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CHAPTER 12

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					Chapter 12: Sociology of Mass Communications

Overview

This chapter begins with an historical overview of the development of the mass media in Canada and then focuses on the omnipresence of the media in our lives.

Given the growth of the mass media in the second half of the twentieth century, it is not surprising that media studies of various sorts became an important issue in sociology and the other social sciences. Different possible views of the mass media are presented in this chapter, beginning with how the mass media was studied in the structural functionalist tradition. From there, media studies became the field of contending and conflicting theories and theoretical discourse. A radically different understanding of the role of the mass media emerged out of the work of the Frankfurt School. Scholars associated with the Frankfurt School were among the first to examine the role of the mass media in the dissemination of dominant ideologies and in creating the necessary consumer demand to keep capitalist economies functioning.

During the latter part of the previous century, Marxist thought influenced work in the field of mass media studies and tended to focus on two issues: the role of the media as an agent of socialization, which disseminates dominant ideologies that serve to obscure the nature of class conflict, alienation, and exploitation; and the economic role of the mass media in creating and stimulating demand for consumer durables and other commodities. Among the innovative thinkers of this era was Dallas Smythe who developed the notion that the media plays both roles, with the added insight that what the media really does is create and sell audiences.

A set of critical media scholars also emerged from feminist groups. Although literature and arguments are in this area are vast and complex, there is a theme that relates to the

role of the media in promoting and promulgating the sex and gender inequalities and the oppression of women that characterise patriarchy.

Learning Objectives

This chapter will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to:  

Articulate a definition of the mass media.

Understand the significant role the mass media plays in our lives as an agent of socialization.



Appreciate that there are different theoretical approaches in the field of media studies.

 

Explain the different theoretical approaches to the media.

Explain the basic concerns feminist scholarship has raised with regard to the role of the mass media.



Critically evaluate the concepts of hegemony and dominant ideologies.

Core Concepts

Mass communications: all forms of communication that are produced and presented in an effort to communicate some message to a mass audience. The various media of mass communications are typically institutionalized and exhibit patterns of social organization.

Functions of the media: While different scholars describe the functions of the media of mass communication in slightly different terms, Gamble and Gamble’s list is a suitable

summary of the key functions: ‘Inform; Set Agendas; Connect; Educate; Persuade; Entertain.’

Hegemony: popularized by Gramsci and widely used by critical sociologists, hegemony is typically understood to refer to a situation in which the dominant class is able to convince the majority members of a society that its ideas, beliefs, practices, philosophy, and overall understanding of the world are ‘common sense,’ natural, and the only possible and reasonable way to understand the world.

Audience as a commodity: according to Smythe, the media of mass communication, like all capitalist industries, produce commodities for sale on the market. In the case of mass communication, the commodity is an audience that is produced by offering the equivalent of a ‘free lunch.’ The ‘free lunch’ is the television program, magazine article, particular music, or whatever entices you to read, watch, or listen. Once created, the audience is then measured, quantified, and sold to advertisers. As members of the audience read, listen, and watch the various media of mass communication, they typically do not even know that they are being bought and sold like any other commodity.

Culture industry: a complex concept typically associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The notion of the culture industry is often associated with the idea of a mass society in which most, if not all, aspects of life have been made into commodities and the population has become convinced that the most worthwhile human activity is consuming those commodities.


				
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