Watching Television Audiences: Cultural Theories & Methods

By Webster, James G. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Watching Television Audiences: Cultural Theories & Methods


Webster, James G., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Watching Television Audiences: Cultural Theories & Methods. John Tulloch. London, UK: Arnold, 2000.264 pp. $74 hbk. $24.95 pbk.

John Tulloch, head of the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University, begins by noting the tendency of his cultural studies colleagues to think of themselves as "critics not researchers." As such, they are disinterested in "methodology" and inclined to view social scientists as "the enemy." While Tulloch claims to share their suspicion of "'objective' empiricist methodologies," he invites his readers to consider the importance of methods, if for no other reason than to gain access to important sources of research funding. His audience, then, is "both the kinds of media/cultural studies academics who think of social science funding bodies as 'against them' and their students."

The introductory chapters identify the recurring themes of the book. These include audience pleasures and anxieties, local ecstasy and global risk, "audiencing" (that is, how people see themselves as audiences and fans), and "reflexivity" (the researcher's willingness to contemplate and declare his or her stake in the business of the collecting and reporting research). The bulk of the text, however, considers each of several television program types. The author's modus operandi is to focus on one or two key audience studies per genre. This produces a succession of chapters in which Tulloch offers a close reading of a handful of studies he has found useful in his own teaching and thinking about audience research.

Cop shows are the first such genre. After paying homage to the literature on interpretive communities, postmodernism, and cultivation, the reader is treated to the first of many "tales of the field." Quoting extensively from a study conducted by the Centre for Cultural Risk Research in Australia, we read the words of Angela, a poor single parent and part-time teacher who watches black-and-white TV on only one channel "because she cannot afford an antenna." Interspersed with her remarks on the fears and pleasures of watching cop shows, Tulloch offers his own commentary. For example, he notes "Her moral frame turns out not to be conservative at all. It derives from the epistemologically (critical) realist valuation of probing for `ontological depth' in order to reveal the 'deep structures' underpinning patterned activity."

This is followed by a chapter on soap operas that advocates a "radical contextualist" theory and features more than forty often lengthy quotes from one book by len Ang (1996), a chapter on television violence that reviews two studies of "EastEnders," highlighting their theoretical and methodological differences (Schlesinger et al., 1992; Buckingham, 1987), and a chapter on television documentaries considering two approaches, again using Schlesinger et al., and the author's own research from the early 1990s. Tulloch tackles the genre of cartoons by "unpacking" the research of Hodge & Tripp (1986), followed by a chapter on TV videos that features Valerie Walkerdine's (1993) study of "just one 'pathological' family" watching the movie Annie. …

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