Audience Analysis

Article excerpt

Audience Analysis. Denis McQuail. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997. 166 pp. $46.50 hbk. $19.95 pbk.

Denis McQuail is surely one of the most important media scholars of our time, and the occasion of the appearance of another of his books prompts respectful attention from the mass communication research community. In this volume, McQuail, always the master of conceptualization and fine distinctions, examines the meanings of "audience" and asks whether, given all that has been written and said, the concept continues to have meaning.

Audience research is, of course, carried on by various types of people with various diverse purposes and methods. These range from commercial audience measurement firms in the service of measuring the sheer size and demographics of audiences for the purposes of facilitating media marketing to social scientists interested in understanding motives for attending to media and the role of media use in media effects research. Still other scholars from cultural studies may use ethnographic methods to understand the meanings of media messages as understood by audience members in context. The audience research tradition, far from outmoded or dead, as some would allege, is probably more relevant now than ever before in history. Such research is also pursued by more people, withmore rigor and more diverse methods and purposes, than ever before. But given the diversity of this work, and seemingly irreconcilable perspectives, can we still speak meaningfully of audience for mass communication?

The question is a good one in that our present age seems preoccupied with technological capabilities and potentials and one frequently hears arguments in support of the proposition that mass communication is dead and replaced by some more personalized and sophisticated technology. Yet, evidence abounds that mass communication is not dead, that media remain very profitable enterprises whose products are used by many millions of people, and that audience research is growing in sophistication and respect in the United States and throughout much of the world. …

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