Saturday, September 27, 2008

MASS MEDIA & SOCIETY ::::: A Sociological Perspective on Media

The communication media are the different technological processes that facilitate communication between (and are in the "middle" of) the sender of a message and the receiver of that message. The mass media include newspapers, magazines, radio, and films, CDs, internet, etc. The media communicate information to a large, sometimes global, audience. Near-constant exposure to media is a fundamental part of contemporary life but it is TV that draws our attention the most as one of the primary socializing agent of today's society.

• 98.3 % of households (hh) have TV sets (2.3 sets per hh)
• 99% of hh have a radio (5.6 radios per hh on average)
• 65% have cable TV
• 82% have VCR (US Census Bureau, 1996).
• by 1999: 1/2 of US hh have a home computer, 1/3 of hh have internet access @ home
• TV sets are turned on for an average of 7 hours each day
• average american spend 2.5 hours a day in front of TV ( = 38 solid days of TV viewing in a year)

Media are very integral part of our lives and therefore they generate popular interest and debate about any social problem that we can think of.

• Does TV have too much sex and violence?
• Are the news media biased?
• Have TV talkshows gone too far with their sensationalized topics?
• Should the content of Internet be regulated?
• Are media shaping our values?
• IS TV harmful for our children?
• Do media drive foreign policy?
• Are newspapers insensitive to minorities?
• Is emphasis on body image harmful to our society?
• Should the names of rape victims be reported?
• Should tobacco advertising be restricted?
• Should the media cover criminal trials?
• Do media reports of crime heighten the fears of citizens?
• Is coverage of political campaigns fair?
• Is advertising ethical?
• Do paparazzi threaten First Amendment Rights?
• Does concentration of ownership jeopardize media content?
• Does the globalization of media industries homogenize media content?

In order to address such questions we need an understanding of the mass media's role in contemporary social life. What is the nature of the relationship between media and society? From a sociological perspective we can consider the role of media in our daily lives (the micro level) within the context of larger social forces such as the economy, politics, religion and technological development (the macro level)

Mass Media and Socialization

Socialization is the process of developing a sense of self connected to a larger social world through learning and internalizing the values, beliefs, and norms of one's culture. Through socialization we learn to perform certain roles as citizens, friends, lovers, workers, and so forth. Through internalization our culture becomes taken-for-granted. We learn to behave in socially appropriate and acceptable ways. Some social institutions have explicit roles in socializing the young (such as the family and schools) and others have less intentional but still powerful roles in the process (such as adolescent peers).

Where do the media fit in this process? An average American high school graduate spent more time in front of the TV than in the classroom (Graber 1980). The mass media is a powerful socializing agent. For sociologists significance of the media is not limited to the content of media messages. Media affect how we learn about our world and interact with one another. Media literally mediate our relationship with social institutions. We base most of our knowledge on government news accounts, not experience. We are dependent on the media for what we know and how we relate to the world of politics because of the media-politics connection. We read or watch political debates followed by instant analysis and commentary by "experts." Politicians rely on media to communicate their message. Similar dynamics are present in other mediated events such as televised sports and televangelism. media is part of our routine relations with family and friends. They define our interaction with other people on a daily basis as a diversion, sources of conflict, or a unifying force. Media have an impact on society not only through the content of the message but also through the process.

Sociological Imagination (C. Wright Mills 1959)

Sociological imagination helps us grasp the relationship between history and biography. Through a sociological imagination we can see how our personal lives are connected to social world (micro-macro connection). Our personal choices are shaped by larger social forces around us such as the historical or cultural context and social institutions. In this context, media's importance is apparent. Media often act as the bridge between our personal/private lives and the public world. We see ourselves and our place in society through mass media. It is because of this connection that we need to pay special attention to mass media if we want to understand how society functions.
Media play many different - and maybe incompatible- roles. For the audiences, it is a source of entertainment and information while for media workers, media is an industry that offer jobs- and therefore income, prestige and professional identity-. For the owners, the media is a source of profit and a source of political power. For society at larger, the media can be a way to transmit information and values (socialization). Therefore depending on whose perspective and which role we focus on we might see a different media picture.

Structure vs Agency

By structure sociologists suggest constraint on human action while agency indicates independent action. Each social relationship we will look at will exhibit this tension between the structure and agency. Social structure "describes any recurring pattern of social behavior" (Croteau and Hoynes 2000: 21). For example, family structure could be defined as a pattern of behaviors associated with the culturally defined idea of 'family.' Another example is educational system which is a structure comprised of students, teachers, administrators in their 'expected roles.' Having an education makes it possible for many Americans to achieve a better life standard but it also can be very constraining (required courses, assignments, deadlines, grading criteria that limit actions of students and teachers). When we talk about structure in this class it is very important to consider the constraining nature of structure. Therefore it is inevitable that we will also refer to agency in the same context. Agency is intentional and undetermined human action. For example, even though the educational system is rigid in many ways it is up to the student how much time and energy to be spent on schoolwork. Students do have agency however that agency is limited by the structural constraints.

It is very important that we recognize how human agency reproduces social structure. As we accept and act out our appropriate roles in this system we reproduce the system. Therefore, while structure constrains agency, "it is human agency that both maintains and alters social structures" (Croteau and Hoynes 2000: 22).

Class Perspective:

Below are some questions we will try to answer in this class through a sociological perspective. Our class will take a critical look at media's role in society. Therefore we will question taken-for-granted assumptions about how things work.
• Who owns the media- and why does it matter?
• How are media products created?
• What should be government's relation to regulating the media?
• Why are some images and ideas so prevalent in the mass media, while others are marginalized? Whose voices are not heard?
• How has growth in mass media influenced the political process?
• What impact do mass media have on our society and on our world?
• How do people use and interpret the mass media?
• What is the effect of technological change?
• What is the significance of the increasing globalization of mass media?