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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
"The Sociology of the Media" 
13th-Oct-2009 05:57 pm
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I've been to two undergraduate lectures in the Cambridge sociology department thus far, and this term, "the sociology of the media," has been bandied about on numerous occasions by two different lecturers, apparently without irony.

Needless to say, I'm having a bit of trouble reading in-between the lines.

Particularly since, from my American point of view, the intellectual tradition that they reference when invoking this term would come not under the umbrella of sociology but of communication. Sociology in the United States has largely ceded media studies to the other humanities and humanistic social sciences.

(The way in which Prof. Georgina Born introduced the intellectual justification for the sociological view of the media was brilliant, though, in its succinct compare/contrast with what she called "internalist" analyses of media in the humanities. I must remember it for the day that *knock on wood* I teach this material myself...)

Anyway, getting back to what I was saying before--does anybody know? Is bracketing the social scientific study of the media into sociology a UK thing? That strikes me as a bit weird, since the discipline of communication is certainly present here as well, and discussions with graduate students at LSE and Goldsmiths lead me to believe that it's in line with what I experienced at NYU.

Or is this attempt to manage the boundaries of the discipline in such a way a Cambridge local custom?
Comments 
14th-Oct-2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
Social scientific study of media is definitely considered "sociology" at my uni (in Belgium) as well. Found this out the hard way when I was gearing up for my PhD research and discovered that years of Japanese Studies at the Faculty of Arts had left me totally unprepared to do meaningful analysis of Japanese media ("meaningful" as I understood it), since the necessary theories and methodologies were taught in the Faculty of Sociology, an entirely separate world in a building across town where nobody had ever encouraged me to set foot. There's a certain degree of cooperation between some literature studies professors in Arts and some communication studies professors in Sociology, but all in all, there seems to be very little theoretical overlap between media analysis in Arts and in Sociology.

I've no idea if this is a European thing and have not devoted an excessive amount of thinking time to it yet -I didn't even realize things were different across the pond. This Prof. Born you mention sounds very interesting. Does she have an online syllabus, by any chance?
14th-Oct-2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
communication studies professors in Sociology

*laughs* From an American perspective, that would be almost a contradiction in terms. In the US, it *might* be possible to get a job in a Communication department with a Sociology PhD, but it would be *unheard of* for a Communication PhD to get a job with a Sociology department.

but all in all, there seems to be very little theoretical overlap between media analysis in Arts and in Sociology.

Well...actually, the sociological perspectives on the media are definitely directly in dialogue with the sorts of textual, historical, and biographical forms of analyses used in the humanities. But the humanities have never really responded to the challenge issued by social scientists.

This Prof. Born you mention sounds very interesting. Does she have an online syllabus, by any chance?

Yeah, all of the undergraduate paper guides are up online. But quite frankly they're nothing special in themselves. It's what happens in the *classroom* that's really nice. Both Georgina Born and John B. Thompson are really spectacular teachers (i.e. they make complex material digestible).

Thompson's teaching style, moreso than Born's, is reflected in his writing (which is almost painfully precise, not to mention painfully sincere). *laughs* But if you're brushing up on the "sociology of the media," you probably know about that firsthand!
16th-Oct-2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. If you don't mind, could you perhaps explain what about communication studies in the US causes them to be considered so incompatible with Sociology? I can't quite picture it when I think of the Faculty of Sociology over here (but then again, that's not the faculty I'm most familiar with, so my assessments of it are probably not entirely correct).

Well...actually, the sociological perspectives on the media are definitely directly in dialogue with the sorts of textual, historical, and biographical forms of analyses used in the humanities. But the humanities have never really responded to the challenge issued by social scientists.

Yup, I was referring to the situation at my uni rather than my personal take on the issue. The kind of media analysis practiced at the Faculty of Arts here feels limiting in a variety of ways. There's a certain disconnection made between text and the society producing it that doesn't feel quite natural to me, and I feel drawn to sociological methods of inquiry partly because text analysis as practiced in Arts always feels like a very solitary effort. The kinds of data often gathered in Sociology seem so much easier to share and discuss. (That's my very personal opinion based on a relatively shallow understanding of the respective theoretical paradigms. Feel free to whack me with something if I make no sense. The marked lack of discussion of theory in the area studies course I spent four years in was both a blessing and a curse, in hindsight. It helped me keep an open mind and see interesting connections between things that at first sight belong to very disparate fields, but on the other hand, my theoretical basis is so weak that I can barely do more than dabble in the fields I'm trying to connect. I still haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to handle that. "Study more theory" sounds like a logical next step, except if I wait until the rest of my schedule is empty enough of grading and teaching and administration and translation and event-organising duties to focus on that before proceeding with my research, I still won't have a PhD by the time I'm forty ;) Ack.)

But if you're brushing up on the "sociology of the media," you probably know about that firsthand!

It's on my "to brush up on" list, along with about five hundred other topics, many of them ridiculously basic. I wish I was in your class! It sounds absolutely fantastic. I'll be looking up those names.
17th-Oct-2009 08:06 am (UTC)
Fascinating. If you don't mind, could you perhaps explain what about communication studies in the US causes them to be considered so incompatible with Sociology?

Disciplinary divide. Different people, different departments, different disciplinary associations, different canon, different key journals in the field, etc. For purely cultural/local reasons, American sociologists tend not to study the media...though most would probably admit, were they confronted with examples, that some of what happens in Communication as a whole is very "sociological."

I wish I was in your class! It sounds absolutely fantastic. I'll be looking up those names.

Heh, well, it's not "my" class...since I don't have any required coursework. I was just sitting in on an undergraduate class, kinda for shits and grins.
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