Article

Media Sociology

Silvio Waisbord

in Communication

ISBN: 9780199756841
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0064
Media Sociology

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This article offers a review of key works in media sociology and identifies key themes in sociological research that have contributed to media studies. Given the interdisciplinary nature of media/communication analysis, establishing what falls within media sociology and drawing clear-cut distinctions between sociological and other approaches are not easy tasks. Here, media sociology is understood as research that situates communication and media research within the dynamics of social forces and links them to questions about order, conflict, identity, institutions, stratification, authority, community, and power. The origins of mass communication/media research are grounded in sociology. Not only was it sociologists who charted key themes in the field of communication/media studies, particularly in the United States in the 1920s, but foundational research was concerned with core sociological questions, such as the integrative role of the media in the transition from traditional to modern societies and the community-building dimensions of the media. Around the time of World War II, US media sociology experienced two transitions. Geographically, the center of studies moved from the University of Chicago to Columbia and Harvard Universities, and the research foci changed from news and media to public opinion and mass communication. Analytically, the focus shifted from the relation between media and modern society to questions about war propaganda and persuasion. Given the focus on the dynamics of public opinion, sociological questions about personal and media influence moved to the forefront, and interest in issues related to media and community faded. With financial support from the US government and private foundations, public opinion attracted considerable attention from media and communication researchers in the 1950s. However, as questions embedded in social psychology and behavioral research gained currency, sociological approaches, particularly those focused on structural issues, gradually lost centrality. This shift indicated the beginning of the rift between sociology and media/communication studies in the United States. Sociological theories and questions increasingly became less relevant for mass communication research. The historical trajectory of media sociology has been different in Europe, however. It has not had the focus on public opinion research and media effects that it has in the United States. Instead, it has been grounded in different theoretical paradigms and research questions. Traditionally, it has been more concerned with questions about class, power, institutions, and social differentiation.

Article.  8353 words. 

Subjects: Communication Studies

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