Understanding Media Cultures: Social Theory and Mass Communication / Popular Cultures: Rock Music, Sport and the Politics of Pleasure

By Hill, Steven G.; Stokowski, Patricia A. | Journal of Leisure Research, Fourth Quarter 1997 | Go to article overview

Understanding Media Cultures: Social Theory and Mass Communication / Popular Cultures: Rock Music, Sport and the Politics of Pleasure


Hill, Steven G., Stokowski, Patricia A., Journal of Leisure Research


Stevenson, Nick. (1995). Understanding Media Cultures: Social Theory and Mass Communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-80398930-X (Hardback, $69.95); ISBN 0-8039-8931-8 (Paperback, $21.95), 238 PP

Rowe, David. (1995). Popular Cultures: Rock Music, Sport and the Politics of Pleasure. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-8039-7700-X Hardback, $69.95); ISBN 0-8309-7701-8 (Paperback, $21.95), 184 pp. At the San Antonio NRPA congress in 1995, the opening session of the Leisure Research Symposium focused on relationships between mass media and leisure. It was a timely idea: mainstream social scientists were producing a wealth of books and journal articles on mass media issues, and with relatively little published on that subject in our own leisure journals, the time seemed ripe for cross-fertilization. Little has occurred since that session, though, to challenge the idea that media studies and leisure studies are undertaken in widely separated worlds of academic attention. The two books reviewed here will only reaffirm this conclusion.

Nick Stevenson's Understanding Media Cultures sets out to evaluate cultural theories of mass communication by analyzing three paradigms of contemporary media research: (1) critical approaches focused on the ideology and political economy of mass communication; (2) interpretive approaches about audience/media relationships; and (3) cultural analyses of media technologies. Within each paradigm, Stevenson reviews and critiques a selected set of influential scholars whose writings about mass communication have contributed to an understanding of cultural processes. Included are two chapters on critical theory (one reflecting the British Marxism of Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and others, and the other discussing the writing of Jurgen Habermas as representative of the Frankfurt school of social research); one chapter on audience research (discussing the semiotic and structural analyses of David Morley, John Fiske, and feminist researchers Ien Ang and Janice Radway); and two chapters on cultural transmission through media technology (the contributions of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan are compared to those of Jack Goody, Anthony Giddens, Jean Baudrillard and Frederic Jameson).

Scholars familiar with the history of theorizing about the mass media will recognize this as primarily a Continental perspective on social theory. It skips over more traditional, empirical media research driven by structuralfunctional, cognitive, or behavioral theories, the predominant approaches in past research about media uses and gratifications, media agenda setting, public opinion effects, and information processing. Instead, Stevenson picks up the story with postmodernism, a philosophical moment that Critcher (1992) compares with "...wandering into town to do a quiet bit of window shopping and finding yourself in the middle of a student rag parade. You've no idea what it's about, how long it will last or where it will all end. Besides, everyone seems to have had far too much to drink" (p. 118).

This book is not easy going. It is also not for those who like to skim texts, or those under-rehearsed in reading philosophy of science and social theory. Stevenson aims to "develop an informed debate with those aspects of social theory that have taken the media seriously" (p. 2), and in this regard, he certainly succeeds. His examination of and comparisons among different theories and theorists is an exercise in detailed scholarship, ranging widely across an array of social science disciplines. Within this tapestry, the author weaves several important themes, including relationships between private pleasures and public obligations; the ability of people to participate meaningfully and democratically in mediated worlds; the values of aesthetic cultures; and the manipulation of mediated messages under conditions of globalization. By linking social and cultural habits and actions to economic, political, and ideological practices, Stevenson begins to deflate the myth that "the media form just another leisure activity in late capitalist society" (p. …

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