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Research Overview: Media and Communication Studies

Today, media and communication studies is an established academic discipline, with its own academic programs, professors, journals and conferences. What is actually meant by media and communication studies has been hotly debated. Does it mean any kind of communication or only mediated communication? Views on this differ. However, the most common view is to regard the discipline as dealing with mediated communication, leaving other forms of communication to the broader field of communication studies.

Video: Media research and the changing media landscape – a discussion on the issues of current media research

The discipline as topic oriented
In order to take a closer look at the discipline, and at distinctions within the discipline, it is possible either to focus on differences in topics chosen by researchers or to focus on different theoretical perspectives (paradigms) dealing with mediated communication.

In focusing on topics, a traditional way of viewing media and communication studies is to divide a communication process into a sender, a message and a receiver. Choosing a topic to study, one can then choose between focusing on the sender, the message or the receiver.

Studies of the sender of a message include studies of the production process which lies behind the sending of a message. In that sense, it may mean studies of a media organization as well as studies of a single journalist. Studies of messages focus on texts, and their meanings. Such studies may be qualitative but they may also be quantitative. Studies of the receiver of a message, finally, may either focus on the effects that a certain message may have on the person reading or viewing it or on how different people make sense of the same message in quite different ways.

The discipline as driven by theoretical perspectives
But it is also possible to distinguish studies on the basis of theoretical perspective. The traditional paradigm is a social science, functionalist one, looking at the media from a consensual rather than critical perspective. Impulses for this tradition come from, among other disciplines, political science, sociology and psychology. Challenges to the dominant paradigm come primarily from political economy, from gender studies and from cultural studies. Articles originating from the different paradigms are published in journals such as Journal of Communication; Media, Culture and Society and European Journal of Communication. The main international conferences are organized by the International Communication Association (ICA) and The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).

It’s hard to study the media in isolation
Given this description, the field of media and communication studies may seem stable. But of course things are happening. When it comes to topics, it has always been the case that some researchers have focused on the whole mass communication model, not just on separate parts. But recently, increasing attention has been put to the argument that media has become such a crucial part of everyday life, and of society in general, that it is actually difficult to study the media in isolation. One way of dealing with this has been to focus on more place specific studies. In this turn, to a great extent impulses have been drawn from cultural geography (Jansson and Falkheimer 2006).

Social media has changed the from-one-to-many model
When it comes to theoretical perspectives, following on the notion that media constitute such a crucial part of everyday life and society, a modernity – or even a postmodernity – perspective has increasingly been put on media and communication (Thompson 1995, Gibbins and Reimer 1999, Morley 2006). Furthermore, given the technological developments of the last twenty years, globalization has become an important factor to take into account when conducting media studies. And the advent of social media has led to a re-consideration of the mass communication model that has been seen as the logical point of departure for the discipline. The “From one to many” model has been replaced, or at least been complemented, by the model “From many to many”. An indication of this is the name change made by the international association IAMCR, from The International Association of Mass Communication Research to The International Association of Media and Communication Research.

The subfield New media studies emerges
Here we may denote a new subfield of media and communication studies: New media studies (Bolter and Grusin 1999, Manovich 2001, Lister et al 2008). Within this subfield, studies are made of phenomena such as the Internet, but here linkages are also made to other, rather diverse disciplines, such as economics, philosophy, comparative literature and science and technology studies. There is also an increasing linkage to non-traditional, cross-disciplinary academics who publish on the Internet rather than in traditional journals, to writers working on the borderline between academia and journalism, and to people working within the media industry as such. Concepts such as convergence culture, crowdsourcing, open innovation, we-think and long tails are concepts that have been developed in this for academia rather unusual meeting point (Anderson 2006, Jenkins 2006, Leadbeater 2008). Academic journals that try to incorporate new perspectives into the discipline include New Media & Society, Television & New Media and Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Open access, peer reviewed Internet journals include First Monday (started already in 1996) and NMEDIAC (Journal of New Media and Culture).

Increased emphasis on practice based work
One should also note another development which is slowly changing media and communication studies, and that is an increasing attention paid to practice based work. Of course, in areas such as schools of journalism, practical work has also been essential. But that work has not been regarded as part of serious research. Today, with impulses drawn both from art based research and from areas such as interaction design, work is moving beyond “just” theorizing and carrying out empirical work to also doing things – learning by doing (Koskinen 2006).

Malmö university has been re-thinking media and communication studies
In the work carried out on new media at Malmö University during the last decade, questions concerning precisely how to conduct practice based work have been at forefront. And not only on a theoretical level. A number of projects have been carried out, dealing specifically with this problematic; projects based on co-production, both with other academic institutions and with non-academic actors. Of particular relevance is the major EU project New Millenium, New Media, in which researchers from Malmö University now belonging to the MEDEA group worked together with, among others, researchers from Cambridge University and Goldsmiths College as well as with professionals from British Telecom and Telefonica (Larsson et al 2008, Lindstedt et al 2009). A recent similar co-production project, but Sweden based, is the Malmö Collaborative Cross-Media project, financed by The Knowledge Foundation. These examples indicate the position taken up in Malmö – a position at the front line when it comes to re-thinking media and communication studies.

Anderson, C. (2006). The Long Tail. Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. New York: Hyperion.

Bolter, J., Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation. Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Fornäs, J. (2008). Bridging Gaps. Ten Crosscurrents in Media Studies. Media, Culture & Society 30:895-905.

Gibbins, J.B., Reimer, B. (1999) The Politics of Postmodernity. London: Sage.

Jansson A., Falkheimer J. (Eds. 2006.) Geographies of Communication. The Spatial Turn in Media Studies. Gothenburg: Nordicom.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture. Where Old and New Media Col- lide. New York: New York University Press.

Koskinen, I. (2006). Two Solitudes. Design as an Approach to Media Research. Nordicom Information, 28:35-47.

Larsson, H., Lindstedt, I., Nilsson, T., Reimer, B., Topgaard, R. (2008). From Time-Shift to Shape-Shift. Towards Nonlinear Production and Consumption of News, in Lugmayr, A., Obrist, M.,Tscheligi, M. (eds.) Changing Television Environments (Proc. EuroITV 2008). Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Leadbeater, C. (2008). We-Think. Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production. London: Profile Books.

Lindstedt, I., Löwgren, J., Reimer, B., Topgaard, R. (2009). Nonlinear News Production and Consumption: A Collaborative Approach. ACM Computers in Entertainment, 7(3).

Lister, M., Dovey, J., Giddings, S., Grant, I. (2008). New Media. A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

Manovich, Lev (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Miller, T. (2009). Media Studies 3.0. Television & New Media, 9:5-6.

Morley, D. (2006). Media, Modernity and Technology. London: Routledge.

Thompson, J.B. (1995). Media and Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

This page was created on Apr 20, 2010, and last revised on Feb 4, 2011.