Critical Ideas in Television Studies

By John Corner | Go to book overview
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2
Institution

THE word 'institution' primarily indicates a widely acknowledged aspect of television rather than a critical idea about it. Nevertheless, despite this straightforward descriptive meaning, 'institution' has also often carried an analytic and sometimes a polemical inflection in the academic literature. There are three related reasons for this. First of all, an emphasis on television's institutionality has often been set against other research concerns, sometimes with the implication of applying a corrective or at least a balance to the directions in which these other concerns lead. Secondly, the way in which institutional factors should relate, causally and consequentially, to other aspects of television has caused considerable debate. Thirdly, the very question of what should be taken into account in considering television as an institution, and how it should be taken into account, has been found a challenge even amongst those who have wished to give the institutional dimension priority in their studies. In this chapter, then, I want to explore what is involved in the consideration of television as institution.

To regard television institutionally is to regard it within the forms of its historical and social establishment and organization. Television, unlike poetry, say, cannot exist non-institutionally since even its minimal resource, production, and distribution requirements are such as to require high levels of organization in terms of funding, labour, and manufacturing process. As I shall suggest later, there are contrary shifts both towards aggregation and dispersal in the current pattern of international television. Among other things, these may have the effect of altering the relationship between what we now think of as the public processes of 'television' and what we think of as the more privatized processes of 'video' (e.g. home, surveillance, and corporate). However, television has become installed in most modern societies in terms of an institutional ecology--major national corporations, networks, international corporate giants, small independents, local stations--which will retain its basic features for some time to come.

A more abstract and analytic way of seeing television institutionally, rather than simply pointing to the fact of corporations, companies, production houses, etc., is to focus on the way in which institutional forms act as a matrix for, and a nexus between, the various constituents of television. Institutions give the processes of television (including viewing experience) their specificity, a specificity with a historical, national character which is the product of given political, social, and cultural factors interacting with available technology. Whilst it is by no means possible to trace all the processes of television by holding an institutional focus, there is a sense in which such a focus serves to condense many features of process--identified elsewhere in

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