Uses of Television

Uses of Television

Uses of Television

Uses of Television


Taking inspiration from Richard Hoggart's classic The Uses of Literacy , John Hartley considers the usefulness of both television and television studies. He re-reads the history of broadcast TV's earliest moments, tracing the critical reception television has received from the 1930s to the present. Uses of Television asks 'improper questions' about what television, and TV Studies too, have been for: about the effect of the vast, unknowable audience on television; about the role of television in promoting 'cultural citizenship' by means of 'transmodern teaching'; and about the effects of knowledge produced in the formal study of television.Via a consideration of neglected aspects of media and domestic history, from the 1930s film Housing Problems to Clarissa Explains It All , from the fridge to Umberto Eco's daughter, Hartley argues that this much-maligned medium can be reassessed in a more positive light. 'Democratainment' and 'do-it-yourself citizenship' are the latest manifestations of a civic and cultural education that TV performs even as it entertains.


Video, ergo sum.

(Faux Réné Descartes)


Richard Hoggart asked a 'useful' question; in a country where mass education had produced a literate population, what exactly did the large majority do with their literacy; what was it for? His question was a challenging one, for he was interested not in the professional or technical but in the cultural uses of literacy; the social and philosophical issues arising from the impact of printing in modernity, especially among the popular classes. Hoggart's move was original, and it has become the hallmark of cultural studies ever since. He shifted analytical attention from the production (political/economic) to the consumption (social/cultural) side of modern society. Instead of inquiring about the uses of literacy as a productive force, he was interested in how people used it as consumers. Classic sociological inquiry would have traced the division between mental and manual labour (workers by brain and workers by hand); the productive force of literacy would have been understood to be concentrated among workers by brain (from white-collar employees to 'knowledge-class' professionals), or in those aspects of manual labour which required literacy. Hoggart's rather perverse innovation was to focus on those people and on those parts of people's lives where literacy was neither required nor expected: he ignored the 'uses of literacy' among the middle classes and in the workplace, and asked what was its cultural 'use'-as a communicative force unique to modern, industrialized, urban life-for people whose investment in it was 'human' rather than technical or functional. He did the working classes the honour of treating them in exactly the same way that critics have traditionally treated the aristocratic and leisured classes; 'culture' was not assumed to be 'what you do when you get home from work', but a central component of existence. What mass literacy lent to popular culture was a question that had never been asked until Hoggart; but at the heart of his question lies an interest not in vocational, technical, professional or productive issues as such

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