Monday, 10 May 2010

MAC201 essay 2 considering technology...

This is a quick post for a few of my MAC201 students who are considering approaching the second assessment focussing on technology in relation to audiences, so I expect it to have a very niche interest (if any).

A quick recap...

Over this section of the module we have dealt with a few methodological issues and contextual themes.  The first few weeks were spent looking at different ways to conduct audience research (quantitive approaches, qualitative approaches, ethnography, methodological triangulation, etc) and identifying how the chosen method can impact upon the way questions are asked, as well as the data produced.  We looked at some of the assumptions inherent within the effects paradigm (flawed methodology, disciplinary assumptions, poor definitions of subject matter, etc) - see the critique put forwards by David Gauntlett here for a recap.  We also looked at the shift away from the assumption about what the media does, to what sense audiences make of their media (circa Stuart Hall and David Morley).

The overarching concern here was with making sure students are able to take a critical position when consulted with the supposed certainty of research which seeks to make specific claims about our relationship with media forms, texts and practices.  Certain assumptions about these relationships seem to  recur, often through the pages of the popular press, yet we should take a more nuanced and considered approach to these claims by being sensitive to the contexts in which the empirical research took place.  Quite often, being sensitive to the methodology employed is a wise move as it helps avoid the rather sensationalist claims like this headline: "Television bad for children: Canadian study".  You can listen to Steve Hewlett take some of the claims to task in this week's Media Show.  Fast forward to 11 mins in to hear him discuss some recently published research from the University of Montreal (Canada) which featured in the American Medical Association's Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Quite clearly how we approach research (the pre-existing assumptions we make, the way we define the study, etc) will impact upon the material produced.

Recent weeks have looked at issues like audience taste, technology and gender.  These all bring with them a series of different and specific assumptions.

The generic advice...

To date, the generic advice I've given to students has tended to fall into the following camp: divide the essay into 2 sections - one which summarises some of the general methodological and historical approaches; the other looking at an empirical case study which considers the sense audience members make of their media use. Let's be clear, this is a crude essay plan but it should look like this:

  • 1000 words summarising approaches to audience research and some of the problems inherent within this long history
  • 1000 words outlining a specific case study in which you reappraise the methodological approach and subsequent results against the backdrop of previous approaches to audiences
  • 500 words for intro/conclusion
This is just one of several different approaches that can be undertaken.  In reality, the case study you pick doesn't really matter - what you are looking for is the methodological approach employed so that you can comment critically on its significance in producing data.

However, as I mentioned above, there are themes we've explored in recent weeks (taste, technology and gender) and these can be used to approach the essay slightly differently.  For instance, it may be fair to say that there are commonly-held assumptions about specific forms of media use that may be the by-product of supposition or even inappropriate methodologies (eg pornography and it's negative 'effects').  Students may want to select a case study that takes a user-centric or ethnographic approach to understanding the meaning-making processes that take place in such a context, as a means to reappraise those aforementioned preconceptions.


In last week's lecture I spent some time talking about the ways in which technology has been spoken of as the driving force of history (technological determinism), as both potentially liberating and constraining.  See the slides below for a quick recap:

In the workshop, the 6 students that bothered to turn up (out of 51) considered some of the ways in technology has been used to track our relationship with specific media forms (eg the 'passive people meter') whilst being completely unable to address the issue of what sense the audience makes of it's media use.  The slides for that session are here:

There are a number of case studies on SunSpace which attempt to explain and situate technology and its social position in everyday life (like social networks, the iPod, video gaming, the home computer, etc) as opposed to media forms (like soap opera, pornography, violent movies, etc).  It is perfectly feasible to approach these examples with a different essay plan, perhaps like this one:

  • 1000 words exploring the social shaping of technology/quantifying the success of technology
  • 1000 words outlining the way in which the case study selected takes a qualitative approach to technological forms in order to ascribe human agency to their success
  • 500 words intro/conclusion

Say for instance, students decided to look at the Michael Bull study of the iPod, then they may well want  to begin the essay by pointing to the success of the consumer product (branding, marketing, sales, etc), then go on to consider the way in which Bull's approach differs from simplistic quantitive exercise.  Or, students may look at Sonia Livingstone's article on teenagers, privacy and social networking and they'd be well positioned to talk about some of the general societal fears associated with this practise (as manifest in the popular press?) before calling for some empirical work (ie the case study).

Needless to say, the more familiar students are with arguments around audience research the more sophisticated their analysis should be.  By the end of this week, it is expected that students will have spent 100 hours of taught and independent study time preparing for this assessment.  That should be enough to pass the module

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