De-Westernizing Media Studies

De-Westernizing Media Studies

De-Westernizing Media Studies

De-Westernizing Media Studies


De-Westernizing Media Studies brings together leading media critics from around the world to address central questions in the study of the media. How do the media connect to power in society? Who and what influence the media? How is globalization changing both society and the media?


This book is part of a growing reaction against the self-absorbtion and parochialism of much Western media theory. It has become routine for universalistic observations about the media to be advanced in English-language books on the basis of evidence derived from a tiny handful of countries. Whether it be middle-range generalization about, for example, the influence of news sources on reporting, or grand theory about the media's relationship to postmodernity, the same few countries keep recurring as if they are a stand-in for the rest of the world. These are nearly always rich Western societies, and the occasional honorary "Western" country like Australia.

Yet, the universe is changing in a way that makes this narrowness transparently absurd. Globalization, the end of the Cold War, the rise of the Asian economy, the emergence of alternative centers of media production to Hollywood, and the world-wide growth of media studies are just some of the things that seem to invite a different approach.

Indeed, there are growing signs that US- and UK-based media academics are beginning to feel embarrassed about viewing the rest of the world as a forgotten understudy. a recent straw in the wind is the unhappy caveat that Michael Schudson inserted toward the end of an incisive, critical overview of the literature on news production. "All three approaches reviewed here," he laments, "tend to be indifferent to comparative...studies," weakening "their longer-term value as social science" (Schudson 1996:156). Similarly, John Downing has recently poured scorn on attempts to universalize the experience of Britain and the United States, as if these affluent, stable democracies with their Protestant histories and imperial entanglements are representative of the world. Like Sparks (1998), he calls for "communication theorising to develop itself comparatively" (Downing 1996: xi).

However, the principal way unease about Western parochialism has been expressed has been through the recent boom of globalization theory. This is a welcome development, though it is also not without problems rooted in the past. Though most English-language media theory has been geographically confined, there has long been a minority tradition with a global orientation. What can be learned from it?

Geo-political perspective

In the 1950s, an enormously influential geo-political view of the world's media system was advanced in a book titled Four Theories of the Press (Siebert et al. 1956). This divided the world into three camps: the free world of liberal

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