Media Sociology 2011-12 -- Term One
NOTE: IF YOU ARE ENROLLED IN THIS MODULE AND HAVE NOT RECEIVED ANY E-MAILS RELATING TO THE MODULE, PLEASE CONTACT THE CONVENOR: firstname.lastname@example.org
MEDIA SOCIOLOGY I
Autumn Term 2011/12, Lectures: MS04, M 9-11
Lecturer: Prof. Steve Fuller (email@example.com)
M 1- 2, C1.11/15: Ms Nazia Hussein (N.Hussein@warwick.ac.uk)
M 2-3, S1.66: Ms Louise Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
M 4-5. S2.84: Ms Joelyn Quigley-Berg (email@example.com)
Tu 1-2, S1.66; 2-3, S1.69: Prof. Fuller
Module Content for the This Term
This term will be concerned with media as a form of social knowledge, specifically public knowledge -- mainly focusing on journalism but also moving to a more general discussion of public opinion, public relations and the internet. The readings will be provided to you each week by either weblinks or attachments sent through the class electronic distribution list.
Module Mechanics for This Term
Each week’s lecture will last about one hour, followed by up to an hour of questions and discussion from the floor about what had been said. I will have the podium computer’s e-mail facility turned on, so that I can collect your questions during the lecture and then read and answer them during the Q&A. Each week’s lecture will also be audio-recorded and posted on this module’s website. You must also be registered for a one hour seminar.
One Assessed Essay (see below) = 33%
One Three-Hour Examination = 67% (will require that you show knowledge of both terms’ work)
Assessed Essay Topic (Everyone must do it)
Select ONE of the media revolutions below:
(a) Printing Press (books and newspapers) – 16th to18th centuries
(b) Broadcasting (radio and television) – 20th century
(c) Computers (internet and social media) – late 20th and early 21st centuries
In terms of the media revolution you have selected, critically discuss ONE of the following:
(a) how it altered the content provided by the media
(b) how it altered the relations between the media’s producers and consumers
Although this topic requires that you express opinions and exercise judgement, you will be marked mainly by your use of academic sources and arguments to defend what you say.
- You are required to submit a 750-essay plan to your seminar tutor by Week 8 (21st November) to receive feedback by the end of the term.
· The 2000-word assessed essay is due to Jane Cooper, the department receptionist, on Tuesday 1 May 2012, by 2pm. You must both send it electronically and hand it in person by that date.
Library Sources, Google Books and Wikipedia
There are many ways of finding out more about a topic beyond what is provided in the course materials – and you are encouraged to explore both the scholarly and popular literature, always with a critical eye. (In practice, that means always try to find a second opinion.) In particular, you should learn to conduct web-based literature searches. Warwick is quite good in this area. The relevant university webpage is http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/main/tealea/, which enables you to access – both on an off campus – most of the major academic journals and even some popular literature. You can also do literature searches on Google Books http://books.google.co.uk/bkshp?hl=en&tab=wp and Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk
Wikipedia entries may be consulted in this course, and sometimes may even be recommended, but they should be read more as compilations of sources than authoritative statements on their topics. However, sometimes the Discussion pages can be quite interesting in terms of revealing sources of controversy surrounding a topic. But generally speaking, Wikipedia entries are more ‘politically correct’ than accurate. (You might be interested in this article on the history of Wikipedia and this article that I’ve written on the unfulfilled potential of Wikipedia.)
|1||03 Oct||No Lecture|
|2||10 Oct||Introductory Lecture: How Media Have Transformed Social Relations|
|3||17 Oct||From the Printing Press to Television: McLuhan Thesis|
|4||24 Oct||The Role of Corporate Power in the History of Media|
|5||31 Oct||Media Roles I and II: The Critic and Muckraker|
|6||07 Nov||Media Role III and IV: The Pundit and Broadcaster|
|7||14 Nov||No Lecture: Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self|
|8||21 Nov||Science of Public Relations|
|9||28 Nov||Public Relations for Science?|
|10||05 Dec||Mass Media as Challenger to Established Knowledge: The Difference Made by the Internet|
INTRODUCTION (WEEK 2) – A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF MASS MEDIA
The idea of mass media originated with propaganda, a sixteenth century Latin word for the Jesuits’ Counter-Reformation ideological campaign. Propaganda is a steady stream of consistent information from a credible source to a mass audience. It emerged from the classical epistemic basis for rhetoric, namely, that truth is insufficient to convey import. In addition, a message must be conveyed frequently, or at least regularly, to appear reliable. The Protestants had been able to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic Church simply by contradicting Catholic doctrines – in many different ways – without having to present a united front. For their part, the Catholics initially either ignored or dealt with the Protestants in a local fashion, but in either case without getting across the consistency and reasonableness of their own doctrine. The need to appear reliable through repeated airing of the same message served another function. We often forget that when the Bible was taken seriously as a historical document reporting unique events of lasting significance, the deterioration of the quality of evidence over time (through the inevitable mistranslations and textual corruptions) always created a demand for demonstrations of ancient truths by contemporary means that enable new audiences to re-enact for themselves the ideas that originally animated, say, the Old Testament Patriarchs, the Apostles or the Church Fathers.
Jesuit propaganda aimed to address all of the above concerns, often by incorporating Protestant criticisms, typically in the form of converting a difference in kind to a difference in degree: Moral absolutes and doctrinal allegiances became decisions taken under conditions of uncertainty between alternatives the truth of which only God knew for sure. In the history of propaganda theory, this is sometimes called inoculation because weaker strains of a potentially threatening influence – in this case, Protestantism --are promoted to those who would be harmed by stronger strains. Thus, in modern electoral politics, mainstream liberal and conservative parties repackage watered-down versions of, say, pro-ecology or anti-immigration politics to mitigate the effects of extreme versions of these views in democratic debate. At the same time, they stereotype those from whom they have borrowed as ‘unrealistic’ and hence not worth taking seriously on their own terms. To be sure, inoculation, though undeniably manipulative, need not be sinister. Indeed, it is characteristic of the public intellectual as someone sufficiently secure in social status to present a reasoned version of an exceptionally unpopular point-of-view. Moreover, often it is only once the inoculating intellectual qua scapegoat has left the scene that public opinion comes around to accepting the content of her message, albeit expressed in a different form.
The growth of mass media in the modern era is most directly tied to the value placed on the sheer quantity of people -- voters, consumers, viewers – whose opinions matter to achieve some desired social effect. It is natural to think about this development in terms of activating the masses to assume a level of responsibility previously left to elites speaking on their behalf. A crucial transition, triggered by the 18th century Enlightenment, came when responsibility for message content was shifted from producers to consumers. Thus, when not threatened with foreign invasion, modern states have preferred educating citizens to censoring publishers. While in this context it is natural to think about the emergence of national school and university systems, an increasingly decisive role has been played by the establishment of the ‘broadcasting’ media of radio, television and, most recently, internet. These media, with which citizens are in contact not merely in youth but throughout their lives, have enabled unprecedented levels of experimentation and manipulation in the transmission of thought, the effects of which have been subject to intense statistical scrutiny with the advent of market research and public opinion polling in the 1920s. While the history of broadcasting has been, generally speaking, a matter of states trying to regulate, if not control, privately owned means of transmission, an early precedent was set by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which in 1927 had already nationalised wireless communication with the aim of “informing, educating and entertaining,” a dedication to the audience’s cognitive improvement that future broadcasters throughout the world have had to meet, at least nominally.
As the mass media came to mediate all aspects of social life in the twentieth century, they also came under increasingly serious political and ethical scrutiny. However, the attempts at prescription and regulation have done surprisingly little to dampen the pace of technological progress that has driven developments in this domain, which by the 1960s had prompted the Canadian critic Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) to declare, “The medium is the message.” Here we may distinguish a set of modernist and postmodernist worries about the mass media. Modernist concerns center on the prevalence of entertaining over informing and entertaining, as well as the mass media’s failure to present a balanced range of perspectives in its coverage. In contrast, postmodernist worries are focused on the blurring of the three seminal BBC functions, not least through the outright promotion of ideological conflict, even in areas where it might otherwise not thought to have existed. If the modernist worries that the mass media might lull audiences into a false consensus, the postmodernist worries that they might manufacture discontent that generates unnecessary public involvement, simply in order to boost audience ratings.
Interestingly, this so-called postmodernist worry had been already voiced in 1920s by the US journalist Walter Lippmann -- and a decade later, by the Viennese phenomenologist Alfred Schutz. For them, the sensory immediacy of the emerging mass media (i.e. radio, newsreels and tabloid newspapers) provided a false sense of empowerment, as people were too easily persuaded that they knew much more about the increasingly complex world of politics and economics than they really did, which in a democratic environment made them vulnerable to the flattery of demagogues. Read in light of the history of propaganda, Lippmann effectively offered a counter-Enlightenment (cf. counter-Reformation) approach to the mass media that stressed the communication skills of political leaders and other opinion-makers (or ‘pundits’ like himself) to pacify mass audiences with sober, measured (if perhaps deceptive) accounts of current affairs that exuded an expertise worthy of trust. However, it worth observing that the staged exaggeration of differences in opinion for purposes of motivating judgement is neither unique to the mass media nor its effects need be as deleterious as Lippmann suggests. Indeed, a low-tech version is a staple of the dialectical method characteristic of liberal arts education, which perhaps survives most intact in the philosophy curriculum.
Perhaps the most epistemologically salient, yet controversial, phenomenon associated with the mass media in the twentieth century has been what Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann has called the ‘spiral of silence’, a process that explains consensus formation as a largely unintended consequence in mass democracies. Noelle-Neumann’s guiding insight was that people not only have opinions about various things but also opinions about the social environment in which such opinions are formed. This second-order knowledge takes on added significance in societies that regard themselves as free and open, and where public opinion is regularly sampled and reported. Noelle-Neumann’s evidence base was drawn from Germany. A crucial but underrated feature of modern German history is its combination of very free-ranging discussions of democratic politics with relatively little legally sanctioned political participation – that is, until the 1920s, when the Weimar Republic provided Germans with their first taste of constitutional democracy.
The Weimar Constitution enacted a proactive policy of democratisation, licensing mass demonstrations and generally encouraging the organization of what would now be called ‘special interest groups’ and ‘identity politics’. To be sure, this led to legislative gridlock, opening the door to Hitler’s appeal to a German cultural identity that transcended internecine differences. This surprising result was made possible a generally held second-order belief that any opinion not expressed was simply not held. This belief was based on the sound democratic principle that in an egalitarian public sphere, peers express themselves openly, be it for or against other expressed opinions. It follows that opinions not openly opposed are perceived as at least tolerable if not tacitly endorsed by the public. Such a spiral of silence was instrumental in the rise in Hitler’s credibility. Critics of Nazism from academia and the intelligentsia often refrained from commenting directly on its outlandish racialist proposals for solving Germany’s economic problems, as they were regarded as beyond serious political consideration. However, as Nazi support increased steadily over successive polls in the dozen years to Hitler’s ascendancy, this silence had apparently left the impression that the logic of the Nazi argument was unassailable but that politicians lacked the will to take it forward.
There are many lessons here. The main one is that intellectuals who officially endorse free speech and free inquiry need to be more mindful of the democratisation of judgement that inevitably results from such freedoms. Weimar intellectuals grossly overestimated their own authority once the populace were allowed to judge for themselves, not only in the voting booth but perhaps more importantly in public opinion polls. In particular, they incorrectly presumed a common sense of the true and the false, the plausible and the implausible, about Germany’s plight after its defeat in World War I. (This miscalculation was also formative in Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, which specifically stressed the role of differences in generation and class to world-view.) Here one needs to consider the role played by the right-wing media mogul Alfred Hugenberg, who deliberately boosted Hitler’s public profile, which entailed the inclusion of Nazi views, despite their initially marginal status, among those regularly canvassed in surveys. Thus, people receptive to Nazi proposals but concerned about the lack of ‘respectable’ public endorsement were potentially encouraged by the sheer opportunity to express such views. This gives a new spin to the idea of the ‘silent majority’, a phrase popularised by Richard Nixon in 1969 for those Americans who supported the Vietnam War but lacked an opportunity to express it. The difference is that the success of Nazism suggests that any of a number of ‘majorities’ may be latent in a population, capable of being socially constructed over time, once people are provided with an opportunity to express and develop a given set of opinions.
Habermas, J. (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. (Orig. 1962). Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Jansen, S.C. (1991). Censorship: The Knot that Binds Power and Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lippmann, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan.
Mannheim, K. (1940). Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
McLuhan, M. (1962). Gutenberg Galaxy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill
Noelle-Neumann, E. (1982). The Spiral of Silence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Schutz, A. (1964). “The Well-Informed Citizen: An Essay in the Distribution of Knowledge in Society” In Collected Papers, Volume II (Orig. 1932) The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, pp. 120-34.
WEEK THREE: FROM PRINTING PRESS TO TELEVISION – THE McLUHAN THESIS
Access to knowledge has been normally used as a source of social authority, with more restricted access permitting more authoritarian societies. However, journalism changed all that, enabling the proliferation and contestation of knowledge sources, and in the process facilitating the spread of a democratic sensibility. Journalism was made possible by the printing press, whose own cultural development was spurred by the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The Protestants stressed a personal reading of the Bible, which was tied to the need for people to decide what they believe for themselves. This development took place alongside reports of alleged Catholic corruption, spread by theses nailed to church doors, which functioned as proto-newspapers. For their part, the Catholics had maintained order across Christendom through multi-media events, exemplified by High Mass in stained-glass-windowed cathedrals, in which people would participate in a relatively passive and receptive way.
Marshall McLuhan, himself a Catholic convert from Methodism, would later characterise this attitude as the ‘cool medium’, something also exemplified by television viewing. In contrast, the Protestant evangelist who reads the Bible to call you to account before God is performing in a ‘hot medium’. McLuhan put radio in the category too (here one might think of the effective use made of radio by Mussolini, Hitler, FDR and Churchill in rallying their people in World War II). McLuhan was probably the person who drew the most sustained attention in the 20th century to the ways in which the ‘medium’ constrains (or, in his own radical formulation, ‘is’) the message. McLuhan’s main precursor was a Canadian political economist Harold Innis (The Bias of Communications, 1951), and the person who took McLuhan’s ideas in the most interesting directions has been Jean Baudrillard (especially his discussions of media hyperrealism). The key McLuhan texts are The Mechanical Bride (on PR and the rise of TV advertising, as in the US TV series Mad Men), The Gutenberg Galaxy (on the historic print to video shift), Understanding Media (McLuhan’s magnum opus, with lots of 60s relevance). The Catholics originally responded to the Protestant Reformation by creating the Jesuit order, which tried to keep people in Catholicism two ways: (a) by presenting a consistent underlying message, no matter the situation (‘propaganda’ is a Jesuit coinage); adapting the message to context, stressing how Catholicism can provide what you already want at minimum cost (a key feature of modern advertising). Little surprise, perhaps, that McLuhan most famous student was a Jesuit priest, Walter Ong, who researched the pre-history to McLuhan’s ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’ thesis – i.e. the transition from orality to literacy. . To find out more about these original 16th century ‘media wars’, see Andrew Pettegree, The Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
It is perhaps unsurprising that McLuhan has one of very best Wikipedia entries. I recommend that you read it and follow some of its links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLuhan. Also, you really should watch this video clip from Canadian television in the 1960s to see what the man was like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Orm-urRidH8. Notice that he is still very much a pre-computer person in that he imagines the portability of knowledge to be achieved by microfilm that can be made generally available through photocopying. Clearly this is not how Google Books operates! Also while McLuhan says in the clip (and elsewhere) that he himself has no point of view, there has been an active debate about whether the transition from print to video has ‘dumbed down’ culture. A couple of years ago The Economist magazine conducted an on-line debate on whether television and other related media have ‘dumbed down’ culture: http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/245.
SEMINAR QUESTION: How did the printing press revolutionise our understanding of the world? Has the shift to video with the advent of television ‘dumbed’ us down?
WEEK FOUR: THE ROLE OF CORPORATE POWER IN THE HISTORY OF MEDIA (STARTING WITH NEWSPAPERS)
One of the most notable and fiercest defenders of freedom of the press has been the great English poet John Milton (author of Paradise Lost), whose 400th birthday was celebrated in 2008. Milton spent much – if not most – of his time writing political tracts defending a very intellectual form of Puritanism during the English Civil War (i.e. Milton was a staunch republican.) His main work, Areopagitica, is named after the areopagus, which was the hill in Athens where sat the court devoted to deciding legal cases. Here is Milton’s work with annotations:
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/areopagitica/ Here is a recent article that tries to make Milton relevant to our own time:
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2008/06/02/080602crat_atlarge_rosen. Milton’s unequivocal defence of free expression – more about which later – became the hallmark of human rights more generally by the late 18th century. However, in the by the mid-19th century, with the advent of multiple mass circulation and politicised newspapers, more qualified defences of free expression were voiced, most importantly by John Stuart Mill, a great liberal philosopher and politician in ‘On Liberty’ (1859). You can read the whole text here: http://www.bartleby.com/130/. Mill was concerned especially about protecting individual expression against mob rule. In other words, Mill was concerned that too much democracy could swamp liberty, especially given the increasing role of newspapers in developing and propagating ‘ideologies’ (i.e. all purpose ways of seeing the word, typically ending with ‘-ism’), which nurtured their commercial base (i.e. ‘I read the Guardian because I generally agree with its take on the world). This function came to the fore as newspapers became a ‘platform technology’ for presenting many sorts of information in one package.
Marquis de Condorcet, who lived in the Enlightenment nearly a century before Mill, anticipated this function of newspapers but was more hopeful: He was the first to explicitly identify the printing press as an accelerant of humanity’s social and intellectual progress. Indeed, he connected the rise of the ‘public sphere’ in his time as connected to newspapers as a ‘platform technology’, the common channel for transacting information about politics, business, science and culture – something that previously had been conducted through different semi-secret channels. Given the intimacy of the printing press with the Protestant Reformation, newspapers can be seen as having evolved as secularised and temporalised versions of the vulgate Bible. In other words, people would turn to newspapers, as they had (and still did – at least in the beginning) to find out how to orient their life and thought for that day. In the early 19th century, Goethe coined the phrase ‘world literature’ to capture the cosmopolitanisation of culture that the spread of publishing provided, which enabled a nation’s spiritual products to become the possession of all of humanity, especially through the medium of translation, whereby works acquire new meanings, something that Goethe regarded not as a source of error but a surplus good. By the end of the 19th century, scientists had envisaged that the speed and volume of information transmitted by telegraphy would allow for closer contact between disparately placed researchers, eventuating in the emergence of a literal ‘world brain’, as HG Wells memorably put it, which would permit a step-change in humanity’s collective intelligence. The ambition was renewed when physicists convinced the US Defence Department during the Cold War to build the infrastructure for what became the internet, which has evolved through Web 2.0 and, most recently, so-called cloud computing.
While the McLuhanesque maxim, ‘He who controls the medium controls the message’, may appear to apply only to the relatively recent rise of transnational information and entertainment services, in fact it has been the norm in media history, given that prior to a politically recognized general right to free expression, state licences were necessary to publish at all. Indeed the historic presumption in favour of the ‘content provider’, starting with owners of printing presses, is reflected in the various legal and cultural battles fought over the past four centuries to uphold authorial copyright and journalistic independence. Moreover, with the emergence of telegraphy as the first truly global information and communication technology in the second half of the 19th century, some content providers scaled up to become ‘media moguls’ capable of amplifying their financial and ideological power by providing content through multiple intercalated media. The advent of radio, film, television, the internet and digital media more generally opened the door to further exciting if risky ways of generating wealth through the production and distribution of knowledge, resulting in a largely market-driven source of authority often at odds with both political and academic establishments. Key figures include studies of the American William Randolph Hearst and the German Alfred Hugenberg, who epitomised the personal interventionism of early 20th century moguls, BBC founder John Reith and CBS founder William Paley, who developed alternative influential political economies of ‘public service broadcasting’, and finally Rupert Murdoch, the contemporary media mogul whose empire spans virtually all media, but whose dominant role may be difficult to sustain in the future. (An interesting comparison of Hearst and Murdoch may be found here.) A recent comprehensive sociological work that tries to cover this entire trajectory, ending up with emerging issues surrounding the political economy and social psychology of the internet is Manuel Castells, Communication Power (Oxford University Press, 2009). Here is a good critique of that book.
SEMINAR QUESTION: What have been the consequences of the corporate scaling-up of the media on the nature of the content that is transmitted and the attitudes of consumers towards that content? Does the internet promise a different future, or just more of the same? To consider this side of the question, read this article.
WEEK FIVE: MEDIA ROLES I AND II -- CRITIC AND MUCKRAKER
Journalism may be understood in terms of four distinct social roles that attempt to address at once a specific relationship to the public and a particular form of social knowledge that it provides. Each comes into its own through a technological innovation:
- Critic: Newspaper (as platform technology)
- Muckraker: Photography and Telegraphy (i.e. the fast transmission of distant experiences)
- Pundit: Public Opinion Survey (i.e. the formal construction of ‘the public’ as an entity requiring administration)
- Broadcaster: Radio and Television (i.e. ‘mass media’ transmission in its most literal sense – same aural and visual images sent at once everywhere)
A good recent general book relevant to this discussion is Géraldine Muhlmann, A Political History of Journalism, Polity 2008 http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745635736
To start on a negative note, here is a conservative critique of journalism as it is now, which claims that it is has betrayed its public trust by focusing too much on the ‘immediacy’ of the news: http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/23/feb05/journalism.htm.
A common judgement made of the critic in public life is that someone who would be perfectly fine as an appraiser of art and literature is inappropriate to comment on ‘literal’ and ‘factual’ matters concerning the world-at-large. Yet both the reputable and disreputable senses of ‘critic’ arose simultaneously in the 18th century Enlightenment – as part of the emergence of the public sphere -- with Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, and Gotthold Lessing. In particular, Lessing’s Laokoön, the foundational modern study of the arts as media, established two crucial ideas for criticism: (a) the critic speaks on behalf of some distinctly ‘human’ standard of judgement, which is to say, s/he adopts a perspective that transcends the particular human agents (e.g. artists, politicians, scientists) under discussion by considering what they have done in terms of what they could have done; (b) the critic is personally invested in what is criticised so that criticism functions as a form of collective instruction in both judgement and artistry. Satire has been often the preferred medium of the critic in order to mask the potentially subversive character of criticism to society’s normative order – but also to demonstrate that the difference between good and bad hangs on whether something is represented in or out of proportion, respectively. Satire has flourished in the modern period in repressive regimes, typically in fiction (e.g. Alexander Zinoviev in the USSR). In officially liberal regimes, critics have tended to focus more explicitly on the corrupting and distorting effects of language in the public sphere: Karl Kraus, H.L. Mencken, George Orwell.
If you have never seen the famous Vatican statue, Laokoön and his sons being devoured by serpents, on which the Enlightenment critic Lessing based his famous essay on the role of media in representation, have a look at it here: http://www.digischool.nl/ckv2/ckv3/kunstentechniek/laocoon/laokoon.htm This is an episode that was first recounted in the ancient Greek and Roman epics before it was portrayed in painting and sculpture – the sculpture being the latest and most famous representation. Lessing’s point is that it doesn’t make sense to say that one of these media provides ‘the best’ or ‘truest’ representation of the episode. Each representation brings out something different that is appropriate to the principles governing its medium, and the artist’s (and critic’s) talent lay in enabling the idea (in this case, of Laokoon’s death) to be effectively communicated through the medium of choice.
‘Muckraker’ is a late 19th century innovation, from which the ‘investigative journalist’ descends. Starting with Friedrich Engels’ studies of the English urban working class, the role has centred on presenting images of corruption and hypocrisy to appeal directly to the audience’s higher emotions (e.g. indignation). High watermarks (circa 1890-1910) include Séverine, the feminist reporter on the Dreyfus Affair, and Upton Sinclair’s exposés on the US oil and meat-packing industries. But in the wake of Walter Lippman’s devastating critique of US newspaper coverage of the Russian Revolution, the muckraker’s role bifurcated into (a) academic domestication (e.g. Robert Park’s ethnography of Chicago’s ethnic neighbourhoods) and (b) romantic radicalism (e.g. Lincoln Steffens’ hostility to US machine politics and enthusiasm for the Mexican and Russian revolutions). In the Cold War, muckraking as detective work comes to the fore, as a sort of counter-espionage against governments that appear to be spying on its citizens; hence, the indirect routes used by Seymour Hersh during the Vietnam War and Woodward & Bernstein in the Watergate scandal. Increasing appeal to ‘Freedom of Information’ laws across the world, which has encouraged the deposit of official documents and data in the internet, has arguably removed the privilege of ‘being there’ that had been the calling card of effective muckraking (e.g. bloggers, Wikileaks). For a good list of muckrakers, past and present, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muckraker. I will electronically distribute an article describing the muckraker’s sense of democracy.
Here is the complete text of Engels’ ethnography of English working class life, with some interesting later reflections: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/condition-working-class/
The Dreyfus Affair and Lincoln Steffens’ career is covered well in Geraldine Muhlmann’s A Political History of Journalism, chapters 2 and 4, respectively.
To find out more about Séverine, see here: http://recollectionbooks.com/bleed/Encyclopedia/SeverineCarolineRemy.htm
There have been some decent films made about muckrakers – or their works:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082979/ -- ‘Reds’, loosely based on the coverage of the Russian Revolution by John Reed, a follower of the chief muckraker Lincoln Steffens
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074119/ -- ‘All the President’s Men’, based on the Watergate scandal.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0469494/ -- ‘There will be Blood’, based on part of Upton Sinclair’s novel, ‘Oil!’
On the continuing relevance of Lippmann’s indictment of muckraking, ‘A Test of the News’ (1920), see here: http://www.concernedjournalists.org/lost-meaning-objectivity
SEMINAR QUESTIONS FOR CRITIC
(1) We normally associate ‘-ism’ with an ideology (e.g. capitalism, socialism, liberalism, conservatism). Is ‘journalism’ an ‘-ism’ in that sense? What do you take to be the relationship – both ideal and real – between a journalist’s relationship to her public and the form of knowledge she produces? (2) On the role of the critic, to what extent does gender influence the self-presentation, reception context and message content of the critic? You might want to contrast a set of video clips of Christopher Hitchens, whom I mentioned in the lecture, with Warwick’s own Germaine Greer. Here they are:http://video.google.co.uk/videosearch?q=%22Christopher+Hitchens%22&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f&aq=f# ; http://video.google.co.uk/videosearch?q=%22Germaine+Greer%22&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f&aq=f#
SEMINAR QUESTIONS FOR MUCKRAKER: (1) To what extent is muckraking alive and well in the electronic age? Does Wikileaks count as high-tech muckraking? Read this article.
WEEK SIX: MEDIA ROLES III AND IV -- PUNDIT AND BROADCASTER
The Pundit This image, first popularised in the early 20th century by Walter Lippman, a Harvard-trained syndicated columnist who counselled US presidents from Wilson to Nixon. Ideologically, a ‘liberal hawk’, Lippman saw his role as representing the balance of forces influencing world affairs from an objective standpoint to people either too busy (politicians) or too ignorant (the public) to do so for themselves – but in either case, in the spirit of therapy, i.e. to soothe the animal spirits by presenting the world as comprehensible and manageable. Lippman regarded the pundit as necessary in large complex democracies, where ‘public opinion’ can too easily take on a life of its own, especially with the emergence of mass media. One of Lippman’s European legacies was the Mont Pelerin Society, a quasi-secret society of academics, politicians and business leaders who from the 1930s to 1980s promoted on many different fronts a conception of ‘managed liberty’ that roughly corresponds to contemporary neo-liberalism. On the other hand, a Lippman catchphrase, ‘manufacturing consent’, was turned against him by Noam Chomsky, who represents the more explicitly partisan and ideologically niche-marketed pundit prevalent today. Political psychologist Philip Tetlock has recently revealed the ease with which pundits can be confounded in their judgements, either out of trenchant bias or overestimation of new evidence.
For a good list of pundits, past and present, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pundit_(expert)
You can get free access to Lippmann’s main work from the 1920s, ‘Public Opinion’: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6456
Here is an account of the debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey. http://www.csupomona.edu/~oboydbarrett/documents/Worddocfolder/Lippmann%20and%20Dewey.doc
The Broadcaster: The word ‘broadcasting’ refashions the 18th century word for ‘sowing seeds’, a connotation that remains in ‘contagion’ models of mass media. It begins with the merging o f political and journalistic interests in ‘informing, educating and entertaining’ the public, to quote John Reith’s founding statement of the BBC in 1927. (It is perhaps not by accident, given the Reformation roots of the modern media, that Reith was a devout Calvinist.) Here the journalist becomes a performer in dramas s/he partly scripts – or perhaps co-produces. A case in point is Edward R. Murrow vs. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1954 CBS television programme, See It Now. [George Clooney dramatised this encounter for the big screen in 2005 film, Good Night and Good Luck (The title is taken from Murrow’s closing catchphrase).] The self-dramatisation of the broadcaster probably reached its peak with CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, who became the most trusted authority in the US by 1970, largely due to his candid Vietnam War appraisals, followed by an on-air condemnation of Nixon who then resigned the presidency. Afterward, broadcasters became so self-consciously ‘performative’ that they end up dominating the story: e.g. Geraldo Rivera (in Fox News) and John Simpson (in BBC World). In the 1990s, this hyperrealism became routinized to such an extent that journalists were parodied for ‘making news happen’, as in Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris’s The Day Today and Brass Eye.
The powerpoint has some major points about the history of modern broadcasting. Two main readings for this week (to be electronically distributed) are to do with two different takes on the famous See It Now episode, in which Murrow confronted Senator McCarthy – one arguing that Murrow overstepped the bounds of broadcasting ethics, the other arguing that in fact the US federal media regulators forced Murrow to be more aggressive in the public interest.
SEMINAR QUESTIONS FOR PUNDIT: Lippmann is normally seen as the originator of the role of the 'pundit' as the Platonic guardian of the social order. But look at what has happened to that role today, especially once it gets involved with the entertainment values of broadcasting: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/tetlock1 Does this mean that Lippmann's style of punditry is impossible in today's world? If so, is that a bad thing?
SEMINAR QUESTIONS FOR BROADCASTER: What is the exact source of the broadcaster's authority? Is it personal? Political? Intellectual? In what respects does it differ from the authority of the Critic, Muckraker and Pundit? In the end, is the broadcaster’s authority justified? And will that authority survive the age of the internet?
WEEK SEVEN: NO LECTURE (BUT SEMINARS WILL TAKE PLACE)
Watch The Century of the Self, a four-hour BBC documentary by Adam Curtis. Curtis holds a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford. Here is a description of his programme, which is basically a social-psychological history of public relations and market research: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/century_of_the_self.shtml. Here is the documentary itself, in four parts (each is about one hour):
Curtis also keeps a regular blog at the BBC, which includes many clips and perceptive observations about documentary film-making: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/
SEMINAR QUESTIONS: What is the most surprising thing you learned from this documentary? What struck you the most about how the documentary was made?
WEEK EIGHT: FROM PUBLIC OPINION TO PUBLIC RELATIONS
The transition from public opinion to public relations: ‘Public opinion’ originated largely as a state-based technology to organize a nation’s collective intelligence in order to render its administration more efficient. These track the introduction of vital statistics in the 17th and 18th centuries, quantitative social science methodologies for the prediction and control of the populace in the 19th and early 20th centuries, eventuating in the emergence of private polling agencies, starting with George Gallup in 1935. Ferdinand Toennies and Alfred Schutz offered epistemological critiques of this trajectory, the former focusing on the reduction of political argument towards anticipating and channelling the ‘drift’ of public opinion, the latter on the rise of public pseudo-competence based on the immediacy of radio and video exposure to distant events, responses to which then become the basis of pollster knowledge. In the middle third of the 20th century, political scientists (most notably Harold Lasswell) tried to discern the ‘psychology’ of public opinion. However, the surveying of public opinion for marketing purposes actually predates its use for political purposes. Presented as a way of improving customer satisfaction, it was used largely to anticipate and pre-empt potential rival producers. The field of ‘public relations’ (PR), founded by Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays in the 1920s, first realized the prospect of indefinitely expanding markets by inducing demand (through ‘engineering consent’, ‘hidden persuasion’ and ‘subliminal perception’) in the name of informing consumers. Bernays’ innovation was the virtual threat – that is, to invoke what might be lost if a given product were not adopted. Another important phenomenon is the ‘spiral of silence’, whereby silence is presumed to mean consensus with what has been said in nominally democratic societies, where it is presumed that any objections would have been voiced in the normal course of things. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann originated this thesis as an explanation for the ascendancy of Nazism in Weimar Germany – i.e. Nazism came into power because no one stopped it because those who could have stopped it early never thought it would be ever taken seriously.
SEMINAR QUESTION: How does PR relate to social science and journalism– is it anything more than a parasite? For more on the tense relations between PR and journalism, read here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2006/apr/10/mondaymediasection4?INTCMP=SRCH
WEEK NINE: PUBLIC RELATIONS FOR SCIENCE?
In the final two weeks of the term, we shall look at two angles from which established forms of knowledge are challenged by the mass media, especially as the internet has played an increasing role. The first challenge has been to the most established form of knowledge of all, science, to which journalism has always struggled to adopt an independent standpoint. The history of science journalism presents a bipolar tradition that ranges from visionary vangardism (H.G. Wells, Waldemar Kaempffert, J.G. Crowther) to demystification (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, John Horgan’s The End of Science). Nowadays perhaps the most pressing question is how the journalist seeking integrity but lacking specialisation avoids writing scientists’ press releases. Is investigative science journalism possible by analogy with investigative political journalism? Consider Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science (2005), which is critiqued here: http://crookedtimber.org/category/chris-mooney-seminar/.
The longer term perspective on this matter is affected by three tendencies: (1) the rise in the public’s general education and facility with computer-based media allowing them to access and judge matters for themselves that would have been previously left to experts; (2) the surplus of well-educated people entering the labour market who cannot find work in academia or the professions – and hence move into the service end of the knowledge economy, especially the media and the so-called creative industries; (3) the increasingly integral role of science in public policy issues, in which scientists end up reproducing within their own ranks the ideological divisions in society at large, which arguably serves to undermine the expertise of science more generally.
I have written about these developments as ‘Protscience’, analogous to the Protestant Reformation, on which we started this course – only now applied to science. Here is a short essay about that: http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=1437
In response, scientists have come to adopt some PR of their own. The main science public relations unit in this country is the Science Media Centre in London, led by the journalist Fiona Fox. In what was probably some bad self-generated PR, at the start of this year, the UK government’s science advisor John Beddington during a speech to civil servants earlier this month, where he basically argued that there should be ‘zero tolerance’ for people who use science in unorthodox ways to support their point of view. He apparently sees this as an abuse of science comparable to the abuse of gays or ethnic minorities. Have a look at Beddington’s statement, followed by a blog by Roger Pielke, a leading scientific critic of the ‘scientific consensus’ on global warming, and then an article by the sociologist Frank Furedi, who places Beddington’s statement in the history of free expression more generally.
SEMINAR QUESTIONS: Does science need its own brand of public relations to get its message across? Or can we rely on the media to present scientific matters as fairly as they present, say, political or economic matters?
WEEK TEN: MASS MEDIA AS CHALLENGER TO ESTABLISHED KNOWLEDGE -- THE DIFFERENCE MADE BY THE INTERNET
It is difficult now to assess the ultimate significance of the computer revolution and the internet for the balance of knowledge and power in society – largely because we are still too close to it. You may recall that in the first lecture, I briefly touched on the ultimate significance of the late Steve Jobs. You might wish to contrast these two assessments (thanks to Amy Entwhistle and Barbora Hubinska for the first one):
Whether one places Steve Jobs at the same level of Edison, the fact is that our access to the internet – and the internet’s access to us – has never been greater. We are, more than ever, the site for the transaction of information. Some of this is desirable, much of it not. Here are two emerging deep issues that challenge our sense of identity with ‘too much information’: (1) Can the internet ever truly forget? Should we have a ‘right to delete’ unsavoury aspects of our past? Here is an article on that topic. (2) Does the internet encourage mediocrity and stifle creativity without proper regulation? Here is an article on that topic.
Two of the most interesting internet theorists – Evgeny Morozov (sophisticated critic) and Clay Shirky (sophisticated enthusiast) – argue about the extent to which the internet is a vehicle for welcomed forms of democratisation here.
One interesting but radical solution to these problems, increasingly favoured by the younger generation, is for people to learn to programme in order to counteract the potentially invasive effects of an increasingly digitised world. Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed is the key book, which you can find out about here. Here is a short 5 min video in which Rushkoff highlights the key idea within the book. He starts with looking at writing and the printing press and their impacts on religion. Then he extrapolates the trend to the digital:
There is an interesting course pack associated with the book, with a couple of links to useful articles/books here: http://rushkoff.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/ProgramStudyGuide.pdf
SEMINAR QUESTIONS: What are the positive and negative sides of the internet’s challenge to more established forms of knowledge, including perhaps of even oneself? Do you believe that this challenge is as serious as the internet theorists claims, or have they been hyped?