Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

Simonson, Peter. Refiguring Mass Communication: A History

Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

Simonson, Peter. Refiguring Mass Communication: A History

Article excerpt

Simonson, Peter. Refiguring Mass Communication: A History. Urbana, Chicago, Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2010. Pp. 261. ISBN 978-0-252-077050 (paper) $25.00.

The title of this book puts an emphasis on the first word of the title: Refiguring. It is not a straightforward history in the ordinary sense but a "rehabilitation project" of the term "mass communication" that the author argues was both a creation of the last century and an abandonment by the end of the century. What we have in this book is a reconceptualizing of the term in a rhetorical tradition with results that are quite original if sometimes opaque for the reader. What Simonson undertakes is to redefine the phrase as to how the notion of communication with a large number of people (i.e., mass communication) can be traced back to historical figures that helped give meaning to the term that was only created in the 20th century. Thus he identifies Paul of Tarsus; Walt Whitman; Charles Cooley, a sociologist who first helped define communication theory early in the 20th century; David Sarnoff, who spearheaded the radio broadcast model of mass communication in the 1920s and 1930s; and Robert Merton, another sociologist who collaborated for a decade in the 1940s at Colombia University with Paul Lazarsfeld to help refine the term as it was introduced as an academic field at mid-century.

The first chapter begins to trace the term, "mass communication," from the use by David Sarnoff to promote the new NBC radio network in the 1920s more as a rhetorical or PR term. It was in the 1930s that the term was adopted by different scholars to designate radio broadcasting and then retrospectively newspapers and film as well and the beginning of television. After a brief overview of the field up to World War II, Simonson argues for expanding the term in ways that he believes were "repressed" by the identification of radio, press, film, and television as the appropriate purview of the field that was beginning to unfold. He seems to believe that term of "mass communication" is no longer relevant to what might better be termed media studies today, with the old media being displaced by the new. In lieu of this mass media focus, he begins to explore the term and develop a theoretical approach that expands and changes the term that goes beyond media and into what one could call communication studies that somehow involve a large number of people. Thus he seeks out historical figures who might be called mass communicators.

Paul of Tarsus is his first model--and a very successful one at that. Much of the chapter reflects Simonson's reading of the abundant recent literature on Paul and his mission in the first century of our era. But the author argues that Paul was not a particularly effective orator himself but that his view of communicating with the masses was more perhaps through his letters which were rhetorically superb. The focus of the chapter is on the First letter to the Corinthians where Paul argues for the Body of Christ as the symbolic reality for uniting the emerging communities of believers throughout the Roman world. He makes much of the connection of the two senses of the Body of Christ, both in an ecclesial and a liturgical sense of the sacred meal shared by the community in Corinth and their spiritual connection with all other believers far and near. This chapter begins to redefine mass communication in a basic way.

Chapter 2 on Whitman suggests that the book struggles with focus as it can be read as a series of separate essays about different mass communicators who carried out their work in profoundly different ways in very different contexts. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.