Active audience: Individuals who are selective in their use of media and interpretation, who constitute a demand that may be different than the one envisioned by the creators of a given media product, and are resistant to direct media influence; in contrast to the concept of mass audiences whom many perceived as passive and easily swayed. The concept represents a new way of thinking about audiences and their relationship to media communication.
Advertising: An institutionalized process of persuasion in which both visual and verbal symbols are manipulated to convince people to buy something, to foster brand loyalty, or to buy into a consumer lifestyle. A 200 billion dollar industry (1996) in which market demand is created for products in order to realize profit. Products which are essentially similar to others of the same kind are endowed with special symbolic meaning [sexuality, power, magic, or status] in order to increase demand and thus expand a market enough to absorb all that is/can be produced. In capitalism, markets are made small since workers are not paid 100% of the value of the goods they produce–hence they cannot buy back 100% of the product. Capitalism disemploys ever more people and the market shrinks more. Then too, the quest for profits lowers qualities; advertising offers the dramaturgical facsimile of quality or necessity to those who buy time and talent on the mass media. Advertising is usually directed at those who have discretionary income; young, single working professionals (since they have relatively more discretionary income) or the housewife (who must make a choice between items produced under standardized conditions). A major problem generated by the advertising world is the preemption of artistic talent and information media for commercial purposes. A secondary problem is the use of sex, violence and sports to generate publics for products otherwise without special merit.
Agency: The ability of individuals to act as self-conscious, willful social agents, and to exert their will through involvement in social practices, relationships, and decision-making.
Agenda-setting: The action of the media in influencing people’s perception of what is important, acceptable, or desirable. Attention is drawn to certain aspects of reality and away from others, thus influencing people in terms of what they should think about rather than what to think. This agenda-setting function in news casting can be achieved deliberately or accidentally by the size of headlines, order of appearance, choice of words, and length of coverage. See also frame.
Appropriation: The process by which often innovative or resistant cultural forms are taken up, incorporated, and commodified by the culture industry. One of the most frequently cited examples is that of punk, which, though it developed as a dissident movement in working-class England, was quickly marketed by major fashion designers, music labels, and other producers of mass youth culture. In analysis of popular cultural forms, appropriation is often viewed pessimistically as evidence of the power of late capitalism to absorb dissent into itself and turn it around for a profit; however, it is important to remember that resistance continues to circulate and change in form, even as its products are co-opted by a dominant culture.
Assimilation: Also known as acculturation, this term refers to the sometimes forced integration of an immigrant or subordinate group into the perceived “dominant” culture of the host community through the absorption of the host’s cultural practices and history. This stands in opposition to the idea of multiculturalism , which suggests that different groups can co-exist on an equal basis.
Authenticity: A positive quality of genuineness and originality attributed to objects, practices, or ideas, often in order to demonstrate the extent to which an initially authentic phenomenon has been compromised or drained of its value. The notion of authenticity has been critiqued for its ideological grounding in a nostalgic vision of a more “real” cultural past now sullied by rank commercialism.
Bias: An inclination toward something that is either deliberately inserted or is systemic, that is, reflects the logical if unintended consequences of how information is arranged.
Binary Opposition: An analytical system that uses specific examples of symmetrically opposed pairs, or mirror opposites, which, although mutually exclusive, generate meaning through their difference and describe a complete, if extreme, system of understanding. For example: “us:them”—in forming group identities, people are categorized either as part of the group (“us”), or outside of it (“them”). Binary oppositions can be dangerous in that they work to repress the ambiguities that exist between the two terms by positioning the binary as natural and any other forms of identification as deviant. In addition, binary terms often carry a positive:negative value assumption; for example, “we” are “safe, good, blameless” while “they” are “dangerous, bad, evil.”
Brand/branding: A recent phenomenon in economics wherein a company shifts its resources from producing goods or services to producing a corporate image defined by abstract emotional or spiritual qualities. Branding is applying a value to a commodity by making it appear distinctive and valued. Brands are certain highly valued images that become associated with a particular manufacturer or distributor of goods. The concept apparently originated with the branding of cattle to show ownership and quality.
Broadcasting: Over-the-air transmission of radio and television signals from fixed transmitters.
Broadsheets: Full-size newspapers. They were once thought to provide more serious coverage, compared with tabloids or half-size papers that were once perceived to be more sensationalistic in coverage.
Capitalism: Capitalism is the dominant economic system in the world today. Loosely definable as a system of private enterprise whose primary aim is the production of profit, capitalism has been developing since at least the fifteenth century, and underwrites many of the economic and cultural institutions that we take for granted today, such as private property, individualism, consumerism and the imperative of economic growth. In capitalist economies, the means of creating, distributing and exchanging wealth lies mainly in the hands of individuals and corporations, rather than in public or state hands. The value of goods and of labour is defined not by its social usefulness or significance, but by how much it can be exchanged for. The main goal of individuals in capitalism is to maximize profit or the wages they receive. Proponents believe that through the dance of supply and demand, goods and services are optimally and efficiently distributed throughout society. Detractors point to the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor, who often generate wealth for those at the top.
Codes: A system of signs whose rules and conventions are shared with others, thus allowing meanings to be generated, circulated, and interpreted. The existence of codes enables viewers to distinguish different types of programming from each other (sitcoms from soap operas) or to distinguish programming from advertising.
Colonialism: The historical process through which dominant groups have assimilated, dominated, and subjugated less powerful ones. Distinct from imperialism, which can also be used to describe non-territorial kinds of control, colonialism involves physical settlement along with the military, political, and economic conquest of a people.
Commodification: Rendering any artifact, action, object, or idea into something that can be bought or sold. A belief that all entities have (or should) have a material value and be judged on that basis. Ultimately, anything that can be exchanged for sale in a market is a commodity.
Commodities: Objects and services produced for consumption or exchange by someone other than their producers. Although humans have always exchanged the goods that they produced for other goods, in the nineteenth century a new focus on the consumption of an increasingly diverse array of commodities by greater numbers of consumers was partly responsible for the gradual shift to a consumer culture. Marx employed the term “commodity fetishism” to describe the almost magical value attributed to objects in a capitalist economy. The most significant, and most damaging, aspect of commodity culture from a Marxist perspective is its tendency to attribute value to things and the relations between them rather than to people and human relationships.
Communication: A transaction involving the meaningful exchange of information between sender and receiver. It entails a process by which messages are encoded, transmitted, and decoded, and how the message is transformed by this process.
Conglomerates: Corporations that contain many companies who conduct business along a wide variety of fronts. Linkages among these companies provide both vertical and horizontal monopolistic control.
Consumer culture: See consumerism.
Consumerism: A lifestyle in which the purchase of commodities is indicative of individual worth and social status. Acquisition is deemed a valuable end in itself. This may also imply that the acquisition of material goods may solve personal problems, help achieve goals, and foster an identity. A consumer culture can flourish in a society where people are judged on the basis of appearances (what they look like) or possessions (what they own). Also, the name for the complex set of dominant values and practices produced by and arising from life in a consumer society: a historically unique form of society in which consumption plays an important, if not central role. Central to consumerism is the (generally implicit) belief that the organization of life around the purchase of commodities is the optimal way to address the needs and wants of individuals, and even to allocate social goods.
Contested sites: Institutions that are challenged because of demographic, social, and political changes. Both society and its institutions are seen as domains (“sites”) in which nothing can be taken for granted but everything is up for grabs. For example, the media may be interpreted as a kind of battleground (“site”) in which opposing groups with conflicting visions compete with each other over who gets to define content, structure, or outputs. Reference to a “contested site” portrays a reality that is subject to negotiation, compromise, and change.
Convergence: The integration of conventional media with computers to create new patterns of communication. The content of one medium is reworked to appear in another so that the distinctive characteristics of each merge (“converge”) to create a more powerful package of persuasion. This process is largely attributable to the introduction of digital communication (computer-mediated communication) with its capacity to store, retrieve, and transmit large amounts of information instantaneously.
Counterculture: Groups that express antagonism toward the existing social and political order, and propose alternative ways of organizing society. The term counterculture is most commonly used to refer collectively to the alternative politics expressed by a variety of groups in the 1960s (feminists, civil rights and anti-war activists, etc.). More generally, “the” counterculture describes all those groups who challenge and contradict the “common sense” of everyday life with the aim of creating a better society.
Cultural Imperialism: A term describing the ideological infiltration of the cultural products of dominant nations (typically, the United States) into less globally powerful ones, at the expense of some aspects of indigenous culture. Globalization theorists have cast some doubt on the concept of cultural imperialism, pointing to its problematic assumption of a passive, colonized global audience, as well as its simplistic reading of actual processes of global production and consumption.
Cultural Studies: Cultural Studies embraces a definition of culture that includes conventional “texts” such as books, television shows, music and advertising, as well as ways of life, in the sense of concrete practices such as shopping, eating, drinking, fashion, etc, as well as more abstract structures such as language, beliefs, “the contradictory forms of ‘common sense’ which have taken root in and helped to shape popular life,” and the institutions that surround them. Cultural Studies embraces a number of different disciplines, including literary studies, film studies, political science, anthropology, sociology, and communications studies, and employs a variety of methodologies: close reading, ethnography, content analysis, population surveys and historical research.
Culture: Culture has been described by critic Raymond Williams as “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.” The term has a wide and diverse range of meanings and associations that cannot easily be reduced to a single definition. In contemporary usage, the term carries three main significations: (1) a description of a whole way of social life (as in the idea that humanity is comprised of numerous, distinct cultures); (2) the name for “serious” works of literature, music, fine arts, film, and so on, and the activities involved in producing these kinds of works; and, finally, (3) as an extension of the latter definition, culture can be used to refer to a wide range of signifying and symbolic works and activities, whether these involve everyday social practices (e.g., folk culture ) or the objects and practices of popular culture (e.g., detective novels as well as serious literature, television as well as film, etc.).
Cyberspace: A space created by a network of linked computers where online interaction occurs. Cyberspace consists of a reality with widely accepted protocols that allows people to orient themselves to each other through communication in an environment that is artificially created via computer networks.
De-centering: A postmodern objective: the result of re-examining truth claims of, say patriarchy, stratification, or truth itself and showing the human hand and human agenda which brought the claim, theory or practice to the fore-front and celebrates it as eternally valid and objectively existent.
Deconstruction: A mode of analysis predicated on two assumptions. First, that there is no such thing as reality, only constructions (or discourses) about reality. Reality is treated as any kind of text that can be exposed in terms of those biases and premises that went into the construction process. Second, that there is nothing natural or real about this constructed social reality, since it is created by individuals who make choices within broader contexts. The creation of media products allows it be deconstructed by unpacking of those assumptions, agendas, and outlooks that created the text. (See also social construction.) It is a method of analysis initially articulated in the work of Jacques Derrida that involves exposing the submerged philosophical assumptions that underpin texts and concepts. Derrida asserted that all Western thought is founded upon countless sets of binary oppositions (black and white, speech and writing, man and woman, etc.) wherein one term is invariably considered to be superior to its “opposite,” a valuation with vast cultural consequences. Deconstructionist readings attempt to discover how such unarticulated ideologies underpin seemingly straightforward surface meanings.
Definition of the Situation: The first step in the construction of social reality is to define (collectively) what kind of social event is going to be produced: a wedding, a party, a funeral, a meeting etc. The definition must be shared, or at least not challenged, by all present. This shared definition is accomplished by symbolic interaction. Social reality has no facticity apart from the collective definition and the collective performing of it. A pattern of observable behavior defined as a class or as a chess move is, in the consequence, a social fact. It is not enough simply to define something as real, compliance to a publicly known set of standards is also required.
Depoliticization: The process of taking something that resonates with danger or challenge, and transforming (neutering) it into something that is relatively harmless, marginalized, and private/personal. See also politicization.
Desire: French: desir=yearning/passion for. In postmodern terminology, desire is always and already communicated in and through language. All speech is saturated with certain longings, aspirations, needs, fears, passions, and beliefs. The French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, argued that desire was at the core of human being. Lacan maintained that desire could never be fully described. We can never completely capture in speech, in words, in sentences, the essence of our very existence without leaving some trace of it behind. When describing why we love someone our words are filled with desire. We find that we do not do ‘desire’ justice, art, poetry, the laughter of children; that is, the words themselves are inadequate to communicate how we feel. For Lacan, desir was illusive yet polymorphous, elusive yet omnipresent. The dominant language of modern science greatly erodes our capacity to desire; the needs of the capitalist system to realize profit channels desire into owning things.
Diaspora: From the Greek word for “to disperse,” diaspora refers to the voluntary or forced migration of peoples from their homelands to new regions. In areas that are greatly affected by large diasporic movements (i.e., in the West Indies via colonization and the slave trade) distinct, or creolized, cultures have developed, which blend indigenous with homeland cultures. These unique diasporic cultures challenge essentialist models of culture or the nation.
Digital communication: Digitization involves converting audio, video, and text into computer-readable formats. Contrasted with analog communication, which uses continuously varying signals that correspond to variations in light and sound source. Depending on one’s perspective, digitalization is either an empowering tool with which to create and share diverse forms of information more democratically, or a practice that threatens more authentic (or “real”) forms of cultural production. Because it offers unprecedented possibilities for the manipulation of sounds and images, digitalization also raises important issues for practices of representation.
Digital divide: The gap in Internet access and use between the “e-haves” (rich) and the “e-have-nots” (poor). This divide can reflect differences at the level of individuals or groups, or at global levels.
Discourse: A distinctive and coherent way of talking or thinking about social reality. Discourses about the world “out there” are constructed in the same way as literary texts (i.e., they involve choices within contexts). These discourses are relative to a particular position rather than reflective of an inherent “rightness” or “goodness,” imply the social constructedness of human realities, work on the principle that the totality is greater than the sum of its parts, and possess their own internal logic and underlying assumptions about the audience. The term “discourse” is frequently used by those postmodernists who argue that there is no reality outside of representations since the world out there can only be known through symbols, images, or narratives. Discourse, as a concept articulated by Michel Foucault, seeks to describe the way speech and writing work in conjunction with specific structures and institutions to shape social reality. Discourse refers to distinct areas of social knowledge (typically, broad subjects such as law, science, or medicine) and the linguistic practices that are associated with them, but also establishes rules about the context of this speech or writing, such as who is permitted and authorized to address these subjects. Knowledge, according to the concept of discourse, is power, since it comes into being through the operations of power and also exercises power by determining what truths will be endorsed. Discourses thus have immediate, material effects on the way a culture operates.
Discursive Formations: This is a key concept developed in the writings of Michel Foucault. Foucault was concerned with the manifestation of power communicated through language. Discursive formations in law, sexuality and mental illness exercise power in the lives of people. Foucault encouraged active resistance to all discursive formations, alleging that they produced system-sustaining social control, citizen alienation, and a disciplinary/punitive society. According to Foucault, any systematic constitution of reality possesses tremendous influence in our lives. This influence lives in specialized knowledges which includes no (or little) room for dissention, difference, or alternative knowledge forms. Thus discursive formations as power/knowledge give privilege to certain ways of knowing, certain claims to truth, while ensuring the continued silencing of repressed (oppositional) voices.
Discrimination: Any action or inaction that has the intent or adverse effect of denying or excluding someone from equitable treatment because of membership in a particular social category. See also systemic discrimination.
Distinction: To be set apart and considered different or special, usually through the achievement of a specific honour, and connected to value. In the study of popular culture, distinction is often linked to consumption, with the implicit idea of a capitalist system being that one can achieve distinction through one’s purchases.
Dominant ideology: Those ideas and ideals commonly used by the mainstream to justify and rationalize the prevailing patterns of power, privilege, and property. See also ideology.
Dramaturgy: Greek: draein = to act; to do + ergein = to work. A term introduced by Erving Goffman as a key to understanding advanced monopoly capitalism and the wide-spread practice of using the devices from the world of make believe in order to stage convincing and profitable impression among unknown others.
Dramaturgical analysis: The use of the concepts and processes found in the world of theatre and cinema to discuss how social reality is constructed. The political question to be raised is whether dramaturgy is simply a helpful approach to teach people about society (Goffman) or an ideology used by people to pursue private goals such as profit, manipulation, and management. The radical perspective is that such an approach arises in a society in which social relationships warrant it.
Dramaturgical society: A society in which the technology of theatre is used to manage the masses via electronics media and with the aid of the sciences of sociology and/or psychology. The world of make-believe enters the world of serious discourse as an alien and dominating force. In politics, a cadre of hired specialists now use dramaturgy to generate a public for a candidate or issue. Dramaturgy could be used to celebrate, illuminate or politicize rather than alienate people from the political and economic questions which affect their lives.
Effects research: A conventional approach to the study of media that focuses on the effects that media have on individual thought and behaviour, often based on a simplistic cause–effect model that ignores the complex and negotiated relationship between media texts and audience meanings.
Essentialism (ist): The belief that categories, or individuals and groups of human beings have innate, defining features exclusive to their category (e.g., the belief that different races have inherent characteristics that differentiate them from other races). Essentialism has been challenged by social constructivist theories that point to the ways in which identity and meaning are culturally produced.
Ethnicity: Ethnicity is a broad social category that addresses one’s perceived membership in a larger group based on characteristics such as religious, cultural, or national background. Whereas one’s race is generally “determined” by specific physical traits, ethnicity typically implies a somewhat more conscious and flexible affiliation with a particular group. Like race, however, the concept of ethnicity has often been used to discriminate against groups based on stereotypical perceptions of their common attitudes or attributes.
Ethnocentrism: The tendency to automatically and routinely interpret reality from one’s own perspective as normal or superior, to assume that others will do so as well if given a chance, while dismissing other perspectives as inferior or irrelevant. See also Eurocentrism.
Ethnography: A method of studying and learning about a person or group of people. Typically, ethnography involves the study of a small group of subjects in their own environment. Rather than looking at a small set of variables and a large number of subjects (“the big picture”), the ethnographer attempts to get a detailed understanding of the circumstances of the few subjects being studied. Ethnographic accounts, then, are both descriptive and interpretive; descriptive, because detail is so crucial, and interpretive, because the ethnographer must determine the significance of what she observes without gathering broad, statistical information. Clifford Geertz is famous for coining the term “thick description” in discussing the methodology of the ethnographer.
Eurocentrism: A belief in the moral superiority of European-based thoughts and practices as the norm that provides the standard by which others are judged and interpreted. See also ethnocentrism .
Folk Culture: Those cultural products and practices that have developed over time within a particular community or socially identifiable group, and that are communicated from generation to generation and amongst people who tend to be known to one another.
Frame: This involves imposing boundaries (or a “framework”) on a news story. A familiar frame of reference (“framework”) is imposed that not only imparts a distinctive spin (interpretation) on the news item, but also encourages a distinctive reading of it by drawing reader/viewer attention toward some aspects of reality, but away from others. Frames operate as a filtering device that pre-selects relevant facts and arranges the elements into satisfying storylines with predictable plots and stock characters.
Frankfurt School: Name given to a group of innovative social theorists, established in 1923 at University of Frankfurt, whose ideas remain important decades after the School was formally dissolved. Though there is no “Frankfurt School” approach to popular culture per se (the individual members agreed on no fixed set of ideas or concepts, and often disagreed with one another), the School’s name is used to describe approaches that emphasize the production of popular culture and insist on its ideological constraints. The goal of members of the University’s Institute for Social Research was the elaboration of a “critical theory” of society. Critical theory has since become the name for a diverse set of practices in social and cultural theory, philosophy, and literary studies. Members of the Frankfurt School included Horkheimer, Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, Otto Kirchheimer, and Leo Lowenthal. Some of the key texts produced by members of the school include Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man.
Gendered media: Used in several ways. First, a belief that men and women have a different and unequal relationship to mainstream media in terms of how they are portrayed. Second, a belief that a male bias is so deeply entrenched within media structures, processes, and outputs that its expression is systemic and structural rather than individual prejudice. Third, a tendency to see, interpret, and frame media content from a male point of view as natural, normal, and inevitable, while female perspectives are ignored or distorted.
Genre: A major category of media content that allows audiences to recognize different types of texts or programs, and to read them as intended by the content providers.
Globalization: An arguably recent, complex shift in the relationship between the world’s many cultures fuelled by complex economic, political, and technological factors. Its central effect is that temporal and geographic distances are no longer as divisive as they once were. Although seeming to possess enormous potential for improving the conditions of some of the world’s poorest regions, globalization is increasingly seen as being primarily profit-driven, and is closely allied with the remarkable ascension to power of massive transnational corporations and with the connected phenomenon of cultural imperialism. Some critics of globalization argue that it is little more than a process of further concentrating wealth and power in the hands of those who already have it, and that its effect on the indigenous cultures of developing nations is devastatingly corrosive. Others distinguish between different aspects of globalization (economic, political, technological, cultural, etc.) and point to the potential for new forms of cultural expression and new democratic alliances that are facilitated by a more globally connected world.
Habitus: Concept outlined by Marcel Mauss connoting both living space and habitat that describes the way in which particular social environments are internalized by individuals in the form of dispositions toward particular bodily orientations and behaviours. The habitus we occupy radically affects such basic activities as sleeping, eating, sitting, walking, having sex, and giving birth, all of which should be understood not as natural, but as a series of “body techniques” that are learned in particular social contexts, and are therefore culturally and historically specific. Pierre Bourdieu extended this concept to talk about the relationship between habitus and social class.
Hegemony: Developed by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in the 1930s, hegemony refers to the ability of dominant groups in society to exercise control over weaker groups not by means of force or domination, but by gaining their consent, so that the unequal distribution of power appears to be both legitimate and natural. In other words, hegemony operates not by forcing people against their better judgment to submit to more powerful interests, but rather by actively seeking the spontaneous cooperation of subordinate classes to maintaining social relationships that continue their subordination. Hegemony, significantly, is never total, but operates in constant struggle with newly emerging forms of oppositional consciousness. It works not by crushing those forces, but by a constant process of negotiation. Hegemony as dominance: in the realm of mass media, it involves a process of thought control in which dominant ideas and ideals are reproduced without people’s awareness that their attitudes are being changed. This dominant consensus works in a concealed way that may have the effect of naturalizing the social and constructed as normal and necessary. Media are prime players in winning rather than coercing consent: they promote values and practices that (1) are no longer questioned or challenged but taken for granted, (2) represent an article of faith to be defended at all costs, or (3) become so deeply ingrained as to fall outside the realm of normal consciousness.
“Highbrow”/ “Lowbrow”: A colloquial reference to “high” and “low” culture—a distinction that is made on the assumption that high culture holds some sort of greater innate intellectual or moral worth, while low culture is base and degrading to those who partake in it. The distinctions between these two groups become unclear with, for example, pop art, which borrows images from “low culture” (i.e., Campbell’s soup cans) and displays them in a venue for “high culture”—the museum. The term “nobrow” has been used recently to describe images, objects, or experiences that can’t easily be classified into high or low. In fact, the quotation marks, which often surround mentions of “high” or “low” culture, suggest that these categories are not only constantly shifting, but also arbitrary, often deployed as a means of legitimating class hierarchy.
Hybridity: In horticulture a term that means to graft two different plant types together in order to create a third, unique plant; in cultural studies a term, generally associated with diaspora and postcolonialism, that refers to the blending of two or more cultures. The “third culture” that results from this interaction is not simply a combination of the two, but a space of possibility in which differences both between and within individual cultures express themselves.
Ideology: Can be used in two senses. In its broadest sense, it refers to a complex of ideas and ideals that attempt to explain or justify a specific set of circumstances. Ideology can also be employed in the Marxist sense of false consciousness to refer to a complex of ideas that secures the status quo, justifies the prevailing distribution of power, privilege, and resources in society, and bolsters the dominant sector as natural or normal. According to this notion of ideology, subdominant patterns are dismissed as irrelevant or inferior.
Identity: An individual’s unique personality or self (i.e., “who we are inside”). The concept of individual identity is complicated by the fact that, rather than inhabiting a single identity, we all assume multiple identities that are defined by particular circumstances and relationships. Marxist and psychoanalytic theories further challenge the concept of identity, showing how it is constructed by largely unconscious processes of interpellation. More recent theories of performativity offer possibilities for challenging the rigidity of the traditional identities on offer—identities that are founded in essentialist notions of gender, race, and sexuality.
Identity Politics: The strategic assertion of unity, defined by characteristics such as race, culture, ethnicity, or sexuality. Identity politics challenge prevailing power structures by demanding recognition and the extension of majority rights to minority groups.
Imperialism: Imperialism refers to the extension of rule over different countries, territories, or peoples, usually by force, for the purposes of economic gain. Imperialism continues today through trade regulations that inhibit development in poor countries, or that tie the course of their development to the economic agendas of wealthier nations. See also cultural imperialism.
Inclusiveness: See institutional inclusiveness.
Information society: A society in which the production, processing, and exchange of information is the predominant economic activity. Activities and relationships are increasingly mediated through communication networks, while power is based on control of these networks and the cultural products that flow through them. It also describes how knowledge and complex systems of communication are employed to create wealth in postindustrial (economically advanced) societies. The knowledge (educated) economy is rapidly replacing the industrial (manual) economy. In contrast with manual workers, knowledge workers have greater control of their destiny and input into the means of production.
Institutional inclusiveness: At one level, a policy of offsetting disadvantage by way of institutional responsiveness to minority needs, concerns, and aspirations. At another level, a policy of redesigning institutional structures and practices to ensure the incorporation of minority differences as just, as an integral component of everyday functioning, and as critical to institutional success.
Intellectual Property/Copyright: Intellectual property refers to one’s legal ownership of an idea or any other kind of original creative work. This ownership may be protected by trademarks, patents, and copyright. Largely as a result of recent sweeping advances in technologies that can be used to reproduce or disseminate digital information, converting even the genetic material of living things into readable “code,” intellectual property has become a hotly disputed issue.
Interactive: Describes two-way process of communication in which feedback is used to modify subsequent messages between sender and receiver.
Internet: A global network of interconnected computers that freely communicate (transmit information) according to some accepted protocols. Millions of computers are connected globally, creating a network in which any computer can communicate with any other on the network.
Interpellation : A term coined by the French Marxist Louis Althusser to describe the process by which an individual is addressed, or “called on,” by ideology to assume a certain identity. Critical to the success of interpellation is the degree to which an individual recognizes and identifies with the roles s/he is assigned by the dominant culture.
Language: A term that in cultural studies refers to more than literal words, language can be broadly applied to describe all forms of communication (or sign systems)—visual, oral, aural, physical. In the study of culture, the units of any type of language are a focus for study, as societal values, relations, and power distribution are reproduced through a culture’s language(s).
Liberal pluralism: A philosophy and political principle that argues for the universality (“sameness”) of humanity. According to liberal pluralism, what people have in common as rights-bearing and equality-seeking individuals is much more important than what divides them as members of a group, that the content of our characters is more important than the colour of our skin, and that what we do and accomplish is more important than who we are because of birth or biology. A commitment to this principle makes it difficult to take differences seriously.
Magic bullet: A theory of media effects that endorses a direct and linear model of causality. Media are regarded as extremely powerful systems of persuasion, while audiences are deemed to be passive and helpless.
Mass: A large and amorphous category of humanity that the media perceive as having no distinct identity, ability to organize or act in unison, or access to power.
Mass Culture: A form of culture produced for profit by a vertically integrated factory system, for a large and diverse audience. Mass culture, though in some ways more pervasive than ever, is also breaking down as a result of economic processes of market segmentation, cultural developments such as identity politics, and the growing accessibility of technologies that allow “the masses” to produce culture for themselves.
Mass communication: A technologically driven process involving a largely one-way flow of standardized content from a centre to a faceless audience, with limited opportunity for feedback. In recent years, technology is thought to have taken the mass out of mass communication. This “de-massification” creates the possibility of messages customized to the needs of a specific and targetted audience.
Mass media: Any means of transmission involving the communication of one to many, from the top down, by way of electronic or mechanical channel.
Mass media communication: See mass media.
Mass society: A society whose members are dominated by a small number of interlinked elites with controlling powers over persuasion and manipulation. Also implies the idea that media are a corrupting influence that homogenizes the social order and personal integrity.
Media ( pl.): The concept has proven difficult to define. Generally speaking, media may be defined as those institutional structures that foster the rapid transmission of “standardized” information to a relatively large audience through some mechanized channel (“medium”). See also ideology.
Media literacy: The characteristic of persons who grasp the distinction between what the media are designed to do and what they really do do. One who is media-literate has the skills to decode or deconstruct the media by reading between the lines or digging beneath the superficial.
Mediacentrism: Derived from the concept of androcentrism or Eurocentrism , both of which concepts acknowledge the fact that reality is never interpreted objectively but tends to be routinely and automatically defined as natural and normal according to a particular set of beliefs and values. Other perspectives are dismissed accordingly. Mediacentrism refers to the process of interpreting social reality through creation of media “frames” that impose boundaries or a preferred reading.
Minority group: Sociologically, any group (whether based on race, ethnicity, or gender) who are disadvantaged, underprivileged, excluded, discriminated, or exploited. More accurately, it refers to a socially defined category of individuals who are perceived as different and treated as such by the majority. Their disproportionate share of resources stems from a lack of institutionalized power, discriminatory barriers, and denial of opportunity. The concept of minority group does not refer to numbers or statistical proportions. Also subdominant, visible minorities.
Moral panic: The expression of media-driven mass anxieties over perceived breakdowns in the social order.
Multiculturalism: One of those remarkably elastic terms that can be used to mean everything yet nothing. For our purposes, multiculturalism can be defined as a strategy for engaging diversity as “different yet equal” for purposes of “living together with differences.” Used in a political or institutional sense, an official multiculturalism represents a doctrine and a corresponding set of practices that promote a society in which diversity is officially endorsed yet national unity is vigorously maintained. Multiculturalism also refers to an institutionalized set of policies and practices for integrating minority women and men into society. In that sense, an official multiculturalism rests on the assumption that a society of many cultures can be constructed as long as a person’s ethnocultural differences are not used to deny equal participation and full democratic citizenship rights. See also liberal pluralism.
Multimedia: Any media that combine text, graphics, sound, and video. For example, video games.
Myth(ology): A term coined by Roland Barthes to describe the ways in which sign systems work ideologically to reproduce and legitimate particular social relations. Myth is a mode of signification that works to express and surreptitiously to justify the dominant values of a given historical period. Unlike the relatively simple level of denotative or literal meaning, in which a word or image corresponds to a single, straightforward definition, myth brings into play a whole chain of associated concepts (e.g., tree–nature–goodness) by which members of a culture understand certain topics, and which help to shape their collective identities.
Narrowcasting: Aiming media messages at specific segments of the public defined by values, preferences, or demographic attributes. Also called niche or target marketing . Narrowcasting is based on the idea that mass audiences do not exist.
Nation/Nationalism: As a form “imagined community”, the nation is both example and instigator of the process by which identities that are constructed or imagined come to assume the force of nature . One useful way to approach the significance of the nation as a source of modern identity is to think about the relationship between nations and nationalism. Our usual, common-sense way of understanding the relationship is to see the nation—a people defined by collective belonging to an extensive community, usually defined in relation to a specific territory—as primary, with nationalism as a frequent, though not inevitable by-product. Recent theories of the development of nations (Anderson, Gellner) suggest that the relationship might best be understood as working the other way around: that is, nations are how the ideological impulse of nationalism is legitimated and given concrete shape.
New media: The different kinds of communication that combine text, graphics, and video with computer technology to create a distinctive product.
News: Any information deemed suitable for newscasting. The lack of a widely agreed upon definition suggests that news is whatever the news media define as news. Certain attributes pertaining to newsworthiness are usually involved, including references to negativity, magnitude, novelty, celebrity, and conflict. Print and broadcast news differ because they rely on different logics for information processing.
News peg: A device for making a story topical or relevant by providing it with a “spin” or “angle.” For example, protest groups are usually portrayed by mainstream media as a threat to the social order. Assigning a news peg to a story is also known as spiking it. See frame .
Newsworthiness: The quality of being regarded as suitable for inclusion in a newscast.
Niche marketing: Focus on certain segments of the population as targets of advertising messages. See narrowcasting .
Objectivity: A commitment to news values that embraces a commitment to factual accuracy, lack of explicit bias, separation of fact from comment, transparency about sources, and balanced coverage. True objectivity, as in “value-free,” does not exist, and it is misleading to pretend that news is anything but ideological (a “value judgment”).
Orientalism: Refers to the way in which “The Orient” was and is constructed by the West as a means to claim authority and exercise control over Eastern cultures. The Orient is not a fact, or a specific geographical place; rather, it is the complex layers of knowledge and mythology that have been constructed around Western ideas about the non-West. For example, the way in which North American media characterize the “Middle East” as a place of repressive government regimes and fundamentalist religion glosses over the vast cultural differences between different cultural groups of the region and contributes to the Western assumption that domination of these “backward” nations is legitimate and necessary.
Othering/otherizing: The process by which minority women and men are portrayed as removed in time, remote in space, marginal to society, and undeserving of equal treatment because of their inferiority or irrelevance.
Patriarchy (Patriarchal): A social system in which men hold power in the family and in the social structure. Patriarchy has more recently been used as a term in feminist criticism to describe the total system of gender relations in which male dominance has historically worked to dominate and disempower women. The challenge in trying to dismantle this system is that it has been historically naturalized to seem as though the social position of both genders has been biologically determined.
Performativity: Developed most extensively in the theory of Judith Butler, performativity refers to the process by which identities are enacted through repeated performance rather than inherently possessed or inhabited. The idea of performativity works on the premise that roles such as sex and gender are produced within an ideologically determined social script. While it’s not possible to throw away the script—to be “oneself” instead of playing one’s assigned role—the theory of performativity, by highlighting the tension between the scripted ideal and its embodied performance, offers possibilities for resisting the straitjacket of traditionally defined identities.
Policy: A formal set of specific initiatives (including laws, rules, and practices) designed to solve an articulated problem. Can also be defined as a broader framework that justifies the creation and implementation of specific initiatives to solve problems.
Political economy: The study of power in shaping media structures, processes, and outputs. Applied to media, it refers to the dominating role played by economic (material) forces in influencing the political dimensions of media-society relations. Politics are primarily about economic power, and vice versa.
Politicization: The process by which issues are taken out of the personal or private domain and situated instead within the public domain where they can compete for scarce resources. See also depoliticization .
Portals: General-purpose Web pages that serve as entry points into the Internet.
Postcolonial(ism): Postcolonial refers to the period after the formal retraction of colonial rule in the developing world. This varies considerably, but in the case of the former British colonies, it refers to the period after the Second World War. Postcolonialism is a term that refers to the working through of the effects of colonization on a society or culture. The study of postcolonial culture examines the various mechanisms of colonialism (e.g., political rule, economic exploitation, colonial education systems) and their long-term , imbedded cultural and social implications. While many former colonies are now independent states, postcolonial studies insists on the need to recognize and understand the ways in which its effects persist in the social, cultural, and political life of those states today.
Posthumanism: A philosophy that questions concepts that underpin the tradition of humanism, such as identity, subjectivity, consciousness, and the soul. While humanism is based on ideas of human beings as unique individuals, and of humanity as a clearly defined, superior life form, posthumanism rejects the autonomy of “the human” in favour of the cyborg—a being defined by a combination of human and machine and/or animal characteristics. Posthumanism has been taken up both by feminists, for whom it represents a way of challenging biologically essentialist views of sex and gender, and by proponents of genetic engineering, who support the idea of designing “better,” more powerful humans through technological enhancement.
Postmodernism/postmodernist: A term that does not lend itself to easy definition. Some see postmodernism as a discourse (“debate”) that critically engages with modernist claims about the primacy of reason, rationality, science, and progress. A postmodernist rejects the idea that there is a unified and organized way of thinking about the world from a fixed and objective point of view. Also rejected is the idea that there is rational core of meaning at the centre of society that everyone agrees with. Endorsed instead is the notion that there is no reality, only discourses about reality with variations depending on where people stand in the system. Postmodernism names a period—the current era—and points to the fundamental differences of this era from even the recent past (i.e., modernism, ranging from roughly the mid 19th to the mid 20th century). Postmodernism views the search for truth as project whose real aim is achieving social power and control, and is suspicious of any “grand narratives” or theories that seek to provide the single explanation for how human beings act (such as Freudian psychoanalysis) or how societies function (Marxism, for example).
Preferred Reading: Any given text (be it a novel, film, image, or song) can be interpreted in a theoretically infinite number of ways depending on the perspective and experiences of the reader. However, the preferred reading is the particular interpretation that emerges as the most obvious to the greatest number of people based on prevalent and culturally specific modes of understanding (e.g., it is the reading that in many cases strikes interpreters as being “common sense”).
Pseudo-individualization: Along with standardization (which it facilitates), one of the primary characteristics of the products of the culture industry, as described by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Pseudo-individualization refers to a mode of capitalist production wherein, although virtually identical, cultural products are superficially varied insofar as it enables them to seemingly speak directly to a consumer’s sense of individuality, their unique taste, and apparent freedom to choose.
Power: Can be defined in many ways, but often refers to the capacity of some to make others do what they usually wouldn’t under normal circumstances. It also reflects an ability to name things that shape how life will be lived. Power is not a thing, but a process inherent in relationships and contexts. Power also refers to the capacity of dominant groups (or at least the elites within the dominant sector) to enforce a degree of compliance (“obedience”) in accordance with majority needs and aspirations. Power can be expressed through physical force or manifest in ideologies that convince by consensus.
Prejudice: An attitude that negatively prejudges others. It can be thought of as a set of biased and generalized prejudgments about “others” derived from inaccurate and incomplete information. It represents a dislike of others based on faulty and inflexible generalizations, involving an irrational and unfounded set of assumptions that compromises the treatment of minority groups in an impartial or equitable manner.
Problematizing: A process that makes transparent that which is concealed by habit or conspiracy. The socially constructed nature of reality is thus exposed. Problematizing can also involve a process by which the conventional and taken-for-granted are exposed for purposes of criticism and challenge.
Program: A clearly defined and labelled fragment of television output that is distinctive and distinguishable from non-programs such as advertising .
Propaganda: A deliberate and organized attempt to persuade others (in both thought and action) in a rigid and deterministic manner by way of blatantly one-sided deception.
Public service broadcasting:A system of broadcasting that is publicly funded, operated in a nonprofit way, designed to meet the varied needs of all citizens, and based on content that private or commercial media neglect for lack of profitability.
Race: A constructed category that is widely used to distinguish among various groups of human beings based on inherited biological or physical characteristics (such as skin colour or facial features). Although seemingly a neutral descriptive tool, race has functioned historically as a way to draw spurious connections between specific physical characteristics and the possession of certain behavioural traits assumed to be shared by all members of the race. The idea of race is therefore inseparable from the discriminatory attitude and practices of racism.
Racism: A relatively complex and organized set of ideas and ideals (ideology) that assert natural superiority of one group over another in terms of entitlements and privileges. It also consists of the power to put these beliefs into practice in a way that denies or excludes those who belong to a devalued category.
Representation: The construction of an image or message in mass media communication. Some aspect of reality is represented through words or visuals into a media message by way of conventions that often say more about those producing them than about the objects being projected. According to postmodernism, there is no reality outside of representations; hence, reality can only be known through representations such as images or narratives that themselves are constructions created by conventions.
Semiotics: Part of a move (spearheaded by Ferdinand de Saussure) in linguistic theory away from understanding how languages developed historically, or diachronically , to looking at them as structures at a single moment in time, or synchronically . Saussure was interested in how the individual elements of language—signs —worked together, according to rules of selection and combination, to produce meaning. A fundamental principle of Saussure’s theory was the premise that the relationship between the two “parts” of a sign—a word (or signifier ) and the concept it refers to (the signified )—is not natural but arbitrary, determined by convention.
Sign: The smallest unit (such as a word, image, or sound) of communication to which meaning is attached. In order to be a sign, the unit must meet three criteria: it must possess a physical form, it must refer to something else, and it must do so in a way that is recognizable to others. The sustained and large-scale interconnection of signs facilitates the construction of shared sign systems that enables individuals to communicate with other members of their culture in a comprehensible manner.
Social construction: A popular perspective in sociology that argues there is nothing natural or normal about the world we inhabit, and that, rather, it consists of a series of conventions that are continually created by individuals who define situations and interact, albeit within broader contexts. Social constructivists believe that identity is not inherent within an individual, group, or thing, but is instead largely a creation of cultural, political, and historical forces.
Standardization: Along with pseudo-individualization, one of the primary characteristics of the products of the culture industry, as formulated by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Standardization refers to a widespread similarity between cultural products. Both a method of production and a manner of consumption, standardization not only dictates the kind of cultural products that will be manufactured but also inscribes in the consumer a shared mode of passive, apolitical, and disengaged reception.
Stereotype: A distinctive way of processing information, in which reality is codified in a simple and often simplistic manner by classifying it into convenient categories because of common properties. Generalizations about everyone in the group are then made on the basis of limited information.
Structuralism: An analytical approach characterized largely by a shift in focus from interpreting a text in order to unveil its hidden meaning to identifying and interrogating the ways in which meaning is brought into being structurally. Structuralism is a diverse approach encompassing numerous methodologies, connected by this concern with the ways in which the structure of any given text is implicated in the production of its meaning. Although it has been subject to intensive critique (focusing, for example, on its inability to take account of historical change), structuralism’s once-radical rejection of the role of relationship and context in determining meaning has been enormously influential in many disciplines.
Subculture: A term that describes groups or communities that deviate or differ from existing social norms. Subcultures are typically conceived of as groups of individuals who come together around shared practices and ideas that are rejected or treated with suspicion by official, mainstream culture. By creatively expressing their dissatisfaction with existing social norms and practices, subcultures challenge and modify what counts as normal, everyday life. Subcultures are often identified with youth and youth culture in particular.
Subliminal: Literally, this adjective applies to anything that works by manipulation of the subconscious. Contemporary advertising is largely subliminal not because of hidden messages deliberately inserted, but because of a reliance on images that evoke positive associations at the subconscious level.
Synergy: Formerly used in the sense of an interaction among parts of a whole that renders the whole greater than the sum of the parts. At present, synergy is ascribed to the ability of media conglomerates to coordinate marketing with advertising campaigns involving multimedia processes from selling T-shirts to sales of video and CDs.
Systemic discrimination: Discrimination intrinsic to the normal functioning of an institution; contrasted with conventional discrimination, which openly and deliberately tries to exclude or deny. Systemic discrimination is embedded in a way that penalizes minorities because of the logical consequences of even well-intentioned arrangements that are founded on faulty assumptions. Initiatives that seek to impose a “one size fits all” application of rules, procedures, or rewards may also be systemically discriminatory. See also systemic racism.
Systemic racism: A largely inadvertent bias embedded within the institutional framework of society; contrasted with deliberate and consciousness expressions of denial or exclusion. Systemic racism refers to the unconscious yet real form of discrimination that stems from applying seemingly equal or neutral rules to everyone. Institutional standards, rules, and rewards may appear to be universally applicable and colour-blind, yet they have the unintended effect of excluding those who require special treatment to compete equally.
Systemic stereotyping: Stereotypes that are not an error in individual perception but embedded within the structures, outputs, and processes of media institutions. That is, media cannot help but stereotype, given their need to process information and codify reality within the boxed-in constraints of print or electronic media. The media are heavily if unconsciously dependent on stereotyping as a means of simplifying content for audiences.
Symbol: Something that stands for something else in which there is no direct relationship except as defined by convention.
Tabloids: Literally, newspapers that are half the size of broadsheets. Often used in a derogatory sense to convey the idea of dumbing down or sensationalism.
Theorizing: A process of defining general principles that logically explain the relationship between seemingly unconnected patterns.
Visible minorities: A popular term for people of colour or racial minorities. It refers to an official government category of persons who are native- or foreign-born, non-white, and non-Caucasoid, including Chinese, Africans, etc. In the 1996 census, 11.2 percent of Canada’s population identified themselves, or were identified, as visible minorities.
Writerly: From scriptible, a French term which holds that a theory, play, story or myth is re-written each time it is told. This a subversive approach to reading a text. It legitimates a multitude of interpretations which validate a variety of truths and of knowledges. Unlike the readerly approach which tends toward freezing a text, the writerly approach resists official interpretations and a finished product. The underlying structure of signification, of meaning, are unearthed. The text contains an explosion and scattering of meanings. Rather than privileging one meaning, one voice, through the text, the reader/viewer is encouraged to discover the multiple and repressed voices embedded in the words. Familiarity and coherence, cornerstones of the readerly approach, are resisted and supplanted with displacement and ambivalence. It is also an active reconstruction of alternative truths, replacement of ways of knowing.
(Adapted and modified from: McQuail, 2000; Baran, 2001; Lorimer & Gasher, 2002; Fleras & Kunz, 2001; Fleras & Elliott, 2002; Straubhaar & LaRose, 2002; Veldstra and Walters)