Thinking through Television

Thinking through Television

Thinking through Television

Thinking through Television


This original and engaging book investigates American television viewing habits as a distinct cultural form. Based on an empirical study of the day-to-day use of television by working people, it develops a unique theoretical approach integrating cultural sociology, postmodernism and the literature of media effects to explore the way in which people give meaning to their viewing practices. Accessibly written and at the cutting edge of cultural studies and television research, this book is essential reading for students and academics in cultural studies, television research, media and communication studies.


In my studies of television, I have wanted nothing less than to, figuratively, get inside people's heads to determine the mindfulness that emerges from their use of the medium, and, further, to understand its ritual significance within the culture of television use. In doing so, I have wanted to gain a better understanding of the roles that the structural features of television and the broader, meaningful context of everyday play in giving shape, or form, to this mindfulness. I have wanted to know how it is that television viewing actually becomes a ritual practice for people, and what participation in this ritual as opposed to others means for people over the long run.

In research that I conducted with working people over several years, research that included indepth interviewing, watching television with people, the completion of viewer diaries, and more casual conversations with people at work, in the home, and elsewhere, I found that one third of the people included in my study used television in a continuous manner on a day-in and day-out basis. Watching television, they said, served as their primary form of relaxation and enjoyment during the time they spent away from work.

What I have come to call the “continuous” use of television is familiar territory to me. Like the people I watched with and talked to, I, too, grew up with television and, as it was for many of them, the television was on much of the time when I was at home. Watching television or just having it on needed no explanation or justification in my family. The same was true in my changing circle of adolescent friends. In fact, for countless workingand lower-middle-class people who inhabited the many towns and small cities in the New York metropolitan area during the 1960s, watching television was an indispensable part of living everyday life.

I, my family, my friends, and my friends' families – all of us enjoyed watching television. At times, we reveled in the pleasures it provided.

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