Media studies

From Academic Kids

Media studies, a communication science, studies the nature and effects of mass media upon individuals and society. A cross-disciplinary field, media studies uses techniques from cultural studies, psychology, art theory, sociology, information theory, and economics. Media studies has greatly influenced the development of multimedia and of performance art.


Critical media theory looks at how the corporate ownership of media production and distribution affects society, and provides a common ground to social conservatives (concerned by the effects of media on the traditional family) and liberals and socialists (concerned by the corporatization of social discourse). The study of the effects and techniques of advertising forms a cornerstone of media studies.

Media studies pioneers include Marshall McLuhan, Denis McQuail, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Neil Postman and Jean Baudrillard. The socialist and media critic Robert McChesney has become a major figure. Tom McPhail's theory of electronic colonialism has gained some international recognition. The theory reflects the impact of global media on the minds of receivers and thus creating a new empire of the mind. One not based on military conquest but one based on psychological impact. Whereas world system theory looks at the world through an economic lens, electronic colonialism theory views the world through a cultural lens.


Media studies emerged in the 1960s from the academic study of English, and from literary criticism more broadly. It grew through schools, colleges and polytechnics, but not through established universities.

It can partially be understood as a response to the McCarthyist paranoia of the influences of the mass media. Mary Whitehouse's right-wing National Viewers' and Listeners' Association was concerned at the growing 'permissiveness' of broadcasting, and the more liberal Television and Radio Committee (led by Richard Hoggart) and Television Viewers' Council, which had a special interest in educational broadcasting.

In 1959, Joseph Trenaman left the BBC's Further Education Unit to become the first holder of the Granada Research Fellowship in Television at Leeds University. The Centre for Mass Communication Research was founded at Leicester University soon after (Crisell, 2002: 186). Hoggart founded the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham in 1964.

The critical paradigm was formed in the early 1970s, raising questions about media and power. The CCCS was pivotal in developing the field, producing a number of key researchers. Under the directorship of Stuart Hall, who wrote the seminal Encoding/Decoding model, the centre produced key empirical research about the relationship between texts and audiences. Amongst these was The Nationwide Project by David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon.

Derogatory attitudes

Media Studies is regularly the victim of derogatory jokes and attitudes. Ironically, then, it is the victim of the ideology and power relations it attempts to expose. Its relation to polytechnics, and subsequently the post-1992 New Universities, are also a target for ridicule.

The now annual moral panic in the UK every August when GCSE and A'level results are released normally focuses upon media studies as an example of the supposed dumbing down of education (Barker, 2001). It is often labelled as a Mickey Mouse degree.

The irony is that the discipline utilises many theorists and philosophers which many detractors might associate with "proper" (traditional) degrees.


In addition to the interdisciplinary nature of the academic field, popular understandings of media studies encompass:

Although most production and journalism courses incorporate media studies for contextual purposes (see Fourth estate), the terms are not interchangeable.

Separate strands are being identified within media studies, such as Audience Studies, Television Studies and Radio Studies. Film studies is a separate discipline, with a different history and focus.

New Media Studies is developing, concentrating upon the Internet, video games and other forms of mass media which developed from the 1990s.


  • Barker, Martin (with Julian Petley) (2001) "On the problems of being a 'trendy travesty'" In: M. Barker and J. Petley (eds) Ill effects: the media/violence debate. (2nd ed.) London: Routledge. pp. 202-224.
  • Crisell, Andrew (2002) An Introductoy History of British Broadcasting. (2nd ed.) London: Routledge. ISBN 0415247926
  • Moores, Shaun (1993) Interpreting Audiences: The Ethnography of Media Consumption. London: Sage.

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