theorist Jean
- “Simulation is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”
- Western societies, particularly “America”, are increasingly characterized by simulation because
the real and the imaginary (i.e. images or representations) have imploded
- ^ Premised on the precession of simulacra: suggests the image has evolved from being:
1) A good representation of an external reality to
2) A distorted representation of an external reality to
3) A mask that conceals the absence of a basic reality to
4) Bearing no relation to any reality at all
- Mass media are the key social institutions fuelling simulation
- Simulation suggests media no longer represent our social world; just construct a realer-than-
real space that is our social world (e.g. media endlessly produce and reproduce images of love,
Why Study Media?
They’re everywhere! (ubiquitous)
In the transition to postmodernity, mass media have gone from being 1 institution in our cultural
environment to being the very basis of our cultural environment
Historically, mass media have been less and less central to social life (central social institutions: school,
family, church, state today these are filtered through mass media)
Mass media have:
- Replaced families as caretakers
- Replaced churches as arbiters of cultural values
- Replaced schools as sites of education
- Replaced the state as public agenda-setters
Media represent an ever-expanding piece of the total symbolic pie
Socialization: the process by which persons – both individually & collectively, learn, adopt, and
internalize the prevailing cultural beliefs, values and norms of society.
What we learn
Mediated messages: content and form
o Content influences what we learn typically given more attention
- Informational component of a message (details, facts, ideas, opinions)
- Audiences are usually aware of content
- Content does not need use-value or truth-value to be considered informational – only
needs to be meaningful
o Form influences how we learn
Content matters because:
o Mass media establish which issues are considered important/unimportant by deciding which
topics to include/exclude o Content lacking diverse views/opinions limits the scope of public debate and deliberation
o Media content is necessarily biased (use of selective symbols)
Content socializes us to:
o Care about certain issues and not others
o See those issues from particular viewpoints and not others
o Adopt particular attitudes towards the presented perspectives
How we learn
Form: cognitive component of a message
o The way a message is packaged and delivered
o Packaging is a consequence of 1) medium 2) genre or class
o Packaging influences how we process it – train our conscious to think in particular ways
E.g. We interpret language in a sequential or linear way of knowing because they’re
We interpret images in a associative or non-linear way of knowing because they’re
Message form is a more fundamental and important socializing force than message content
because it conditions how one processes the message information
- Marshall McLuhan: “The medium is the message.”
Doing Critical Studies
An umbrella term and used to describe an array of theoretical perspectives which, though diverse, are united
by their skeptical attitude, humanistic approach, political assessment, and activist orientation.
1) Attitude: Skeptical
- Seeing things differently to make some people think otherwise.
- Not a way to debunk opinions/reports, but a way of understanding the pressures and practices
that constrain it.
- Eg. asking questions!
2) Approach: Humanistic
- Modes of criticism. Goal: to improve society.
- Emphasize self-reflection, critical citizenship, and democratic principles.
- Involves thinking about freedom and responsibility
3) Assessment: Political
- Society as a complex network of interrelated power relations that symbolically privilege and
materially benefit some individuals and groups over others.
4) Action: Social Activism
- Scholars have a social responsibility to identify and confront/challenge injustice.
- Eg. boycotts, supporting independent media outlets, etc.
Key Critical Perspectives
- Theory: an explanatory interpretive tool that simultaneously enables and limits our understanding of the
particular social products or practice on process under investigation.
Chapter 2: Marxist Analysis
Both a theory and social and political movement rooted in the idea that “society is the history of class
struggles. Originated from the work of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engles in 1845
Historical Materialism: A Marxian theory that all values and social institutions flow from the economy Base: The underlying economic and material conditions of society
Superstructure: - Social consciousness, as encoded in institutions such as culture (art and media),
religion, education, politics, and the judicial system
Patterns of media ownership
a. Concentration: describes industry as a whole: ownership of an entire industry is dominated by
a few companies (oligopoly)
b. Conglomeration: describes particular corporation; ownership of diverse array of smaller
c. Integration: subsidiaries within a corporation are strategically link
1. Vertical: owns various aspects of production & distribution within a single
2. Horizontal: dominates one entire stage in the production process
d. Multinationalism: - presence in multiple countries, allowing production and distribution on a
Strategies of Profit Maximization
Cross Development – Involvement of multiple subsidiary companies in development, production,
and distribution of a media brand for purpose of exploiting it for all profit possible.
Advertising –Practice of pitching products or services to consumers.
Spectacle – Both outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. Not something added
to real world, but it is the very heart of society’s real unreality.
Logic of Safety – When a concept/formula meets success, media conglomerates exploit it again and
again. Because of the Logic of Safety, media conglomerates are reluctant to try anything original.
Therefore many Hollywood films follow the same formula / plot because of how expensive the
Joint Ventures – By splitting the costs of a new venture, neither corporation has to bear the full
financial burden should the venture fail.
Niche Marketing – Targeting of specific segment of the public that shares particular but known
Consequences of Ownership Patterns and Profit Maximization
Reduces Diversity – Concentration, which severely restricts competition, integration, which leads
to the development of some projects and not others, and the logic of safety, which limits creativity,
resulting in homogenization of media.
Restricts Democracy – Democracy is premised on the notion of egalitarianism (free and open
exchange of ideas, and participations of diverse publics.) Profit maximization lowers democratic
Fuels Cultural Imperialism – Describes the exporting of US values and ideologies around the globe,
usually to the detriment of local culture and national sovereignty.
Chapter 3: Organizational Analysis
Management: how organizational culture is developed by managers: purpose of enhancing productivity,
performance & profits.
Technology: structures work activities, organizational members work roles and relationships Organizational Theory: an Overview
Organizations: comprised of employers and employees. It is a system of ordered relationships and
coordinated activities directed towards a specific goal. (ex. Paramount studio, the writers, editors, actors, etc
would make together to make a film). It has two dimensions which are: structure and process.
Structure: framework that shapes the organization over time. It contains three elements which are:
o Hierarchy: specific arrangement of job roles (based on authority)
o Differentiation and Specialization: this accounts for the division of companies into units, and
departments and each department will perform a different job
o Formalization: the degree to which specific practices must conform to accepted organizational
Professionals: are people who have expertise in the a particular area (ex. Editor is someone who is really good
*** If structure is the framework then process is the actual substance (Kenneth Burke’s notion of “container”
and “thing contained”- the container has a shape and form but content can vary)
Organizations: a system (network) of order relationships and coordinated activities directed toward specific
Structure: describes the underlying framework that shapes and organization over time, and includes
the following 3 key elements….
i. Hierarchy: the specific arrangement of job roles and positions based upon authority within
ii. Differentiations and Specialization: accounts for the division of companies into units,
departments, and positions, each of which performs specific tasks
Professionals: individuals that possess expertise in a particular area or field that
allows them to accomplish the distinctive tasks of their position
iii. Formalization: the degree to which specific practices much conform to accepted
organizational and professional conventions
Process: reflects the actual substance built upon that framework (the structure)
Assessing communicative practices:
Organizational culture: set of cultural norms and cultures, artifacts, events and values that emerge as a
consequence of organizational culture. There are 5 ways to study an organization’s culture and they are
performance, narrative, textual, management and technology.
1. Performance: they are expressive, it displays a symbolic significance. There are 4 types:
a. ritual: personal or organizational beliefs that people do in a regular basis (drinking coffee every
morning before reading email)
b. sociality: refers to codes that are enacted with regards to friendliness, small talk and privacy
c. politics: performed differently in each organizations and influence the type and degree of
independence, negotiating and coalition
d. enculturation: where the newcomer learns the social knowledge and skills of the culture (what
is acceptable and what is not)
2. Narratives: stories the members of the organizations say about their workplace experiences. These can
be classified as personal, collegial or corporate. (Personal: individual experiences, collegial: are stories
that are told about other organizations, corporate: stories told about the organization itself)
3. Textual: studying an organization’s culture through written and electronic texts. For example, policies,
procedure handbooks, training manuals, etc. The purpose of formal texts is to identify what are considered to be acceptable and what is not within an organization. Informal texts such as Graffiti and
personal employee notes are also studied. One way to study organization’s culture is to examine the
differences and similarities between formal and informal texts.
Organizational Culture: the set(s) or norms and customs, artifacts and events, and values and assumptions
that emerge as a consequence of organizational members’ communicative practices
i. Performance: are expressive (productive and purposeful) displays (i.e both process and product)
that carry symbolic significance in particular context
1. Ritual: performances that members engage in a regular or routine basis
2. Sociality: codes of etiquette that are enacted with regard to friendliness, small ect, within an
3. Politics: differently performed in every organization, and influence the type and degree of
independence, negotiating, and coalition building that are acceptable
4. Enculturation: “communicative performances wherein the newcomer leans the social
knowledge and skills of the culture”
ii. Narratives: stories told in the workplace about work
iii. Textual: written statements about (or related to) the organization. There is formal and informal
iv. Management: how organizational culture is developed and directed by managers for the purpose of
improving operating efficiencies, enhancing he bottom line, or creating satisfied customers
v. Technology: not so much a tool for doing one’s job more effective/efficiently, but rather it is the
very environment in which one does their job
Characteristics of conventions
Conventions: describe the norms that govern the technical and creative choices made by workers in the
execution of their duties, art, or craft
Motivated: pragmatic need of the desire for a sense of community, belonging and group cohesion
Shared: for practises to function as norms, they must be internalized by other employees. Simply put,
conventions are shared.
Naturalized: since conventions are “the norm”, workers tend to adopt and abide by them
unconsciously and unreflectively
Resilient: “that’s just the way we’ve always done it”…. But “Why do you do it that way”. Therefore, you
have to consider why and under what circumstances conventions change
Directive: conventions sanction and authorize some practices and behaviours, and discourage or
disapprove of others. Conventions are unspoken guidelines or rules for the correct or appropriate
Conventions: describe the norms that govern the technical and creative choices made by workers in the
execution of their duties, art, or craft.
e.g. for media workers, conventions influence everything from how one dresses/eats lunch with to the
way a news anchor reads news copy and cameraperson frames particular shots
1. Motivated: There is always a purpose behind them, even if it isn’t immediately noticeable.
2. Shared: For practices to function as norms, they must be internalized by other employees.
3. Naturalized: Workers tend to adopt “the norm” unconsciously; behavior is natural and not ‘cultural’.
4. Resilient: Endure over time “that’s just the way we’ve done it”.
5. Directive: Unspoken guidelines for correct and appropriate action. Professionalization
Professionalization: process by which an individual with free will is transformed into an ideological subject.
o Internalization of professional conventions as common sense.
o They then establish the standards by which a profession measures quality & competence.
o These standards turn into guidelines for hiring, annual evaluations, promotions etc.
The News Media: A Case Study
o First newspapers called “broadsides” in 1600s.
o Very political & critical of British crown.
o Thomas Jefferson – newspapers vital to an informed public & thus to a healthy democracy.
o Journalism turned into YELLOW JOURNALISM lacked any sense of social responsibility & even
o Lippman – “Present crisis of western democracy is a crisis in journalism…there is no steady
supply of trustworthy relevant news”.
News Organizations and journalistic Conventions
Journalistic conventions: main purpose is to make profit, meaning to shape the daily output of the media
product we know as “news”.
Conventions emerge in order to respond to specific situational demand:
o News hole: necessity to deliver the news every day at the same time
o News whole: To fill time slot exactly, meaning the specific amount of time or space allotted for
reporting the news each day
In order to meet the deadline, journalists rely upon a series of standardized practices:
o Journalistic beats: places and institution where “news” is “expected” to occur at any given day
(example: police station, court houses)
o News agencies: corporations that sell stories to other news providers
o Punditry and Press releases: news pre-packages b politicians and their communication
consultants and their communication consultants to promote a better image of a politician and
her or his specific policy initiatives.
News is often biased when being reported. Left vs. Right bias (depending on Point of View).
Information bias refers to how a storyis structured and told. Most news stories display four
o Personalization: focusing on a specific person rather than the social issue (Mostly politicians).
Consequence: make stories feel more personal, direct and immediate.
o Dramatization: focusing on the sad part of the story (sensational scandalous and shocking
Consequence: misrepresentative reporting and imposing a sense of issues
o Fragmentation: treat stories on isolation and ignoring their link to other stories; world looks
chaotic o Authority-disorder: tension between authority (government leader, police, public officials) and
disorder (natural catastrophe, terrorism, criminals etc.). Either authorities restore normalcy or
we say they are incompetent.
Conventions of the news magazine
Consequences of news conventions
Chapter 4: Pragmatism
pragmatism is a branch of philosophy that assesses truth in terms of effect, outcome, and practicality
metaphysical philosophers viewed truth as a transcendental constant waiting to be discovered… they
can not actually be known
pragmatists believe that truths should be based on tangible results in the process of solving problems
truth becomes a label, a quality a thing can posses or lack, and is always dependent on contextual
the term pragmatism was coined by Charles Sanders Peirce, but three key thinkers who developed the
William James (1842–1910)
The Meaning of Truth (1909)
a Harvard professor who founded the American School of Pragmatism by popularizing Peirce’s work
(which may have been forgotten otherwise)
he believed that individuals could mature by addressing problems through a pragmatic lens… through
flexible moderation between extremes
John Dewey (1859–1952)
Reconstruction in Philosophy (1919)
The Quest for Certainty (1929)
more famous for his educational theories, which are intrinsically tied to his pragmatic theories
he believed that thought was the result of humans encountering difficulties and attempting to
overcome them… we learn from past experiences to manage future ones… metaphysical separates
thought from practical concerns
agrees with James, philosophy should correct problems
expanded view of pragmatism to larger social issues regarding education… students should do less
memorization and more training to develop problem solving skills to be productive and responsible
social problems would decrease as people learned practical ways of improving the world
Richard Rorty (1931–2007)
Consequences of Pragmatism (1982) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989)
for most of his career he defended pragmatism and argued against metaphysical philosophy… those
who engage in a