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Theorising Media

Theorising Media: Power, Form and Subjectivity

John Corner
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Theorising Media
    Book Description:

    In this book, John Corner explores how issues of power, form and subjectivity feature at the core of all serious thinking about the media, including appreciations of their creativity as well as anxiety about the risks they pose. Drawing widely on an interdisciplinary literature he connects his exposition to examples from film, television, radio, photography, painting, web practice, music and writing in order to bring in topics as diverse as the reporting of the war in Afghanistan, the televising of football, documentary portrayals of 9/11, reality television, the diversity of taste in the arts and the construction of civic identity. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, three big chapters on each of the key notions provide an interconnected discussion of the media activities opened up for exploration and the debates they have provoked. The second part presents examples, arguments and analysis drawing on Corner’s previous work around the core themes, with notes placing them in the context of the whole volume. ‘Theorising Media’ brings together concepts both from Social Studies and the Arts and Humanities, addressing a readership wider than the sub-specialisms of media research. It refreshes ideas about why the media matter and how understanding them better remains a key aim of cultural inquiry and a continuing requirement for public policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-464-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    ‘Theorising’ is used in this book to indicate the activity of trying to reach adequate conceptual terms for understanding media structures and processes. It is therefore rather different from, if necessarily related to, the idea of ‘media theory’, the body of published explanations and propositions about the media that has developed from different fields of study. Both have their place in what follows, but primacy is given to the former. Later in this introduction, I discuss definitional matters concerning the ‘theoretical’ a little further.

    Part I of this book explores three aspects or dimensions of media structure and process that...

  5. Part I

    • 1 Power
      (pp. 13-48)

      In this chapter I want to explore a selection of the numerous and wideranging issues that are to do, directly or otherwise, with the ‘power’ of the media. Research into the various aspects of power, and arguments about it, have always been at the centre of academic interest in media. Sometimes, the focus has been on ‘influence and effects’, a concern with the measurable consequences of output for the perceptions and attitudes of media readerships and audiences. This is the strongest strand of international research, operating across a wide variety of often contesting theoretical and methodological approaches, and it is...

    • 2 Form
      (pp. 49-85)

      Whereas ‘power’ is a term taking us immediately to the contested centre of media research and debate, including that conducted outside the academic sphere, the notion of ‘form’ is far less certain in its indications. To talk beyond the academy, and even at points within it, about enquiry into form is to invite a degree of suspicion. Around the notion of form in respect of the media there is often the sense of something elusive and possibly of secondary significance to what really needs to be known more about. Formal analysis suggests a carrying over of concerns from literary and...

    • 3 Subjectivity
      (pp. 86-118)

      The idea of subjectivity, indicating the ‘space of the self’ both at conscious and unconscious levels and the various factors contributing to the self’s constitution and agency within the world, has become steadily more important in a range of social science and humanities investigations, including in areas where it has only quite recently had any significant conceptual presence. This has happened because awareness has grown of the complexity of the intersecting vectors that construct subjectivity, and the complexity, too, of its modes of operation and involvement in different types of social action and interaction.

      It is not surprising that ‘selfhood’,...

  6. Part II(1): Terms of analysis

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 119-120)

      As I noted in the main introduction, Part II consists of six articles or chapters that I have written over the last ten years in which issues around power, form and subjectivity are variously taken forward in relation to specific analytic ideas or selected examples. In each case I have added a prefatory note that, among other things, indicates the connections between this work and the more wide-ranging themes and arguments contained in the chapters of Part I.

      The work is organised under two headings: ‘Terms of analysis’ and ‘Visuality and documentation’. The first heading is for work that explores...

    • 4 Mediated politics, promotional culture and the idea of ‘propaganda’
      (pp. 122-138)

      I want to question just how useful the concept of ‘propaganda’ is in the study of contemporary politics and media–political relations. Discussion of the Iraq war has shown an increased focus on ‘propaganda techniques’ and their influence, certainly in Britain and the United States, yet there remain continuing difficulties in deploying this term successfully as a tool of analysis and critique. There are also indications that use of it serves to divert attention away from some pressing questions about the pragmatics of modern political communication and about the ethics and expectations that can effectively be applied to political discourse...

    • 5 ‘Ideology’: a note on conceptual salvage
      (pp. 139-151)

      Anyone writing the history of ideas in media research over the last 30 years will note a number of shifts of emphasis. The more they focus on work following the agenda of Cultural Studies, the more they will notice the odd career of the concept of ‘ideology’. From being the most important idea in several strands of enquiry, the point around which theory and method gather, it moves quite swiftly to a marginal position, often disappearing altogether. Yet in many studies it is still possible to trace, in the working assumptions about power and in the way a topic is...

    • 6 Public knowledge and popular culture: spaces and tensions
      (pp. 152-164)

      The relationships between the circuits and agencies of public knowledge and both the economy and the values of popular culture continue to be central to change in the politicality and sociality of media systems. This is so internationally, allowing for wide variations. At the level of broad dispute about media policy and practice and also at the more specialised level of debates within media and cultural studies, the terms of the relationship remain crucial even where (perhaps especially where) they are only implicit or hidden. Around them, there have developed tensions and lines of fracture that have had a shaping...

  7. Part II(2): Visuality and documentation

    • 7 Documentary expression and the physicality of the referent: writing, painting and photography
      (pp. 167-186)

      The physicality of documentary expression is an aspect of its construction and its discursive range that takes us to the core of the uniqueness and complexity of the documentary project. By physicality, I mean the way in which documentary works with impressions of a particular, concrete object world and uses these impressions as the material from which to build more generalised accounts. The international tradition of documentary work is methodologically and technologically committed to this physicality because of its grounding in pictures, in a discursive infrastructure of visualisation, whether this is the still photography of a continuingly rich strand of...

    • 8 Documenting the political: some issues
      (pp. 187-208)

      Documentary has a long-standing, often highly self-conscious and sometimes controversial connection with the portrayal of the ‘political’. This extends from direct attention to core political structures and processes, through to indicating the broader manifestations of politicality (that is to say, the various aspects and dimensions of the ‘political’, ways of being ‘political’ and of doing ‘politics’) in everyday life and culture, often involving spaces in which politics has an understated, implicit or even denied presence. In this article I want to explore aspects of documentary ‘politicality’, pursuing a synoptic agenda and placing recent examples within this, both as illustration and...

    • 9 ‘Critical social optics’ and the transformations of audio-visual culture
      (pp. 209-221)

      In this chapter I want to raise some questions about the ways in which images are encountered, perceived, understood and (often) questioned as a result of the radical transformation of visual culture within digital contexts. This will involve attention to aspects of the changing culture of photography, since it seems to me that, in engaging with the implications of the digital, media scholarship can benefit considerably from a closer, comparative attention to what has happened to photography as it has become transformed over the last fifteen years or so. This transformation has clearly affected its practices of production and has...

  8. References
    (pp. 222-234)
  9. Index
    (pp. 235-248)