After exploring new (digital/social/emergent) media through a variety of media studies lenses, we began looking at the possibilities these media present for democratic political projects. This week we begin our next theoretical turn: into the interdisciplinary field of “cultural studies.” This will provide tools to help us think about the relationship between new media and changing configurations of power. It’s only in the context of the latter that possibilities for social and environmental change can be understood in their complexity.
Since this topic was a popular one, I thought I’d link to an article that usefully contextualizes Habermas’s notion of the public sphere within current research in sociology of media. Many of the issues that came up in our discussion get some nuanced exploration in Rodney Benson’s article.
In particular, Benson offers some correctives to the tendency to think in all-or-nothing terms about whether or not today’s media environment fulfills the function of a public sphere. Drawing on French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and American “new institutionalist” media sociologists, he points out that there are many levels of influence apart from commercial considerations on media and journalistic practice.
With this week’s readings we move to another meaning of “media ecology” — something that Adbusters magazine calls the “mental environment” and that law professor James Boyle calls the “information environment,” the “informational commons,” the “commons of facts and ideas,” and the “intangible commons of the mind.”