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Week 1 Reading: ‘The Media and Communications – Theoretical Traditions’

Cunningham, S & Turner, G 2006 (eds). ‘The Media and Communications: Theoretical Traditions’ [in] The Media and Communications in Australia, AUS, 2006, p. 13-27.

This text looks at the depth of research in media and communication in Australia, including its various approaches and success stories.

Sinclair describes media and communication in Australia as being in a unique position. On one hand, it is greatly influenced by ideas and work generated elsewhere in the Western world – in part due to British colonisation and dependence on the US. On the other hand, we can use this to compare and contrast past research and modify this in accordance with our own “national reality”.

The text also looks at the idea of US and European research methodologies. The European methodology is seen to be holistic or interpretative, whereas the US model is “strongly empirical and micro in its scope” (p. 14) – conservative, relying on direct observation rather than analysis and interpretation. Therefore, under the US model it is preferable that research is controlled and measurable (e.g. a laboratory experiment).

There is also discussion of the the following influences on Australian media and communication: Western Marxism, British cultural studies, French structuralism and semiology, political economy, American empricism and Australian traditions.

Of these, I’ve chosen to look more closely at Australian traditions (cultural studies, social sciences, political economy).

• Due to an expansion of tertiary study in Australian in the 1960s, a “self conscious critique” (p.20) of the Australian way of life began.

• Media and Communication courses began to be established in 1970 but research was still based upon the US model, e.g. Western and Hughes’ The Mass Media in Australia (1971) – a purely quantitative sociological survey of media use.

• Following this, a better example of integration of the US and European models is Patricia Edgar’s Children and Screen Violence study (1977). This study combined quantitative data with qualitative interview data reporting the childrens’ responses to films. This is a good example of Australian media and communication research using perspective found elsewhere and adapting these to a unique environment.

• Australian media and communication research can be described as “quirky” (p. 24). It is made up of a fusion of international influence and the unique features of the Australian media environment.

• Another example of effective research was The Aboriginal Invention of Television in Central Australia (1986) by US researcher Eric Michaels. This study looked at the idea of television as a cultural technology and put study of Indigenous culture on the radar of media and communication research in Australia.

To conclude, Sinclair confirms the unique nature of media and communication research in Australia – a “independent and media intensive” (p. 26) nation. Our media environment means that we are able to adapt “received ideas” to our own reality.


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