[skip to content]

Centre for Media Studies

Theoretical and Contemporary Issues in Media and Cultural Studies

Course Code:
15PMSC002
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year
The course is the core theoretical course for the proposed MA in Critical Media and Cultural Studies, and is designed to articulate the various other components of the degree. As such it has two main objectives. It aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the main theoretical approaches in the closely related disciplines of critical media and cultural studies, which are necessary for any study of contemporary media, and are particularly relevant to appreciating the distinctiveness of non-Western media and the problems in their study. The course also aims to familiarize students with the richness and diversity of Asian and African media production, distribution, reception and commentary, both by introducing contemporary issues addressed by media in different regions and by requiring students to engage in project research on some specific aspect of media discourse in Asia, Africa or their diasporas.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

The course starts from the recognition of the impossibility of declaring a specific field of non-Western media studies. Techniques of industrial production, a significant proportion of output, and most media and academic commentary, are Euro-American. So, any critical inquiry has to start from an analysis of the theoretical discourse in media studies and its relationship to the history of this media production and practice, together with a review of the relevance of existing approaches to Asian and African media. What emerges from such a review is the high degree of closure both among media professionals and academic media scholars around a very narrow range of kinds of mass media production and use, and a prevailing Eurocentrism. An analysis of key theoretical issues exposes presuppositions that need to be made explicit if scholars are to engage with media discourse elsewhere in the world without prejudging what still largely remains to be researched. The course considers rival accounts of this ‘hegemony’ and the role of the mass media, media studies itself and other human scientific disciplines in such processes.

The second term is concerned with introducing students to the distinctive media discourses of different parts of Asia and Africa. The aims are multiple. The first is to provide a sense of the diversity of issues and current preoccupations that are articulated in different regions. The second is to investigate the distinctive differences between different media (including notably print, radio, television, cinema) in various parts of Asia and Africa. The third is to explore the degree of polyphony in media discourses elsewhere in the world. In other words, to what extent are there different cultural and historical consciousnesses, irreducible to the summative articulations of Euro-American media and media studies, and how do we set about studying them?

The course also aims to engage students directly in the study of media products, debates and commentaries in a region of their choice. They will work on individual projects, which will require them to research in some depth a particular aspect of non-Western or diasporic media production or discourse, and to consider the circumstances of their articulation. Wherever possible, students will be encouraged to bring their existing language and media skills to bear.

Using contemporary issues that are being aired in different regional media, and set against relevant historical and cultural background, the course will also address critically a singular feature of the media: its supposed topicality. Over six weeks in the term, scholars who are media and film specialists in different regions (Japan, China, SE Asia, S Asia, NM East, sub-Saharan Africa) will be invited to introduce what, in their judgment, are particularly important themes in the media of their choice. This intentionally open aspect of the course will be given structure in several ways. First, students will address specific research questions emanating from Term 1. Second, they will be required critically to assess the relevance to Asian and African media discourses of selected texts, which claim to provide definitive approaches to the study of media and/or culture. Third, students and visiting speakers will be asked to consider the relevance (or otherwise) of the following range of themes: the representation of antagonisms (class, gender, race, religion, age), the nature of the human subject (the role of the family, individuals v the nation, civil society), time (history, development & modernization, the future). Finally, the course convenor will chair each of the regional sessions to ensure that argument develops around a set of coherent issues.

The term will conclude by reviewing a range of questions. What can we learn from the study of Asian and African media discourse? What can we learn about Western and non-Western media from such a study? How does such analyses bear on an appreciation of media theory itself? To what extent is it possible, or useful, to talk of different cultural and historical consciousnesses articulated through the mass media?

Suggested reading