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Theory of Media and
Society: Part II
Camile Matthews
Media-Society Theory I:
 Theory: Interdependence of institutions that
the Mass Society
exercise power integrate the media into the
sources of social power and authority.
 Mass society gives a primacy to the media as a
casual factor [idea that media offer a view of the
world (a pseudo-environment) which is a potent
means of manipulation of people but also an aid
to their psychic survival under difficult conditions].
 Mass society is both atomized and centrally
controlled. Media are seen as significant
contributors to this control in societies
1. Largeness of scale
2. Remoteness of institutions
3. Isolation of individuals
4. Lack of strong local or group integration
 Widespread public indifference is often
contributed to the manipulative use of mass
Theory I:
the Mass
Media-Society Theory II:
Marxism and Political
 Marxist interpretations of mass media
emphasizes that ultimately media are
instruments of control by and for a ruling
 This theory suggests a direct link between
economic ownership and the dissemination
of messages that affirm the legitimacy and
the value of class society.
 Revisionist of Marxist theory concentrate
more on ideas than on material structures.
1. Ideological effects of media in the interests
of the ruling class,
2. In reproducing the essentially exploitative
relationships, and
3. In legitimizing the dominance of capitalism
and the subordination of the working class.
“From each according to his ability, to each
according to his needs!” –Karl Marx
Media-Society Theory II:
Marxism and Political Economy
Question: How might the power of the media be countered or resisted?
 Marxist critics of mass media rely on the exposure of propaganda and
manipulation as a counter to the media power of the capitalist class. The main
contemporary heir to Marxist theory is found in political economy theory.
 Political economic theory – Socially critical approach the focuses on relation
between economic structure and dynamics of media industries and ideological
content of media; the media has to be considered as part of the economic system
with close links to political system.
 Consequences:
1. Reduction of independent media sources
2. Concentration on the large markets
3. Avoidance of risks
4. Reduced investment in less profitable media tasks (i.e documentaries, etc.)
5. Neglect of smaller and poorer sectors of the potential audience and often a
politically unbalanced range of news media.
Media-Society Theory II:
Marxism and Political Economy
 Political economy approach is also applied to the Internet suggesting that
the key to the Internet economy lies in the commodification (the
transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities, or
objects of trade) of the users of free access platforms which deliver targets
for advertisers.
 Trends in media business and technology as relevance to political
economic theory:
1. Growth in media concentration worldwide, with more power of ownership
being concentrated in fewer hands.
2. Growth in global information economy with increasing convergence
between telecommunication and broadcasting.
3. Decline in mass media public sector and in direct public control of
telecommunication under the banner of deregulation, privatization or
4. Growing problem of information inequality. Digital divide refers to inequality
in access to and use of advanced communication facilities.
Media-Society Theory III:
 Functionalist theory explains social practices and institutions in terms of the ‘needs’ of
society and of individuals. Depicts media as essentially self-directing and self-correlating.
Media are more likely to be seen as a means of maintaining society as it is rather than as
a vehicle for major change.
 5 basic ideas about media functions in society:
1. Information: Provides information about events and conditions in society and the world
2. Correlation: Explains, interprets, and comments on the meaning of events and
information. Provides support for established authority and norms.
3. Continuity: Expresses the dominant culture and recognizes subcultures and new cultural
developments; maintain commonality of values.
4. Entertainment: Provides amusement, diversion and acts as a means of relaxation;
reduces social tension(?)
5. Mobilization: Campaigns for societal objectives in the sphere of politics, war, economic
development, work and sometimes religion.
 Set of ideas needs to be reformulated to include the perspectives of the media
themselves or of the individual user as in ‘uses and gratifications’ theory and research.
Media-Society Theory III:
 Studies of media content have found that mainstream
media tend to be conformist and supportive rather
than critical of dominant values. This support takes
several forms:
1. Avoidance of fundamental criticism of key institutions
(business, justice system, democratic politics, etc.)
2. Giving differential access to the ‘social top’
3. Symbolically rewarding those who succeed according
to the approved paths of virtue and hard works, while
symbolically punishing those who fail or deviate.
 Media events (an event or activity that exists for the
sole purpose of media publicity. It may also include
any event that is covered in the mass media or was
hosted largely with the media in mind) – used to
confer status on leading figures and issues in society.
 The media, lacking clear purpose and direction in
society, are more prone to dysfunctions than other
institutions and are less easy to correct.
Media-Society Theory IV:
Social Constructionism
Social constructionism – theory of knowledge
in sociology and communication theory that
examines the development of jointly
constructed understandings of the world that
form the basis for shared assumptions about
 Social reality has been made and given
meaning by human actors.
 General ideas:
1. Mass media influences what people believe
to be reality based of theories of propaganda
and ideology.
CNN's Fake Newscast From The First Gulf War
Social construction refers to the processes by
which events, persons, values and ideas are
first defined in a certain way and given value,
largely by mass media, leading to the
construction of larger pictures of reality.
(framing and schemata play their part)
2. The promotion by media nationalism,
patriotism, social conformity and belief
systems could all be interpreted as examples
of social construction.
3. Media is a very effective reproducer of a
selective and biased view of reality.
Media-Society Theory V: 
Technology Determinism
Any history of communication technologies
testifies to the accelerating pace of invention
and of material (and of other) consequences,
and some theorists are inclined to identify
distinct phases.
 History shows a shift over time in the direction of
more speed, greater dispersion, wider reach
and greater flexibility. They underline the
capacity for communication more readily to
cross barriers of time and space.
 H.M. Innis founded the “Toronto School”
thinking of the media in the period after WWII.
 2 Organizing Principles:
1. In the economic sphere, communication leads
over time to monopolization by a group or
class of the means of production and
distribution of knowledge.
Start at 2:45 end at 9:00
2. The most important dimensions of empire are
space and time, and some means of
communication are more suitable for one than
for the other (main bias of communication)
Media-Society Theory VI:
the Information Society
 Information society - society where the creation, distribution, use, integration
and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political, and
cultural activity. Its main drivers are digital information and communication
technologies, which have resulted in an information explosion and are
profoundly changing all aspects of social organization.
 Melody (1990) describes information societies as those that have become
‘dependent upon complex electronic information networks and which allocate
a major portion of their resources to information and communication activities.’
 Cuilenberg (1987) put the chief characteristic as the exponential increase in
production and flow of information of all kinds, largely as a consequence of
reduced costs following miniaturization and computerization.
 Reductions in costs of transmission have continued to fuel the process of
exponential growth. There is continually decreasing sensitivity to distance as
well as continually increasing speed, volume and interactivity of possibilities for
 An intangible concept is the fact that it has come to form part of
contemporary self-consciousness, and in some versions it is almost a new world
Theory VI:
the Information
 The ‘cultural dimension’ of the information society
concept has been relatively neglected, aside from
recognition of the volume of information and
symbolic production.
 The rise of an ‘information culture’ that extends into
all aspects of everyday life may be easier to
demonstrate than the reality of an information
 ‘Information economy’ is much larger than the
mass media on their own, and the primary
information technologies involved are not those of
mass production and distribution of print material
for the general public or mass dissemination by
broadcasting or electronic recordings.
 The birth of the ‘information age’ marks a new and
separate historical path.
 The general significance of changes occurring in
communication technology is not accompanied
by unanimity about social consequences.
 The idea of information society is essentially
ideological and supportive of the neo-liberal
economic project that benefits most from global