Note Taking On Carah And Louw: Making News: News

Read the following chapter of your textbook and upload your notes

Carah, N. & Louw, E. (2015). Making news.  In N. Carah & E. Louw, Media and society: production, content and participation. Sage publications, Ltd. (pp.124-145)

Note-taking

DO NOT simply cut and paste quotations from the text to fulfill the requirements for taking notes for each subsection. You will not get any grade for doing this as this does not demonstrate your understanding. It only indicates that you can select quotations. Only use quotations in the manner indicated below, where the writers use particularly evocative language.

First contact

Scan the document

You will understand more if you quickly scan the chapter. Read the questions that start the chapter, the writers’ objectives for the chapter (under the heading “In this chapter we”) and the conclusion. By reading these parts of the chapter you will understand the writers’ aims. You now have a map of the chapter that will help focus your thinking and evaluate what you are reading.

Identify the main focus of the chapter

In two or three sentences explain clearly what is the main claim that the writer is trying to make in the chapter and how it seems to contribute to the objectives laid out in the overall introduction to the book.

Focus on the claims and examples made under each subheading

Examine the subheadings the writers use as these will help you focus on the way in which the writers build the argument. Write each of the subheadings down.  Read each section of the text under the subheadings and make the following notes

  • In one sentence identify the main claim being made in the subsection
  • When the writers use an illustrative example in a subsection, in one or two sentences explain what the example is and what it is being used to illustrate
  • If you find a quotation that you want to remember write Quotations I Wish to Remember and write the quotation including the page number

Apply your own lens to the content

Select something from the chapter that you found particularly evocative. Perhaps you found something particularly interesting, problematic, true or counter to your experience, true or counter to something you encountered in another class. Write a short paragraph of three or four sentences explaining what was evoked by reading this part of the text. Ensure that it is clear which part of the text you are referring to.

Ask questions of the content

In their book The miniature guide to the art of asking essential questions, Richard Paul and Linda Elder explain that questions are a fundamentally important part of our education. Asking questions generates greater understanding. They argue that if the reader is not asking questions of a text they are not really engaged in substantive learning. You are required to ask questions of each chapter using the following headings.

  • Clarifying Question(s)
    • If there is something that you do not understand, under the heading
  • Conceptual Questions
    • Writers use concepts. Concepts are ideas that are less concrete. They are ideas we use in thinking. They provide people to create a mental map of the world. Through concepts we define situations and define our relationships to the world around us. This will become particularly clear after we read Chapter One of your textbook and so I will add to this definition after we read that chapter.

Rubric

Note-taking of the introductionNote-taking of the introductionCriteriaRatingsPtsThis criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeIdentifying the main focusIn two or three sentences explain clearly what is the main claim that the writer is trying to make in the chapter and how it seems to contribute to the objectives laid out in the introduction.2.0 ptsGoodSuccessfully identified the main claim in the text0.0 ptsUnsatisfactoryFails to identify the main claim of the introductory chapter2.0 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeClaims in each subheadingAbility to identify the claims within each subheading, how examples are utilized and any evocative quotations5.0 ptsGoodSuccessfully identifies the main claim being made in each subsection and successfully explains how the examples are used in the subsection3.0 ptsMarginalLimited success in identifying the claims in subsections and/or explaining the uses made of the illustrative examples0.0 ptsUnsatisfactoryFails to identify the claims in the subsections and/or provides inadequate explanation of the uses made of illustrative examples.5.0 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeApplying your own lensAbility to synthesize and analyze chapter content in relation to other knowledge.3.0 ptsGoodClearly identified an element of the chapter and intelligently demonstrates its links to other knowledge that the student has gained0.0 ptsUnsatisfactoryFails to synthesize his/her learning3.0 pts
This criterion is linked to a Learning OutcomeQuestionPoses clarifying substantial questions of the text3.0 ptsGoodQuestions demonstrate careful consideration of the content of the chapter content and concepts.2.0 ptsUnsatisfactoryQuestions are poorly articulated or do not demonstrate substantive engagement with the content and concepts of the chapter0.0 ptsUnsatisfactoryNo questions were asked3.0 pts
Total Points: 13.0Previous

Contents Companion Website Introduction

How is meaning made? How is power made and maintained? What does today’s culture industry look like? How do interactive media utilize and structure our participation? What is the role of professional communicators in the exercise of power? Engaging with critical debate about media production, content and participation Engaging with academic debate

Journal articles and academic publication 1 Meaning, Representation and Power

Defining meaning The power to influence meaning making

What is the relation between power and social elites? Where does power come from? What is the relationship between being embedded within a power relationship and free agency?

The struggle over meaning: introducing hegemony The more legitimacy dominant groups have, the less violence they need to employ Defining hegemony

The control of meaning: introducing ideology and discourse Ideology Discourse

Representation and power Control over representation

Mediatization and media rituals Conclusion Further reading

2 The Industrial Production of Meaning Controlling who makes meaning and where meaning is made Defining different types of culture industry

Privately-owned media State-licensed media Public service broadcasting State-subsidized media Communist media

 

 

Development elites and media The industrial production of meaning Mass communication The culture industry

Narrowing what we think about Narrowing what can be said Thinking dialectically: arguing for a contest of meanings

The liberal-democratic culture industry The culture industry in the interactive era Conclusion Further reading

3 Power and Media Production Meaning and power Becoming hegemonic

How do groups become hegemonic? Feudalism and early capitalism Managerial to global network capitalism

Hegemony and the art of managing discourses Managing the structures of meaning making Managing the meaning makers Regulating meaning-making practices Adapting and repurposing meanings Monitoring and responding to shifting meanings

Discursive resistance and weakening hegemonies Regulating and deregulating the circulation of cultural content

Generating consent for the regulation of the circulation of cultural content Using the legal system to prosecute pirates and criminals Using the political system to adapt the old rules or create new rules Negotiations with the new organizations to craft a new consensus

Shifting hegemonies A new hegemonic order

New communication technologies New communication channels undermined mass production and communication The emergence of niche markets and publics

Political leaders and new coalitions Conclusion Further reading

4 The Global Information Economy

 

 

The emergence of a global information economy The information communication technology revolution The end of the Cold War The emergence of the Pax Americana as an informal empire A globally networked elite Communicative capitalism

Reorganizing capitalism Conceptualizing networks

The internet as a distributed network Networked and flexible organizations and workplaces Networks in networks: the social web and everyday life

Flexible and networked capitalism Building domination Conclusion Further reading

5 Media and Communication Professionals Professional communicators

Controlling who can make meaning Professional communicators and power relationships Producing professional communicators

Immaterial and creative labour Hierarchies of communicative labour Freedom and autonomy ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ work

Professional ideology and the meaning of labour Identity and communication work: flexibility, networking, entrepreneurialism

Self-promotion Below-the-line work

Internships Conclusion Further reading

6 Making News The emergence of professional journalism The sites of news making Routinizing news making

News is a window on the world Formulas and frames Contacts Induction into newsroom procedures

 

 

The presentation of news Symbiotic relationships in news making

News and public relations News and power relationships News making in the interactive era

Data and journalism Witnesses with smartphones

Conclusion Further reading

7 Politics and Communication Strategists The rise of communication strategists as political players

Why did a class of political communication professionals arise? Undermining the establishment media

What is strategic political communication? Spin tactics Managing journalists

Changes to the political process Strategic communication changes political parties Strategic communication changes political leaders Strategic communication makes politics more resource intensive Strategic communication makes popular culture central to political communication Strategic communication amplifies the affective and emotional dimension of political communication Strategic communication undermines deliberative modes of political communication Strategic communication undermines the power of the press within the political process Strategic communication turns politics into a permanent campaign

Barack Obama’s publicity machine Visual communication Managing data, audiences and participation Online ground game Using data Data drives content Decision making becomes pragmatic, incremental and continuous

Conclusion Further reading

8 Producing and Negotiating Identities Empowering and disempowering identities

 

 

What is identity? Identity is embedded within representation Identity is social and constructed Identity is relational and differential Identity is never accomplished

Making collective identity From the mass to the individual

Cultural imperialism Identity politics Using apology to position national identity within universal values of global network capitalism

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Apology and branding Australia Using advertising to craft national identity

Acquiring visibility within the universal values of global network capitalism

Challenging mainstream media portrayals of identity Resisting the universal values of global network capitalism The power of identity within a global network Conclusion Further reading

9 Consumer Culture, Branding and Advertising What is a brand?

Brands and mass consumption Brands are social processes

Brands and culture The creative revolution

Brand value The labour of branding

Analysts, researchers and communication professionals Designers Front-line staff Cultural producers Consumers

Brands, social space and participation Brands at cultural events Brands and mobile media devices

Ethical brands and everyday life The ethical consumer The ‘ethicalization’ of everyday life

 

 

Conclusion Further reading

10 Popular Culture Popular culture and governing everyday life

Popular culture is a symptom of larger social formations Popular culture in neoliberal times

Popular culture and government at a distance Popular culture as lived social practices

Ordinary people and popular culture’s promises and practices Access to reality Participation and surveillance Rules, regulations and personal responsibility Producing commercially valuable and politically useful identities

Personal responsibility on talk shows and reality TV Performing our identities

Popular culture’s explanation of social relationships Television drama and making sense of the global network society

Representing ‘real’ life? Critical apathy

Comedy news and political participation Powerful people making fun of themselves Cynical participation Profitable niche audiences

Conclusion Further reading

11 Social Media, Interactivity and Participation Interactivity, participation and power What are social media?

Users create and circulate content Commercialization of the web Media devices and everyday life Social media and social life Social media and the active user

Interactive media enable new forms of participation Considering the quality of participation

Interactive media are responsive and customized Customization Predictions and decisions Algorithmic culture Shaping how we experience space

 

 

Interactive media watch us What is surveillance?

Disciplinary and productive forms of surveillance Participation and public life

Blogging Social media and political events

Mapping out positions on interactivity Managing participation Conclusion Further reading

12 Mobile Media, Urban Space and Everyday Life Media and urban space A new geography of power

Global cities Relocating industrial areas Dead zones

Public and private life in media cities Smartphones Smartphones and images Smartphones and communicative enclosure Wearable and responsive media devices

Publicity and intimacy Publicity Intimacy

Work with mobile devices Mobile device factories Mobile professionals

Conclusion Further reading

13 Constructing and Managing Audiences Producing audiences

How are media organizations funded? How are audiences made and packaged? How do audiences make value? From mass to niche From representational to responsive control The work of producing audiences

Audiences and work The work of watching The work of being watched

 

 

Ranking, rating and judging Audience participation in the work of being watched

Creating networks of attention and affect Identifying with the promotional logic of the culture industry Articulating cynical distance

The watched audience The work of being watched is central to responsive forms of control

Predicting and discriminating To make predictions about us and our lives To discriminate between individuals

Conclusion Further reading

14 Managing Participation Meaning and power Decoding and debunking

Debunking reinforces dominant power relationships Meaning and power in the interactive era

Difference between speaking and being heard Difference between being a participant and managing participation in general Difference between decoding representations and managing representation Difference between being understood and being visible

Managing participation Flexible identities Giving an account of ourselves and recognizing others From television to the smartphone Conclusion Further reading

References Index

 

 

Media and Society

 

 

 

Media and Society Production, Content and Participation

Nicholas Carah Eric Louw

 

 

SAGE Publications Ltd

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© Nicholas Carah and Eric Louw 2015

First published 2015

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued

 

 

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All material on the accompanying website can be printed off and photocopied by the purchaser/user of the book. The web material itself may not be reproduced in its entirety for use by others without prior written permission from SAGE. The web material may not be distributed or sold separately from the book without the prior written permission of SAGE. Should anyone wish to use the materials from the website for conference purposes, they would require separate permission from SAGE. All material is © Nicholas Carah and Eric Louw 2015

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014949571

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ISBN 978-1-4462-6768-4

ISBN 978-1-4462-6769-1 (pbk)

Editor: Mila Steele

Assistant editor: James Piper

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Companion Website

This book is supported by a brand new companion website (https://study.sagepub.com/carahandlouw). The website offers a wide range of free learning resources, including:

Additional Case Studies with related activities/discussion points Links to key websites, articles and YouTube videos Annotated Further Readings SAGE Journal Articles: free access to selected further readings

 

 

 

Introduction

 

 

How is Meaning Made? For a long time accounts of media and cultural production have used the encoding and decoding of meaning as a basic conceptual schema. This schema places the many moments in the process of mediated communication in relation to one another. Meanings are created or encoded in an institutional and social context, transferred by technical means, and received or decoded in another context. Each moment in the process has a bearing on the other moments, but no moment dominates the others completely. Media are social processes of transferring and circulating meaning. This process matters because it shapes how we understand the world and our relationships with others. How we understand the world organizes how we act in it. The process of sharing meaning is intrinsic to the exercise of power. Those who have the material and cultural resources to control, organize and regulate the sharing of meaning can shape how flows of resources and relationships between people are organized.

In the field of media and communication some accounts, and even some periods, have paid more attention to one moment or another. Political economy and production approaches have been charged with devoting too much attention to the process of encoding and determining that it shapes all the other moments in the process. Audience and reception approaches have been said to too easily equate the audience’s active decoding of meaning with having power. For the most part though the media and communication field is interested in both how meanings are created, encoded and disseminated and how they are received, decoded and recirculated. In this book we build on this encoding and decoding heritage by taking as a starting point the proposition that we can only understand moments in this process when we consider how they are related to each other. To understand meaning and power we have to understand how relationships between people are shaped within flows of meaning organized by institutions, practices and technologies. The book examines the relationships between powerful groups, the means of communication and the flow of meaning.

This is a book about meaning, power and participation. We use meaning to recognize one another. By making and sharing meaning we acknowledge the existence of others, their lives, their desires and their claims for a place in the world. Meanings are created via the negotiation we undertake with each other to create social relationships, institutions and shared ways of life. The process of maintaining relationships with each other is embedded in relations of power. We relate with each other because we seek to realize our will, our desires, our ways of life, in conjunction or competition with others. The sharing of meaning facilitates

 

 

both consensus and conflict. Groups aim to generate consensus for the social relationships and institutions they have established, and they generate conflicts and contests that might change social relationships or distribution of resources in ways that might benefit them.

 

 

How is Power Made and Maintained? Media and culture are central to generating consent and organizing participation. For much of the twentieth century, accounts of meaning and power focused on the industrialization of meaning making. One of the key institutions of the industrialized mass society is a culture industry. The culture industry is composed of the range of institutions that make meaning and use it to shape and manage mass populations. These institutions include schools, universities, government policy making, and importantly for this book, industries that produce media and popular culture. We trace the role of the culture industry in creating national identities and facilitating the management of industrial economies. The media and cultural industries that emerged in the twentieth century produced content for mass audiences. This was a result of a range of social, political, economic and technological factors. Mass media like radio, television and print could only produce one flow of content to a mass audience. Everyone in the audience watched the same television programme at the same time, or read the same newspaper. This system suited nation states and industries that demanded mass publics and markets. Nation states sought to fashion enormous populations into coherent collective identities; industrial factories could only produce a standardized set of products for a mass market.

The audience of the industrial-era culture industry was largely conceptualized as being on the receiving end of a standardized flow of meanings. There were a variety of accounts of the audience’s role in this process. Some critical and dystopian accounts saw the audience as passive recipients of meaning who were manipulated by the powerful groups that controlled cultural production. The importance of radio, cinema and other kinds of mass media propaganda in the rise of authoritarian fascist and communist societies seemed to demonstrate the power of industrial cultural production to direct enormous populations. More nuanced accounts developed too; these views pointed to the way that the industrial production of meaning shaped the cultural world within which people lived their lives. The media couldn’t tell people what to think, but it could tell them what to think about. Media industries played a critical role in creating the frame through which people viewed the world and providing the symbolic resources that people used to fashion their identities. While the audience actively decided what to do with the meanings and symbolic resources they had access to, they had little input into the broad cultural schema in which they lived. The culture industry was a key mechanism in establishing and maintaining this schema. It limited audience participation to a representational frame constructed and managed by powerful interests. These arguments were powerful because they articulated how the media controlled

 

 

populations even as they were actively involved in decoding and circulating meaning.

Over the course of the twentieth century, arguments developed that accounted for the active participation of audiences in the reception and circulation of meaning. Some of these accounts were functionalist and instrumental. They sought to explain to states or corporations how the management of populations depended on more than just creating and disseminating meanings. They also had to work to fashion the social contexts within which individuals interpreted and decoded meanings. Other accounts have been much more celebratory: they saw the audience’s capacity to interpret meanings as proof that the culture industry couldn’t exert as much power over populations as critics claimed. Audiences were always free to decode and create meanings offered by the culture industry. These accounts focused on the creative capacity of audience members to resist, rearrange and reappropriate mass- produced meanings to their own identities, wills and worlds. With the rise of interactive media technologies from the 1990s onwards, these celebratory accounts took on a life of their own. If the ‘problem’ with the industrial culture industry was the way it thwarted participation and relegated audiences to the reception and interpretation of pre-made meanings, then interactive technologies offered a solution. The audience could actively participate in the creation of meaning. This book considers several important rejoinders to these claims.

 

 

Conceptual Map A series of key ideas form a map for the arguments in this book. We begin with two foundational concepts: meaning and power.

Meanings are the elementary building block of human communication. Humans use meanings to express their perceptions, intentions, feelings and actions. Meanings take shape in language, images, gestures and rituals. They indicate how we make sense of ourselves, each other and the world we live in. We use meaning to recognize one another. By making and sharing meaning we acknowledge the existence of others, their lives, their desires and their claims for a place in the world. Meanings are created via the negotiation we undertake with each other to create social relationships, institutions and shared ways of life. Power is the ability to realize your will against the will of others. Relationships between people are characterized by struggles over material, economic, political, symbolic and cultural resources.

Making and maintaining power depends in part on the capacity to control meaning . In any human society, relationships can be observed between powerful groups, the means of communication and the flow of meaning.

Three concepts are useful in examining the relationship between meaning and power: ideology, hegemony and discourse .

Ideology is a framework of ideas upon which people make decisions and act. Critical studies of media and communication have often examined ideology in order to demonstrate how powerful groups construct frameworks of meaning that cohere with their interests. Hegemony is a cultural condition where a particular way of life and its associated ideas, identities and meanings are accepted as common sense by a population. Groups are hegemonic when their ideas seem natural, inevitable and common sense. Groups have to work at achieving and maintaining their hegemonic status. Discourse refers to a system of meanings and ideas that inform the rules, procedures and practices of a society and its institutions. Discourses affirm some people and their practices, and discourage others. They mark out some ways of life as acceptable and others as unacceptable.

Exercising power – by producing and managing ideologies, hegemonies and discourses – depends in part on the capacity to control the creation of representations and identities.

Representation is the social process of making and exchanging meaning. People use media to construct a view of reality. How people understand the world organizes how they act in the world. Identity is produced by representations, and is the process of locating ourselves within the social world and its power relationships. We do this by drawing on the representations and discourses available to us.

During the twentieth century, the process of constructing representations and identities was organized in a mass culture industry.

The culture industry is composed of the range of institutions that make meaning and use it to shape and manage mass populations. The culture industry employs a class of professional communicators whose job is to make and manage meaning.

Over the past generation parts of the culture industry have become interactive . In addition to making and disseminating meanings to mass audiences, the culture industry relies on the participation of audiences in the production and circulation of meaning. Audiences receive, decode, circulate and

 

 

create meanings. Audiences are also subject to mass surveillance . The culture industry invests significant resources in watching and responding to audiences. The contemporary culture industry exercises power by relying on interactive technologies to watch, organize and control the participation of audiences.

 

 

What Does Today’s Culture Industry Look Like? The mass culture industry of the twentieth century still exists. Every day people all over the world watch television, listen to the radio, read news, go to the movies and see advertising on billboards as they travel through the city. Arguments about the capacity of the culture industry to shape shared ways of life, and the role that audiences play as active participants in that process, still matter. The development of interactive technologies has dramatically extended the role the culture industry plays in organizing everyday life. The emergence of an interactive culture industry is embedded within the development of a global, networked and informational form of capitalism. Just as the mass societies of the twentieth century used mass media to fashion mass collective identities and mass markets, the networked and flexible economy of the twenty-first century seeks adaptable identities, niche markets, and fragmented and asymmetrical flows of content. A flexible economy based on the mass customization of goods, services and experiences is interconnected with a culture industry that can produce multiple identity-based audiences on-demand. If the industrial economy of the twentieth century created one kind of product for a mass market, the flexible economy of the twenty-first century can create many customized products for many niche markets at once. A mode of production that can cater to niche lifestyle groups is interconnected with the development of a media system that can simultaneously fashion, target and manage multiple identities.

The twentieth-century culture industry was criticized for its disciplinary forms of representational control, limiting the range of symbolic and cultural resources audiences had access to, and thereby containing the extent to which populations participated in the creation and circulation of meaning. The interactive culture industry appears to dramatically open up the space within which ordinary people can make and circulate meaning. Where the twentieth-century culture industry’s mode of control could be explained in a representational sense – captured in Lasswell’s (1948) formula ‘who says what to whom in what channel with what effect’ – the interactive culture industry of today adds participatory and reflexive modes of exercising power to the mix. In this media system, telling audiences what to think about is augmented with giving them constant opportunities to express themselves within spaces and processes where the culture industry can track, channel, harness and respond to those expressions. Where once the culture industry might have acted to thwart audience participation by limiting who can create and circulate meaning, today’s culture industry works to stimulate audience participation in meaning making. What celebratory accounts of audience participation often miss is that the culture industry’s method of making and managing populations has enlarged to include participatory and responsive techniques. These forms of control

 

 

operate by getting audiences to interact within communicative enclosures where their meaning making can be monitored, channelled and harnessed. Today’s culture industry is far more permissive and participatory, but is also more responsive and deeply embedded into everyday life.

 

 

How Do Interactive Media Utilize and Structure Our Participation? Think of the differences between television and smartphones. Television is emblematic of the mass culture industry, the smartphone illustrative of the networked culture industry. Television beams one stream of images into the homes of a population. Those populations watch television each morning and evening. They make sense of the world via a flow of images created by professional communicators who control who gets to speak and how the world is represented. Television offers a representational mode of control; it uses a flow of images to shape the identities and practices of populations. With television everyone sees the same flow of meaning at the same time. Broadcast television watched by mass audiences fashions collective identities and ways of life. The smartphone also distributes a continuous flow of images to audiences. This flow of images though is dynamic. Each audience member sees a different flow of images depending on their identity and place in social networks. The flow constantly adapts to their preferences and practices. It is a mixture of content created by professional communicators, cultural intermediaries and peers. Nearly all of the content we see on our smartphone flows through networks made and maintained by the culture industry. Most of the content that flows through our smartphone is either produced by professional communicators or circulated within networks where professional communicators monitor us. Furthermore, we carry our smartphones with us all day. They passively monitor our movements through the city, our interactions with friends, and increasingly our expressions, moods and bodies. Television was confined to the home, was often switched off, and could only distribute meaning (it couldn’t watch or listen to us). The smartphone is constantly attached to our body, always on, sends and receives meaning, and enables data collection. The smartphone offers a far more flexible, responsive and continuous way of communicating with, monitoring and managing populations. Where television was central to the fashioning of mass collective identity, the smartphone facilitates the production and positioning of identities within networks.

Interactive media have been celebrated for the way they afford new forms of participation, and critiqued for the way they dramatically extend the use of information and meaning in the management of populations. Audience participation is integral to this culture industry, but this doesn’t mean that audiences have more power or control. The more audiences participate, the more they contribute to the development of networks, flows of meaning and collections of data that enable the more reflexive and real-time management of populations. We examine throughout the book how news, politics, brands and popular culture rely on the participation of

 

 

audiences. We aim to develop an account of how the interactive culture industry’s construction of opportunities for audiences to speak is interrelated with the enormous investment in technologies that enable it to watch everyday life.

 

 

What is the Role of Professional Communicators in the Exercise of Power? In this book we are particularly interested in the work of professional communicators in managing meaning and power. In an interactive culture industry the work of professional communicators extends beyond the production of meanings as content to include managing the participation of cultural intermediaries and audiences in the ongoing circulation of content. Professional communicators don’t just create and disseminate meaning; they manage other meaning makers, and they watch and respond to populations in real time. Professional communicators are also involved in creating and managing social and urban spaces within which they organize audience participation. Rather than just create meanings and representations distributed to mass populations, professional communicators manage open-ended processes of meaning making in complex and diffused networks. Professional communicators need to be highly skilled at using their communicative, strategic and analytical abilities to create and maintain social relationships within structures controlled by the culture industry. The work of professional communication involves more than just the creation of persuasive or valuable content: it extends to managing space, populations and complex communication processes.

Many of the theoretical ideas in this book are critical ones. Critical theories are concerned with how the construction of social relationships is embedded in the exercise of power. Critical theories offer arguments about the role media play in shaping our social world. They account for individual, institutional, social, cultural, historical and technological dimensions of media and communication. These arguments are valuable to us as scholars, citizens and professional communicators. Understanding how uneven flows of symbolic resources shape the world we live in makes us more critically informed citizens. It helps us to reflect on how we might be heard in meaningful ways, how we might participate in communicative activities that materially shape the world we live in, and how we might create new kinds of social relationships. The best professional communicators have a nuanced understanding of the place of media in broader social, cultural and political processes. Being a leading professional communicator involves more than just having communicative skills to use technologies to produce compelling content or create interactive platforms that harness audience participation. Professional communicators also need the critical and analytical ability to determine how they contribute to the construction of social relationships and structures. Critical theories prompt us to think carefully about human experience and relationships. Even if you aren’t especially interested in the consequences of using meaning to exercise power,

 

 

critical theories offer ways of developing a detailed understanding of the relationship between meaning and power. This relationship is the business of professional communication. Understanding this relationship can inform a variety of strategic ends. Critical ideas aren’t ones that think power is bad or the media are bad, or that attempt to unmask and reveal how things really are. Power is important; it governs how we get things done in the world. Critical theory doesn’t attempt to imagine a world without power, but rather to examine how power is organized. Critical ideas are ones that pay attention to how power is exercised and how meaning shapes relationships between people. Power isn’t a simple one-way application of brute force; power works through a combination of disciplinary and participatory mechanisms. Populations are easiest to manage when they consent to, and participate in, established power relationships. The best leaders – regardless of their political or personal views about media and power – understand the relationships between meaning and power.

 

 

Engaging With Critical Debate About Media Production, Content and Participation The book is organized in three parts. The first part outlines key conceptual ideas in our study of meaning and power, including: hegemony, discourse, ideology, representation, rituals and the culture industry. We also examine the development of the culture industry in the twentieth century and its transition to a networked and interactive culture industry in the past generation. We conclude this section by examining the work of professional communicators in the contemporary culture industry. In the second part of the book we examine several modes of production within the culture industry – news, politics, identity, branding and popular culture. Throughout this section we examine the shift from the production of mass audiences and identities in the twentieth century to the management of a network of flexible identities and audiences in the contemporary culture industry. In the final part of the book we consider in detail the forms of participation and control central to the ongoing development of the interactive culture industry. In the conclusion we examine how the contemporary culture industry assembles a network of representational, participatory and responsive modes of control. Meaning is fundamental to the exercise of power, but not only because it tells us what to think about. By taking part in networks of meaning making we make ourselves a visible participant in the power relationships the culture industry manages.

 

 

Engaging With Academic Debate Throughout the book we cite work by scholars in the field, and we encourage you to go and read their work to extend your thinking, consider our point of view, and come to a view of your own. This book, like all academic publication, is not a stand-alone work. It is situated in a broader academic debate. Understanding how academic publication works and how to read journal articles will help you make better sense of the ideas and arguments in this book.

 

 

Journal articles and academic publication A journal article is a research study or essay where academics present their research findings and arguments to a scholarly field. To be published in a journal an article must be blind peer-reviewed. This process ensures that research is appropriately evaluated by experts in the field before it can be published. When an academic submits an article for publication in a journal the editor anonymizes the submission and sends it on to two or more experts in the field. Those experts read the submission and respond to the editor with their comments about the article and recommendation on whether or not it should be published. The reviewers make two judgements. The first judgement is about the rigour of the article’s argument, method and findings. The article must conform to the scholarly norms and principles of the field. The second judgement is about the contribution of the article to debate. The article must offer some new ideas and insights and help to further important debates in the field. Journals are a forum for iterative and ongoing debate. Consider a journal article as being one part of a larger conversation. Whatever journal article you are reading will be responding to what scholars in the field have had to say in the past, and in time – if the article is a good one – future scholars will respond in turn. The purpose of academic journals is to animate a structured conversation between researchers where they share their research and arguments in a considered and rigorous way.

Journals are the bedrock of any academic field. They are the institution through which experts construct and manage the production of ideas that shape and define their fields. They are the forum where ideas and debates are mapped out, critiqued, presented and debated. Without journals there would be no shared mechanisms for academics to disagree with each other, challenge each other and support each other in a constructive way. Good journal articles are those that can articulate a problem that matters to the field, challenge current thinking in a productive way, and map out a rigorous method, findings and argument that suggest a way forward for those in the field. Journal articles that have been published recently give you an insight into the debates that matter right now in the field. But that doesn’t mean that older articles aren’t still relevant and important. If you find a debate or idea in an older article that is useful and relevant, then use it. The important thing with using older articles is that you consider how to contextualize it within contemporary debates. Look for who has cited, engaged with or extended the debate since the article was published.

On the companion website of this book, we provide you with a selection of journal articles we’ve specifically chosen to help you with your study and research. They’re free to download and we encourage you to use this ‘reading a journal article’ guide

 

 

to help improve your essays and take your studies deeper. Go to study.sagepub.com/carahandlouw and read on!

 

 

How to Read a Journal Article Not all journal articles are the same, but they do all tend to have some fundamental elements. If you understand what these elements are, how to find them and why they matter it will help you to understand articles, evaluate their quality, read more efficiently and incorporate their arguments into your own writing.

There are five elements you should aim to identify in any journal article you read:

a significant question or claim a position in the academic debate an explanation of the research method or approach a presentation of the findings and argument a statement of the implications and contributions of the research study.

 

 

Question or claim The first element to look for when reading a journal article is the main question the author poses or the main claim they are making. This question or claim effectively sets the frame through which the author wants the reader to judge their writing. The editor of the journal, when agreeing to publish the article, would have decided that the question or claim is an important one and that the author clearly demonstrated it in their writing. You will usually find this claim in the first section of the article. Once you’ve found it, use that claim as the foundation upon which the article is built. The author will also explain why their question or claim is significant and who or what it matters to. The significance might be presented in relation to the academic field, a policy or governance problem, or events that matter to politics, cultural life or an industry.

 

 

Position in the academic debate The presentation of a question or claim is interrelated with a review of the relevant academic literature. In some articles this will be presented as a clear literature review section; in other articles the first few pages of the article will weave together the author’s claim and question, with an analysis of relevant literature. This might not be titled ‘literature review’ but come under several themed subheadings.

The purpose of this section of a journal article is not just to summarize the debate, but to organize it and frame it. A good literature review will set out competing perspectives or clearly articulate shortcomings and limitations in the current scholarly debate. The purpose is to demonstrate how the author’s question and claim will respond to significant debates in the literature. Sometimes the author will claim to fill a gap in the current debate by adding some now evidence; in other cases the author will claim to correct or refute a significant assumption or claim in the literature by providing confounding evidence or demonstrating how new developments change previous understandings.

The academic literature is always under construction: journal articles don’t aim to end the debate with a final piece of definitive knowledge, but rather contribute to the ongoing effort to push debate forward. The engagement with the literature at the start of a journal article aims to position the article in relation to those debates. Sometimes the literature review will position the study’s contribution as an ‘applied’ one, other times it will be ‘conceptual’. An applied contribution is where existing ideas from the literature are taken and applied or tested in a new context. For example, if research has mainly been conducted with people in one setting (like a city), new research might test those ideas by examining people in a different setting (like a rural area). A conceptual contribution is where existing ideas from the literature are reformulated, or new ideas are proposed, as a way of contending with new developments in technology, society or culture.

At the end of this section of a journal article you should have a clear idea of the debate the author is engaging with, why that debate matters and how they intend to contribute to it. As a reader the literature not only familiarizes you with a debate but also offers you some reference points for your own research. Often, a good way to target your reading is to go out and engage with the authors that others are engaging with. If you find a journal article about a topic or issue that is relevant to you, then check out who the author is engaging with and follow their lead. If you read authors that are citing each other then you are more likely to find a coherent conversation to ground your own thinking and writing within.

 

 

Explanation of research method or approach Once an author has explained their question and claim, and why it matters, and then situated it within current academic debate, they will then set out how they went about doing their research. This is where they explain how they will make an original contribution to the literature.

The media and communication field crosses a broad range of approaches. Some journals have a very systematic way of presenting research methodologies. These journals tend to come from more empirical disciplines that follow a scientific method like psychology or sociology. A journal article might label its methodology section clearly and offer a sustained and clear explanation of the methodological approach and often also an evaluation of its strengths and limitations.

Many journals also come from humanities traditions. In these articles the explanation and justification of the methodology may be more implicit, but it will always be there in some form or another. In its most basic form the author will provide a paragraph that explains how they did what they did and who has used similar methods to address similar questions.

A quantitative and scientific methodology might involve a descriptive or experimental survey for instance, where the author would clearly explain and evaluate the validity of the constructs used in the survey, the sample size and the analytic procedures. A discourse analysis might explain the range of texts selected for analysis and the analytic procedure used to make sense of them. An interview study might explain the sample of people interviewed, the range of questions asked, how the interviews were analysed and what claims were possible from them.

Sometimes a journal article will be making a critical and conceptual argument, and therefore won’t necessarily have empirical evidence or methodology. In these articles though there is still a method in the sense that the author will explain clearly how the argument is structured and what material it will engage with: instead of empirical material like interview, textual or survey data, it might be a scholarly debate or conceptual framework that the author is framing, critiquing and contributing to.

In the media and communication field there are no right and wrong methods, or methods that are better than others. What matters is that the author clearly explains how they did their research and how that approach was appropriate for responding to the question they are posing or making the claim they are making. You need to understand the methodology in order to understand the basis on which the author will go on to make their arguments. You might also find the methodology useful for developing your own research projects and approaches.

 

 

Presentation of findings and argument The first three elements – the problem, literature review and methodology – clearly set out what the article is about, why it matters and how the research was done. From there the author moves on to present the findings and argument from the research. This is where the author makes their contribution to the literature by presenting original material and arguments. These sections are sometimes called ‘results’ and ‘discussion’, other times they are organized under themed subheadings. In more empirical articles the results will be presented separately and then discussed. This is common in journal articles presenting survey research for instance. In other articles the results and analysis will be woven together; this is more common in qualitative and critical research articles. The structure of this section often offers a useful conceptual framework for your own writing. In the findings and argument, scholars usually present concepts that you can use to structure and inform your own arguments, analysis and research.

 

 

Statement of implications and contributions of the research study A journal article will conclude with an explanation of the implications of the research, its limitations, and suggestions for further research. The author will explain what the consequences and significance of the research findings are to the scholarly debate. They will then map out what they think the next steps in research on this problem should be. You can use the conclusion as a launching point for your own arguments, taking up the questions and challenges authors arrive at in their journal articles as a starting point for your own thinking and writing. As academics read each other’s journal articles they look to the implications and suggestions of previous publications and use them as the basis for formulating their next research projects and arguments.

 

 

Placing a journal article in broader debate You should also aim to place a journal article within the broader academic debate. The first way to do this is to go to the journal article’s reference list and locate other articles that extend ideas in the article which are of use to you. Do this in conjunction with reading the article. Where the author makes a claim that you find compelling or useful and then cites it in reference to another author, go to that author’s work and read it too. The second way to place the journal article in the larger debate is to conduct a search to find out who else has cited the article since it was published. Citation is when an article is referenced in another article after it is published. Academics use citation to follow how articles get incorporated into ongoing academic debate after they have been published. Academic publishing is reasonably slow, so you may find that articles don’t accumulate citations until two or three years after they have been published. Articles by prominent scholars or articles that are key to debates in the field will accumulate many citations.

The easiest way to find citations is to use Google Scholar. Search for the article you are reading in Google Scholar. When you find it you will see underneath the listing a link that says ‘Cited by …’ followed by a number. That number is the number of articles that have cited it since publication. Click on that link to go through to the list of articles and search in there for publications that are relevant to you. If there are many hundreds of citations for an article you can click the ‘search within existing articles’ box to search key terms within those articles citing the original article. If you pay attention to how an article is positioned in the broader academic debate it will help you select a collection of articles that are in conversation with one another. This will help to improve your writing because you will have identified and mapped out a shared conversation between scholars who are already mapping out and contributing to a debate that you can then engage with.

 

 

 

1 Meaning, Representation and Power The creation and control of meaning making is critical to the exercise of power.

* How is meaning made and controlled? * How does representation work as a social process? * How is meaning used to exercise power?

 

 

 

In this chapter we: Define meaning and power Consider how meaning and power are related to one another Examine several fundamental accounts of the relationship between meaning and power: hegemony, ideology, discourse and representation Overview how media representations organize everyday life.

 

 

Defining Meaning Communication is central to human experience. When we are born we are immediately situated in, and gradually socialized into, language and meaning. The language we learn to speak, the culture that informs our view of the world and the ideas we are taught precede our arrival in the world. As we grow up we embody history: clusters or pools of ideas, meanings and practices that have congealed over time. We identify these ideas and practices as societies and cultures. Communication has an array of affective and material roles to play in how we relate to others, how we imagine our lives and how we get things done in the world. In his history of the idea of communication Durham-Peters (1999: 1) writes, ‘Though humans were anciently dubbed the “speaking animal” by Aristotle, only since the late nineteenth century have we defined ourselves in terms of our ability to communicate with one another.’ In this book, we are particularly interested in how communication has become central to the development of society, culture and politics since the early twentieth century. In western societies, like the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States, Canada and Australia, communication has become bound up with the production and circulation systems we call ‘the media’. Before we get to the media though we must first consider meaning as an elementary building block of communication. And we must examine the role of communication in forming and maintaining social relationships.

By internalizing meanings, practices and ways of communicating we become members of various social groups and cultures. Meanings are resources that we use to generate our identities, negotiate with others and position ourselves within a social milieu. Meanings are never stable, static or fixed. As we use, circulate and share them, we also remake and reposition them. Our societies and cultures then are also not static. They are continually being reinvented and struggled over. Every individual makes some contribution to reshaping meaning as we engage in the everyday process of communicating with each other. As we grapple to make sense of, and shape, our world, we necessarily change the meaning structures and cultural practices we are born into. The meanings and practices that shape us, and that we use to shape our relationships with others and our world, shift throughout our lives. Numerous, often imperceptibly small, shifts result in the networks of meanings changing from generation to generation, place to place and group to group. Culture is a dynamic and living process. Meanings change and grow precisely because the process of communication – perceiving, receiving and decoding; imparting, disseminating and encoding – relies on innumerable small creative transactions between active human beings.

 

 

All individuals play a role in making, remaking and circulating meaning. Some individuals and groups, however, have more power than others within the communicative process. The networks of meaning making we live within are not arbitrary or random. People are positioned differently by the power relationships in which they are embedded. These positions impact on the access individuals have to media production and circulation systems. Some individuals have more symbolic, cultural and economic resources to control the production and circulation of meaning. This is by no means to suggest though that communication is a linear hierarchy. Each person who communicates is located in a network of social relationships at a particular place and time. They each have differing capacities to adopt, negotiate or resist the production and circulation of meanings that constitute their lives, identities and social worlds.

The making of meaning is embedded within human relationships. Human relationships are marked by an uneven allocation of symbolic and material resources. Those resources are the basis upon which some individuals are able to exert control over the shape of human societies, cultural practices and the shaping of the material world. In this book we refer to these processes as power relationships. One way individuals gain and maintain power is by using meaning to position themselves relative to others. To do this they create and control systems of meaning production and circulation. Just as meanings are never fixed, so too are power relationships always in a state of flux. Meaning is struggled over as people work at improving their position within networks of power relationships. Gaining access to the means of communication, and even particular meanings, is both derivative of power and a means of acquiring power. Those with power have a greater capacity to make and circulate meaning because they are able to control communication institutions and practices. Sites where meanings are made, and the channels through which meanings flow, are significant sites of struggle. Meaning- production spaces like newsrooms, film and television studios, parliaments, courts, universities and research institutions are sites of struggle where people compete for access and argue over ideas.

To understand why a particular set of meanings circulates at a certain time and place we must examine the power relationships between people. Mapping power and meaning is complex because each is constantly shifting in relation to the other. There is a continual struggle over power in all human groups and a constant realignment of winners and losers. Shifts in power are accompanied by changes in the production of meaning. Mapping the mechanics of meaning production, as with mapping meaning itself, requires careful consideration of the time, place and power relationships in which meanings are embedded.

 

 

The Power to Influence Meaning Making At the outset then we need to examine the relationship between power and meaning. Power does not have the tangibility of an object, yet as human beings we all intuitively recognize its presence. We implicitly know in our day-to-day lives how to act according to the power relationships that surround us. In our homes, classrooms, workplaces, and in public spaces we know that some people are able to exert control over how we act. That control is often subtle, and we willingly consent to power via our actions. Like communication, power is omnipresent, yet it can be overlooked because it seems to be just there. Power is though a crucial dimension of the production and circulation of meaning. When we examine power we pay attention to how ideas are made and circulated, by certain people, in particular settings and moments in time. Power is a slippery phenomenon with numerous definitions. For the purposes of this book, power will be seen as the capacity to get what you want when interacting with others. Max Weber (1978) expressed this best when saying that those with power are able to realize their own will even against the resistance of others. Power is also found in the more subtle capacity to stop conflicts from emerging by preventing oppositional agendas from even developing in the first place (Lukes 1974).

Proposing this definition of power raises three related issues.

Firstly, what is the relationship between power and social elites? Secondly, where does power come from? And, thirdly, what is the relationship between being embedded within a power relationship and free agency?

 

 

What is the relation between power and social elites? Discussions about the relationships between meaning making and the media can easily end up sounding like a conspiracy theory in which power elites are seen to manipulate media content to serve their own interests. Studies of media ownership and control, sometimes drawing on the political economy approach to communication, have posited conspiratorial interpretations of media control. These conspiracies more or less argue that powerful groups carefully control the messages and meanings made and circulated in the media. They see an all-powerful media being used to generate ‘false consciousness’. While powerful groups might use media to create and circulate their preferred meanings, they can’t guarantee that the meanings they make will do what they intend. The process of making and managing meaning is messy and opportunistic. There is no conspiracy of elites sitting in a closed room engineering social meanings. The control of meaning making is not always repressive; it can be reflexive and adaptable. That is, elites don’t control meaning making by policing specific meanings, but often by watching and responding to meaning making in general: by steering, shaping and channelling. The control of meaning making can be nuanced and subtle. Media production is used by powerful groups to maintain power. But this does not mean they can simply use the media to exert direct manipulative control over people.

The debate about the power elite theory between the American political scientist Robert Dahl (1961) and the American sociologist C. Wright Mills (1959) is useful when considering the power elite argument. In his book Who Governs? Dahl put forward a pluralist position that argued there is no unified elite because power is diffused within a democracy. Whereas Mills argued in The Power Elite that ultimately power resided with a small group of people within a society. Dahl’s pluralist model sees society as made up of multitudes of intersecting and cross- cutting interest groups without a clear elite. Mills’ power elite model sees society as hierarchically structured, with a small unified elite commanding the rest of society. In this book we engage with a third approach, the hegemonic domination model. Hegemony refers to the establishment of a culture – a certain set of ideas, practices and values – as common sense. Hegemonic ideas are ones that people consent to. In western societies, for instance, liberalism, democracy and capitalism are dominant hegemonic ideas. Most people appear to consent to these ideas and the actions people take as a consequence of them. Hegemonic elites are formed out of alliances of interest groups. These hegemonic alliances become powerful, but their dominance is messy and tentative. It is less hierarchical than in Mills’ conceptualization.

 

 

While at first Mills’ and Dahl’s positions may seem mutually exclusive, it is possible to see each as valid if power is seen to migrate and mutate. Sites of power constantly shift in the course of struggles taking place. Pluralist theory’s denial that elites can (and do) emerge seems naive. But neither is the existence of power elites a necessary condition of human existence – contexts can exist where power is diffused in the way described by pluralist theorists like Dahl (1961). Similarly, the pluralist failure to address the fact that elites can and do intentionally work to manipulate and control non-elites also seems naive. But the notion that non-elites are necessarily powerless and perpetually manipulated seems equally dubious. It is more helpful to recognize the existence of elites and aspirant elites, as well as non-elite groups who are part of a complex pluralist competition for (material and cultural) resources and power. Within this framework the media are one of the many social sites struggled over as a means to acquire and build power.

The hegemonic dominance model is based on this mutable and shifting conceptualization of elites. At certain moments elites might well congeal and manage to become the dominant power brokers within a particular context; only to later have their power challenged and overthrown. This challenge might come from another emergent elite or it might come from a diffused and pluralist network or alliance of interests. One way to imagine Dahl’s model is as society having no centre of power, but rather being composed of a series of fragmented and competing interests; this constellation or balance of interests is susceptible to change. If society is conceptualized as a fluid and continually mutating entity it becomes possible to view elite theory and pluralist theory as describing different moments of a shifting continuum. Gramsci’s (1971) notion of hegemonic struggle is especially useful when conceptualizing the interaction between various competing interest groups. Hegemonic struggle is also helpful in conceptualizing existing, emergent and decaying power elites. Hegemonies have to be built and maintained. Becoming and remaining powerful is never completely accomplished, it requires continuous work: investing resources, managing relationships with other would-be elites, amassing material resources and creating and attaining consent for your ideas. Ruling elites are not conspiracies somehow manipulating society behind the scenes: they are instead the outcome of continual hard hegemonic labour. In present day societies, creating and maintaining hegemonies involves managing the interests of millions of people.

Figure 1.1 Pluralism, power elites and hegemonic dominance

 

 

 

Where does power come from? There are three common explanations of the source of power.

Firstly, access to material and cultural resources needed to get your way and attain the consent of others. This includes the use or threat of violence. Secondly, the occupation of social positions that enhance your capacity to get your way, have others comply with you and restrain the capacity of others to act. And thirdly, using and controlling language to structure social relations.

All three explanations are valuable. Power is derivative of access to economic and cultural resources, social positions and the ability to control language.

To acquire and maintain power, elites and would-be elites seek to control institutions that make and manage ideas. Various institutions are ‘licensed’ to manufacture and circulate meaning: education institutions, the media, parliaments and courts of law. These sites are cultural resources. Access to them is struggled over and controlled. In any given society, struggles around these sites can be observed. These struggles are most intense when power relations are fragile or contested. Powerful groups attempt to control and limit access by a variety of means.

A common means of control is via credentials. Credentials are criteria produced by institutions to govern access. For instance, to be a teacher in a school, or an academic in a university, or a lawyer admitted to the bar you must have acquired the appropriate qualifications. During the twentieth century universities became the key credentialing mechanism in western society. Not just anyone can gain access to a media institution and become a producer of meaning. Besides having the appropriate skills and qualifications, those who run media institutions also ensure the meaning makers they employ share the meanings of that institution. You will not remain employed at a mainstream western news organization if you produce stories that are anarchist, anti-capitalist, fascist or that encourage terrorism, for example.

The media became an important cultural resource during the twentieth century for positioning people: as good or bad, as powerful or weak, as important or unimportant, as credible or illegitimate. Media representations are necessarily battled over because such discourses serve to legitimate or de-legitimate particular hierarchies of social positions and the incumbents of those positions. Given the importance the media assumed in the process of making and circulating powerful ideas from the second half of the twentieth century, media institutions have become

 

 

prized possessions for those seeking power. Owning or controlling a media institution empowers the owner to hire and fire the makers of meaning. Often, media empower particular people and ideas based simply on who and what they pay attention to. Media can disempower not only by saying a particular person or idea is bad, but by simply failing to acknowledge its existence. Whether the ownership and control of media sites does actually confer power will depend on the individuals concerned, the context they operate within and the wider struggles taking place within that context. Power is, however, not immutable and the institutions that produce meaning are dynamic sites. One observation we can make though is that already having material and symbolic power is an advantage in future power struggles.

 

 

What is the relationship between being embedded within a power relationship and free agency? This is a question about the relationship between being controlled and being free. Essentially, there are two different conceptions of power.

In the first, people are passive and have power exercised over them. They merely inhabit preordained structures and social roles. In this view people are conceptualized as imprisoned within power relationships and structures, whether these are economic, political or cultural. The second sees humans as active and part of a process in which power is struggled over. Here, people have agency. Our lifeworlds are seen as the outcome of mutable and creative human activity in which we make and remake our own structures.

For our examination of communication, this poses a question of whether we are seen to be free to make meaning, or whether we merely inhabit predetermined sets of meanings.

The question of predetermined structure versus human agency needs to be positioned within the shift in western philosophy from structuralism to post- structuralism that developed in the mid-twentieth century. This is a complex shift, involving several of the key figures of twentieth-century thought and philosophy.

Meaning is fixed For Ferdinand de Saussure (1974), a founding theorist of linguistics, we are socialized in a prison-house of language. We are born into a world of subjective structures and we learn their pre-existing signs and codes. The Marxist theorist Louis Althusser (1971) took Saussure’s notion of linguistic structures and used these to develop his idea of ideological state apparatuses. Ideological state apparatuses include family, religion, media and education. These structures position us within fixed ideologies or meanings. The way we understand the world and act is determined by those meanings. Within the Althusserian world-view, power derived from controlling these ideological state apparatuses. Human agency was given little scope within this structural and subjectivist view of human communication.

Meaning can be temporarily fixed

 

 

The shift into a post-structural interpretation of meaning came with the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1977, 1979). Foucault also saw humans as being constituted within linguistic structures. However, for Foucault, we are constituted within discursive practices, and these practices are created by human agency within institutions. This Foucaultian shift was highly significant because it opened a space for human agency and struggle that was tied to a notion of institutionalized communication. Structures exist, but these structures, institutions and practices are mutable and changeable because they are the outcome of struggles between active human beings. Structures are something humans maintain through their discourses and practices. The Foucaultian notion of discursive practices represented a shift away from linguistic determinism, that is, away from the idea that we are born into a language or system of meanings and ideas that we cannot change. His notion of knowledge as being constituted by active human practices, within human-made institutions, placed Foucault’s understanding of communication within the same terrain as that of Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) notion of hegemonic struggle. For both Foucault and Gramsci, communication is the outcome of human practices that are struggled over. There may be communicative structures which set boundaries or parameters, but these do not predetermine human action.

Meaning is never fixed The French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1976) took this Foucaultian notion one stage further, and explored the struggle over meaning as a process of trying to either fix meanings into place or uncouple meanings. For Derrida there is a constant shift in meaning structures as the process of fixing and uncoupling and re-fixing unfolds. The political theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (1985) took Derrida’s notion one stage further by even questioning the possibility of ever fixing meanings into place. At most Laclau and Mouffe saw ‘fixations’ as partial. Within this account we shift into an understanding of communication as a pure semiosis, where meaning making is understood as purely about language games. The cultural studies academic Stuart Hall (1983) noted the limitations of this extreme post- structuralist world-view. Essentially, extreme post-structuralism decontextualizes meaning making. It ignores power relationships embedded in identifiable political and economic contexts, and so loses the substance and complexity that a Foucaultian or Gramscian approach has. The Laclau and Mouffe position of ‘pure semiosis’ is ill-equipped to deal with how power relationships emerge between humans engaged in struggles over resources and positions. These struggles involve symbolism and cultural resources but they are not reducible exclusively to mere battles over meaning.

 

 

The Gramscian or Foucaultian positions have the advantage of allowing for both human agency and structural limitations. When making meaning we necessarily operate within pre-existing economic, political and linguistic structures, and hence within pre-existing power relations. But these existent structures and power relationships are not immutable or fixed. Rather they set parameters within which the next wave of struggle for power and influence takes place. These contextual parameters may advantage certain individuals and groups engaged in the process, but it does not imprison anyone into a predetermined outcome. Ultimately, both meaning and power relations emerge from a process of ongoing struggle. Within this process there will be those attempting to freeze certain meanings and structures if these advantage their position. And if they have sufficient power or influence they may even be successful for a while. But power is relational and messy, dependent upon the way humans interact in a particular location and time. There will always be gaps and contradictions in any system of control, and there will always be those who wish to circumvent, and will often succeed in circumventing, the mechanisms of control and meaning closure. Ultimately, relational shifts cannot be prevented, hence power shifts are inevitable. Power is always contextually bound, transitory and slipping away from those who try to wield it. Both meanings and power relations are constantly sliding around, migrating and mutating, sometimes in sync with one another and sometimes out of sync. This constant churn creates gaps for those who wish to challenge existent power relations and structures. It is this relational flux that constrains the powerful because the powerful can never permanently pin down relationships that benefit themselves: there will always be some other group pushing back. Power is consequently constrained by the

 

 

propensity humans have for struggle, and their capacity to find gaps and contradictions in any social structure. No structure, whether it be economic, political or cultural, is ever a permanent prison. At most, structures channel human agency.

The same is true for meaning production. The processes of meaning making are bounded by a multiplicity of human-made power relationships and structures which may restrict human industry and creativity but which can never eliminate it. Even if power relationships and structures do not determine meanings, they are part of the contextual framework within which meaning is made and controlled.

 

 

The Struggle Over Meaning: Introducing Hegemony An important dimension of human relationships is the struggle continuously taking place over power and dominance between competing individuals and groups. This competition impacts on both the circulation and production of meaning. All societies have dominant and dominated groups. Naturally, dominant groups prefer to remain dominant. Dominant groups have two mechanisms for creating and maintaining power:

using or threatening violence against those challenging their interests creating legitimacy for the social arrangements which grant them a dominant position.

 

 

The more legitimacy dominant groups have, the less violence they need to employ Ruling groups generally employ a mix of violence and legitimacy to maintain their dominance. Legitimacy is preferable to violence. Power relationships that are viewed as legitimate are easier to maintain. For this reason, the processes of meaning making and circulation are important instruments for making and maintaining power. As Gramsci argued, a key element in building and retaining dominance is manipulating meaning to gain the consent of the dominated. Professional communicators are central to the work of building hegemony, that is, building legitimate and common-sense meanings. Professional communicators are therefore implicated in power struggles.

Meanings are fluid because they are the outcome of a constant struggle between professional communicators. Professional communicators can work for either dominant or dominated groups. Generally speaking, dominant groups have an advantage because they have more resources to employ professional communicators and create or acquire the institutions in which they produce meaning. Think for example of the election process for the US President. Those with resources are disproportionately able to influence the meaning-making process with campaign donations, funding independent advertising campaigns, lobby groups and think tanks that make and circulate ideas. They use their resources to frame the parameters of the political debate, by making certain issues a legitimate, and others an illegitimate, part of the political and media agenda.

Those able to afford the best consultants, policy makers, public opinion researchers, campaigners and communicators increase their chances of success because they increase the likelihood of placing their ideas onto the agenda. This not only gives them access to law makers, but also frames the political and social parameters within which those law makers operate. Similarly, those who can afford the best legal teams are more likely to gain favourable court rulings, which also impacts on legal precedence. For instance, the 2010 US Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee ruling used the First Amendment right to free speech to prevent government from restricting corporations, unions and other groups from funding political campaigns.

Building hegemony requires a mix of professional communicators: lobbyists, policy makers, lawyers, researchers, journalists, advertisers, political strategists, data analysts, designers and so on. This mix of professional communicators is employed not only to make, but also to influence and control the social, cultural,

 

 

legal and political structures that organize the circulation of meaning. The capacity to buy the most skilled professional communicators does not, however, predetermine the outcome of meaning making. At most, it skews meaning production in favour of those who are socially dominant or powerful at any point in time. Grappling with the nature and extent of this capacity is the task of any serious examination of meaning and power.

 

 

Defining hegemony Professional communicators build hegemony. Hegemony is the creation and maintenance of the legitimacy of dominant and powerful groups. Legitimacy is granted when dominated groups consent to domination by more powerful groups. According to Gramsci this involves intellectuals or professional communicators engaging in three tasks:

Firstly, professional communicators help to build consent and legitimacy for a society’s dominant groups. They develop support for the interests and goals of powerful groups. They get other groups to accept as ‘natural’ the leadership, ideas and moral codes of the powerful groups. This legitimacy-making work is at its most obvious in our media and education systems. Secondly, professional communicators organize alliances and compromises. This work is most visible within parliaments, where bargains are struck between different interests, deals are done and compromises made. Thirdly, professional communicators strategically direct political or coercive force. For Gramsci, violence underpins all hegemonies. It may not be necessary to actually use violence against most citizens, but the threat of violence is omnipresent. The simplest example of this is the enforcement of a legal code by the police and judicial system. For most citizens, understanding the consequences of breaking the law is enough to deter them from doing so. Intellectuals and professional communicators organize and legitimate these deterrent forces.

At any particular place and time it is possible to identify the ideas that make powerful groups legitimate. Those ideas are produced and managed by professional communicators working in a variety of institutional settings. These dominant discourses are often opaque, but they establish the parameters within which meaning in any given time and place is made, circulated and contested.

Not everyone accepts the dominant discourse. At any moment there will be individuals and groups unconvinced by the ideas professional communicators circulate. Hall (1980) argues such ‘oppositional’ people negotiate or reject the meanings generated by professional communicators. There are always professional communicators working against the dominant ideas. In any given society we can find groups expressing oppositional ideas. Throughout state socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe those in power had to contend with anti-communist intellectuals and activists. The National Party in South Africa was challenged by anti-apartheid activists. European nationalists oppose migration and multiculturalism within most European countries. In many countries anti-

 

 

globalization activists are readily identifiable. These activists might communicate via political parties, acts of violence, rallies, independent press, art or music. Some professional communicators consciously work to develop and circulate oppositional ideas designed to undermine hegemonic discourses and promote the interests of dominated or disempowered groups. Such intellectuals, cultural producers and professional communicators are engaged in counter-hegemonic work.

The struggle over ideas matters because meaning has material real-world consequences (Volosinov 1973). What people think informs how they act. And, vice versa, the world created out of the actions of people affects how we think and what we can say. The meanings we make and circulate have real-world consequences. By changing the nature of meaning one can also change human interactions, social organizations and the distribution of resources. Feminist successes in placing gender issues on the social agenda have, for example, altered human interactions, work practices and resource distribution in western societies. The converse is equally true: changing material relationships affects the way that meaning is made. For example, the significant transfer of wealth in post-apartheid South Africa created a new black elite, transforming many from socialist comrades into free enterprise businesspeople. The struggle to construct and reconstruct societies, cultures and economic systems, in part, involves battles to attach, detach and reattach meanings. These shifts affect more than just how we see and talk about the world, they change the way we live. Our lifeworld is altered. This in turn impacts on power relationships. As new power relationships emerge, so to do new hegemonic struggles of meaning, resources and power.

Hegemonic work is consequently complex. There are constant shifts between competing interests. People are always being positioned and repositioned within these shifting relationships. This produces an infinite number of positions from which people make sense of meaning. No possibility exists of ever producing a permanently stable set of dominant meanings. Instead, hegemonic work involves the never-ending task of dealing with challenges, oppositional decodings, power shifts and ever-changing alliances. Meanings are thus only hegemonic in a temporary sense. They are under challenge from the moment of their conception. Despite this, there will always be professional communicators trying to control and stabilize meaning. This brings us to an important question then: to what extent can meaning be controlled?

 
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