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Dallas W. Smythe – Audience Commodity and its work

As one of the seminal writers on the political economy of communications, Dallas W. Smythe presents an interesting case for re-examining the role of audience. He wants us to view the audience as a commodity, the same as a widget, which is produced, sold, distributed and consumed; and, at the same time, see how the audience “works”. The notion of “selling eyeballs to advertisers” is not an unfamiliar concept for someone inside the industry; although, within its historic context, it is amazing to see how this case is made and how Smythe flushes it out. But, the idea of describing the audience’s work is fascinating. Smythe roots his arguments in Marxist language, but he is not a slave to the ideology. Continue Reading →

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Strinati – Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture

In his description of mass culture theory, Strinati provides both a history and critique of this approach to culture and its relationship to popular culture. Strinati also provides the foundation for a political economy of culture where we can explores issues of hegemony, the forces of production and the ideological role of popular culture on the society. The question of dominance is most clear in his presentation of mass culture when he grapples with the ideas surrounding the differences between mass culture and high culture, in particular McDonald, who creates almost two classes of people: those elitists who appreciate high culture and the masses who ingest popular culture. Blaming things like cinema, radio, television and the press, mass culture guts society by atomizing individuals socially and morally, making way for abuses by those in power. Historically, democratic and education movements, like those in America, debased culture by handing it over to the masses because everything would be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Continue Reading →

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James Carey reading – Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraphy

In this reading, Carey applies Mosco’s approach to political economic analysis (commodity, spatialization, structuration) through his exploration of the introduction of the telegraph. He clearly shows how the telegraph allows information to move independently and faster than products. It also forced prices to become uniform in space and markets to no longer be bound by locality, stripping these markets of any peculiarity. It also meant commodities were separated from the physical receipt and the creation of standardized grading systems. Where communication and transportation were once synonymous, the telegraph split them as concepts. Carey extrapolates this to show how space and time become instruments of a commodity governed by impersonal standards. Continue Reading →

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Shane Gunster – From Mass to Popular Culture: From Frankfurt to Birmingham

This article focuses on the differences between cultural studies approach to the commodification of culture, as articulated by the Birmingham School versus the political economic one proposed by the Frankfurt School. For the Birmingham School, culture is separated from politics, each taking place in a separate sphere. And, while culture influences and supports hegemonic structures within society, these are bound within the political arena. As well, the economics power of this undertaking is not done within the cultural sphere, but through political activity, where economic dominance is turned into broad social and cultural leadership. This is contrasts the views of the Frankfurt School, where the cultural industry is extricable linked to capitalism and the political economy of culture is dissected in a Marxist context. Continue Reading →

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Barney – Digital Divides

Information Communications Technology (ICT) does little to resolve the issues of democracy despite the potential, according to Barney. In fact, it is necessary for those interested in resolving critical issues around democratic engagement to solve issues offline before taking them online. There is little evidence supporting any claims that ICTs have the ability to fundamentally redistribute power in Canada, instead it reinforces and reflects what is existing inequalities. Digital divides exist, not as a result of digital technology, but as a result of the political economy. Barney suggest the struggles must take place without any reliance on easy technological fixes. Continue Reading →

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Schiller and Mosco – Introduction: Integrating a Continent for a Transnational World

The centerpiece of this article is an argument about the use of networked computer systems to aid the process of integrating markets across three countries in North America and the resulting economic and social impact. In assessing the transnationalization of the capitalist political economy, the authors argue this is a prelude to the complete integration of telecommunication and mass media sectors that will facilitate a complete global system allowing massive expansion of business. It allows corporations to provide business-to-business services, as well as provide mass media the opportunity to sell advertising across the board and develop global markets. This threatens cultural and social structures. And, while cultural practices do not necessarily follow markets, new pressures are created on identities, cultural policy and practice. Continue Reading →

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Orenbring – Tabloid Journalism and the Public Sphere

Bucking the popular view of tabloid journalism as bad journalism, Orenbring argues this style of sensational content plays an important role in the formation of an alternative public sphere. It juxtaposes itself in relation to mainstream journalism by presenting different issues, forms and appeals to an audience not regularly served. By tracking the history of the development of tabloid journalism, Orenbring hopes to shed a new light on this form and on mainstream journalism. Often the debate around tabloid journalism is simplified into a binary argument: serious, responsible, good-quality journalism versus sensational, oversimplified, populist journalism. Yet, going back to the earliest days of the mass circulation press (and in some cases before) it is possible to see examples of titillating stories, mainly around scandal, crime and courts. Continue Reading →

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Dwayne Winseck – Netscapes of Power

There is something about political economic analysis that ends up being depressing. And, if there is one criticism of this lens on communication, in particular new media, it is the negative conclusions often drawn and the lack of alternatives or even solutions provided. In the same way journalism is often criticized for its ability to identify problem, but not facilitate sufficient discourse to begin tackling key issues, I might be tempted to suggest the same holds true for political economic analysis. And, so Winseck provides a damning critique of convergent media in Canada, which instead of providing new forums for democratic discourse and the dissemination of important news and information vital to modern democracy, he sets out the corporate agenda aimed at gutting content and reaping massive profits as part of a global trend. Technology is not a liberating force, but a constraining one creating a netscape of power. Continue Reading →

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Slater & Tonkiss – States and Markets

This excellent summary of various theories related to the role of the state in market economies is extremely useful by providing perspectives on the forms of government regulation place on economies. Under classic liberalism, theoretically the market was the sole place for all decisions regarding investment, allocation and consumption, as governments were believed to have no place. In practice, proponents argue for minimized state intervention. However, the authors identify three major problems: inevitable downturns in the economies; the organization of mass labour movements; and, the inability to deal with severe poverty. The Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s is one of the most dysfunctional periods for classic liberalism. Continue Reading →

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Rosen – Q&A

Rosen – Q&A

Most of this article reviews the fundamental tenants of public journalism, but the most interesting aspect is Rosen’s response where he talks about the political economy of public journalism. He describes it not as a site of struggle between the capitalist corporate agenda and journalists. Rather, it is something quiet different. He says public journalism is not an insurrection or a minor revolt against the structural forces within mass media. Media corporations do not own journalism, he argues. Continue Reading →

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