Understanding Mass Media: Theories and Methods of Sociological Analysis


The mass media profoundly shape everyday reality. We become aware of the world beyond our immediate experience through media representations and virtual social networks. Representations do not simply convey information but also structure our understanding of society, the meaning of social categories, and our sense of self. This course will provide a thorough introduction to theories of media and society, including the media as a component within capitalist economies, as a public sphere in democratic societies, and as a form of culture. We will explore how the media make meaning and how social identities are reflected and constructed through media products. We will consider the role of audiences as recipients of media messages and as active participants in the use of media in everyday life. And we will examine new information technologies—including blogs, forums, wikis, and websites—to investigate whether they change the relationships between individuals and media institutions, between media professionals and the public, between experts and lay people, and/or between governments and citizens. Our readings on social theories about the media will be paired with empirical examples from studies of newspapers, television, movies, radio, magazines, advertising, and the Internet. Students will learn methods of media analysis—including narrative analysis, genre theory, content analysis, framing, and semiotics—and apply them in collaborative projects and conference work. Although this course will include interdisciplinary content, the class will be rigorous and is likely to appeal to students with a strong interest in studying and applying theories and methods of qualitative social science.