Medi 2.0 thought provoking (mainly for staff)

(article by David Gauntlett reprinted from Theory.org.uk)

In a recent interview about the newly popular concept of ‘Web 2.0’, following a spate of mainstream media coverage of Second Life, Wikipedia, and other collaborative creative phenomena in autumn 2006, I found myself mentioning a possible parallel in a ‘Media Studies 2.0’. Although I would not like to be introducing a new bit of pointless jargon, the idea seemed like it might have some value – for highlighting a forward-looking slant which builds on what we have already (in the same way that the idea of ‘Web 2.0’ is useful, even though it does not describe any kind of sequel to the Web, but rather just an attitude towards it, and which in fact was precisely what the Web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, intended for it in the first place).

In this article, I thought it might be worth fleshing out what Media Studies 2.0 means, in contrast to the still-popular traditional model.

Outline of Media Studies 1.0

This traditional approach to Media Studies, which is still dominant in a lot (but not all) of school and university teaching, and textbooks, is characterised by:

A tendency to fetishise ‘experts’, whose readings of popular culture are seen as more significant than those of other audience members (with corresponding faith in faux-expert non-procedures such as semiotics);
A tendency to celebrate certain key texts produced by powerful media industries and celebrated by well-known critics;
The optional extra of giving attention to famous ‘avant garde’ works produced by artists recognised in the traditional sense, and which are seen as especially ‘challenging’;
A belief that students should be taught how to ‘read’ the media in an appropriate ‘critical’ style;
A focus on traditional media produced by major Western broadcasters, publishers, and movie studios, accompanied (ironically) by a critical resistance to big media institutions, such as Rupert Murdoch’s News International, but no particular idea about what the alternatives might be;
Vague recognition of the internet and new digital media, as an ‘add on’ to the traditional media (to be dealt with in one self-contained segment tacked on to a Media Studies teaching module, book or degree);
A preference for conventional research methods where most people are treated as non-expert audience ‘receivers’, or, if they are part of the formal media industries, as expert ‘producers’.

Outline of Media Studies 2.0

This emergent alternative to the traditional approach is characterised by a rejection of much of the above:

The fetishisation of ‘expert’ readings of media texts is replaced with a focus on the everyday meanings produced by the diverse array of audience members, accompanied by an interest in new qualitative research techniques;
The tendency to celebrate certain ‘classic’ conventional and/or ‘avant garde’ texts, and the focus on traditional media in general, is replaced with – or at least joined by – an interest in the massive ‘long tail’ of independent media projects such as those found on YouTube and many other websites, mobile devices, and other forms of DIY media;
The focus on primarily Western media is replaced with an attempt to embrace the truly international dimensions of Media Studies – including a recognition not only of the processes of globalization, but also of the diverse perspectives on media and society being worked on around the world;
The view of the internet and new digital media as an ‘optional extra’ is correspondingly replaced with recognition that they have fundamentally changed the ways in which we engage with all media;
The patronising belief that students should be taught how to ‘read’ the media is replaced by the recognition that media audiences in general are already extremely capable interpreters of media content, with a critical eye and an understanding of contemporary media techniques, thanks in large part to the large amount of coverage of this in popular media itself;
Conventional research methods are replaced – or at least supplemented – by new methods which recognise and make use of people’s own creativity, and brush aside the outmoded notions of ‘receiver’ audiences and elite ‘producers’;
Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation.

Clearly, we do not want to throw away all previous perspectives and research; but we need to take the best of previous approaches and rework them to fit a changing environment, and develop new tools as well.

Got comments? Join the discussion at the Media Studies 2.0 forum.

 

 
History and emergence of ‘Media Studies 2.0’

Media Studies 2.0 is not brand new and has been hinted at by a range of commentators, and connects with a range of phenomena that have been happening for some time. The above attempt to specify ‘Media Studies 1.0’ and ‘2.0’ is merely an attempt to clarify this shift. Its emergence was suggested, for instance, by comments I made in the introductions to the two different editions of Web Studies, back in 2000 and 2004. In the first edition, under the heading ‘Media studies was nearly dead: Long live new media studies’, I said:

By the end of the twentieth century, Media Studies research within developed Western societies had entered a middle-aged, stodgy period and wasn’t really sure what it could say about things any more. Thank goodness the Web came along.

I argued that Media Studies had become characterised by contrived ‘readings’ of media texts, an inability to identify the real impact of the media, and a black hole left by the failure of vacuous US-style ‘communications science’ quantitative research, plus an absence of much imaginative qualitative research. In particular, I said, media studies was looking weak and rather pointless in the face of media producers and stars, including media-savvy politicians, who were already so knowing about media and communications that academic critics were looking increasingly redundant. (The full texts are available at www.newmediastudies.com). I concluded:

Media studies, then, needed something interesting to do, and fast. Happily, new media is vibrant, exploding and developing… New good ideas and new bad ideas appear every week, and we don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Even better, academics and students can participate in the new media explosion, not just watch from the sidelines – and we can argue that they have a responsibility to do so. So it’s an exciting time again.

In the 2004 edition I reviewed these earlier arguments and noted that:

Most of these things are still true: you wouldn’t expect old-school media studies to reinvent itself within three years. But the arrival of new media within the mainstream has had an impact, bringing vitality and creativity to the whole area, as well as whole new areas for exploration (especially around the idea of ‘interactivity’). In particular, the fact that it is quite easy for media students to be reasonably slick media producers in the online environment, means that we are all more actively engaged with questions of creation, distribution and audience.

Soon after this book was published, the phrase ‘Web 2.0‘ was coined by Tim O’Reilly. ‘Web 2.0’ is, as mentioned above, not a replacement for the Web that we know and love, but rather a way of using existing systems in a ‘new’ way: to bring people together creatively. O’Reilly has described it as ‘harnessing collective intelligence’. The spirit of ‘Web 2.0’ is that individuals should open themselves to collaborative projects instead of seeking to make and protect their ‘own’ material. The ‘ultimate’ example at the moment is perhaps Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia created collectively by its millions of visitors. (Other examples include craigslist, del.icio.us, and Flickr).

The notion of ‘Web 2.0’ inspired me to write the above sections defining Media Studies 1.0 and 2.0. Soon afterwards, I checked Google to see if anyone else had tacked ‘2.0’ onto ‘Media Studies’ to create the same phrase. This revealed an excellent blog produced by William Merrin, a lecturer in Media Studies at University of Wales, Swansea, called ‘Media Studies 2.0’ and started in November 2006. The blog mostly contains useful posts about new media developments. The first post on the blog, however, makes an excellent argument that Media Studies lecturers need to catch up with their students in the digital world.

Examples of Media Studies 2.0 in practice

Inevitably my own experiences spring to mind, as I have attempted to find new ways of exploring people’s contemporary media experiences by encouraging creative responses. This began in 1995 when I handed children video cameras to make films about their responses to the environment, instead of just interviewing them (Gauntlett, 1997), and has continued through various projects, culminating most recently in the book Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences (2007), which describes – amongst other things – my study in which people were invited to build metaphorical models of their identities in Lego.

Other instances of Media Studies 2.0 would include:

The title of the journal Participations (launched 2003), an ‘audience studies’ journal that manages to avoid calling them ‘audiences’ – in its main title at least, although the subtitle ‘Journal of Audience and Reception Studies’ offers a perhaps inevitable translation into the language we are trying to get away from;
The forthcoming conference Transforming Audiences, which seeks to undermine its own title by questioning the traditional approach to people who ‘produce’ media and people who ‘use’ media;
Joke Hermes’s book Reading Women’s Magazines (1995), one of the first texts to demonstrate that Media Studies tended to over-emphasise its own consumption models;
Studies by Sonia Livingstone and by David Buckingham, in the past few years, which have rejected passive models of media consumption;
More active participation, such as Campaigns Wikia, based on the idea that ‘If broadcast media brought us broadcast politics, then participatory media will bring us participatory politics’;
William Merrin’s blog, as mentioned above.

I would be very glad to hear of other examples of Media Studies 2.0 practice. Please email david@theory.org.uk with ‘Media Studies 2.0’ in the subject line.

Updates:

A couple of critics have said that the Media Studies 2.0 model that I proposed above is primarily concerned with ‘audience and reception studies’. But my argument is precisely that the whole idea of media ‘reception’ is rapidly collapsing around our ears (and was always rather patronising). If I was not able to make this clear, I suggest this excellent article: Blogging and the Emerging Media Ecosystem by John Naughton. Naughton shows that, even if you are not interested in media audiences / users / participants (or whatever you want to call them), the changing nature of engagement with media – where more and more people can and do make their own – forces the whole system to adapt. So some changes on the audience/user side of things (people making their own stuff as well as consuming material made by traditional media companies, and other individuals) leads to a change in the whole ‘ecosystem’.
See 20th Century Politics meets 21st Century Media by Graham Meikle of Macquarie University, Sydney, which draws a similar distinction between ’20th century’ and ’21st century’ media and media studies.
Watch Epic 2015, an 8-minute Flash movie by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson which shows a speculative ‘history’ of new media up to the year 2015. This revised version was released at the start of 2005. Further info about it appears in this Wikipedia article.
I have now stumbled across a Media 2.0 Workgroup (of course!) – “a group of industry commentators, agitators and innovators who believe that the phenomena of democratic participation will change the face of media creation, distribution and consumption”. Interesting site.

 

Got comments? Join the discussion at the Media Studies 2.0 forum.

 

References

Anderson, Chris (2006), The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, London: Hyperion.

Buckingham, David, and Bragg, Sara (2004), Young People, Sex and the Media: The Facts of Life?, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hermes, Joke (1995), Reading Women’s Magazines: An Analysis of Everyday Media Use, Cambridge: Polity.

Gauntlett, David (1997), Video Critical: Children, The Environment and Media Power, London: John Libbey. Online version at http://www.artlab.org.uk/videocritical.

Gauntlett, David (2000), ‘Web Studies: A User’s Guide’, in Gauntlett, David, ed., Web.Studies: Rewiring Media Studies for the Digital Age, London: Arnold. Also available at http://www.newmediastudies.com/intro2000.htm.

Gauntlett, David (2004), ‘Web Studies: What’s New’, in Gauntlett, David and Horsley, Ross, eds, Web.Studies, 2nd edition, London: Arnold. Also available at http://www.newmediastudies.com/intro2004.htm.

Gauntlett, David (2005), Moving Experiences, Second edition: Media Effects and Beyond, London: John Libbey.

Gauntlett, David (2007), Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences, London: Routledge.

Lievrouw, Leah A., and Livingstone, Sonia, eds (2006), The Handbook of New Media: Updated Student Edition, London: Sage.

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