Centre for Media Research

Defending Media Studies

Media Studies needs to answer its critics and tell its side of the story, says Professor James Curran in this keynote address to the MeCCSA conference in Derry, given on Friday 11th January 2013. 



Media studies have been subject to periodic attack by quality newspapers, across the political spectrum, for over fifteen years.  According to the Conservative Sunday Times, a degree in media studies is ‘little more than a state-funded, three-year equivalent of pub chat’ that is symptomatic of ‘a dumbed down educational world’.  The centrist Independent declared that ‘students learn nothing of value’ on media studies courses, adding that ‘this paper regards a degree  in media studies as a disqualification for a career in journalism’. The left-leaning Guardian, though not fulminating directly against media studies in an editorial, has published a number of lengthy, feature-based denunciations. One declared a media studies undergraduate degree to be ‘puffed-up nonsense masquerading as academic discipline’ that is ‘an instant turn-off to employers’.   Another argued that the rise of media studies has been founded on a corrupt compact between ‘cash-hungry universities’ and gullible young people who think that studying journalism at university will ‘help them meet Posh Spice’. It was headlined ‘Media Studies?  Do Yourself a Favour – Forget it’.

To read more click the following link: Defending Media Studies



(4) comments

Anna Notaro
4 years ago · Reply

Hi many thanks for sharing Curran’s defense, I was lucky enough to attend the MeCCSA2013 conference in Derry and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A couple of years ago I contributed to a similar defense with a blog post entitled ‘Media (studies) matters’ where I argued that:
‘if I had to select only one issue which, by itself, justifies the study of Media, I would have no hesitation in asserting that media matter because what characterizes our species is our ability to communicate and all communication, of whatever kind, is mediated. Mediation and communication are interchangeable terms since human history itself is intertwined with the histories of communication and communication technologies, in this sense, to paraphrase fellow media scholar Sean Cubitt, Homo Sapiens was also Homo Medians.’ You can read the rest, if interested, at http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/media-studies-matters-anna-notaro/
A University Blog by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal and Vice-chancellor of Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, former President of UCD
To keep the conversation going follow me on Twitter @notanna1
F. Von Prondzynsky Twitter identity is @vonprond

Stephen Baker
4 years ago · Reply

I’ve been ploughing through some old journals and come across Lee Salter’s review of Mike Wayne’s Marxism and Media Studies: Key Concepts and Contemporary Trends (2003) for Historical Materialism (14:2). Salter makes some comments about Media Studies that preface his review of the book and which seem pertinent to this debate.

He begins by pointing out that media studies is a subject area that has ‘struggled to define and defend itself’, with its roots in forms of media analysis that pre-date the formation of a Media Studies discipline. These forms, he points out are hard to reconcile – the liberal Pluralist/Uses and gratifications approaches and critical/Marxist perspectives. But it’s when Salter turns his attention to the present condition of Media Studies that I think he opens up a set of questions that we can’t ignore. He writes:

“Trends in education policy, more generally, illustrate an increasing tendency to allow industry to dictate the content of education. As Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, what the system requires of teachers is the production of the kind of compliant manpower that the current economy needs, with the different levels of skill and kinds of skills that are required in a hierarchically ordered economy. Though MacIntyre is here referring to schools, the argument holds because the English university system is ‘diversifying’, ‘vocationalising’ and absorbing further education. Thus, whereas film, television and writing have critical potential, as mass media in the form of cinema, broadcast, print and, now, computer-related media are becoming increasingly important (and profitable) sectors of the economy, critical interrogation becomes increasingly antagonistic to the demands on media education. Instead, there is an increased need for a cognitively and practically specialised workforce engaged in the mass production and communication of ‘culture’ as a set of commodities. Thus, the knowledge and practical skills required by, say, a film production company are specific to that company’s need to create profit in that industry. In this sense, the industry creates the demand and the education system supplies the human commodities to meet that demand. So, on the one hand, media studies programmes need to be formed in such a way as to appeal to the industry and, on the other hand, students take an instrumental stance towards studying media – it is understood to be a means of getting a job. For example, the growth in the number of media practice degree courses may well be mistaken for a return to the productivist paradigm and opposed to the consumerist paradigms dominant in media studies. However, studying media production in abstraction from broader questions of productive relations leaves media production firmly in the hands of capital and portrays relations of production as natural. The knowledge acquired by students is just enough to become a cog in a specific part of the machine, whereas the creativity acquired is sufficiently detached to facilitate its exploitation. Accordingly, these demands on media studies and the pressures on universities to meet them, threaten to empty media studies of its critical potential. Media studies departments become worker-training centres. Therefore, we cannot detach the fortunes of media studies from those of education and knowledge in general and we cannot detach the fortunes of education and knowledge from broader socio-economic changes. But the increasingly narrow focus of media studies prevents students from recognising this context.”

I’m happy to defend a Media Studies that puts questions of citizenship and democracy at the heart of its concerns. I’m less keen on a Media Studies that is just an adjunct of the media industries, important though economic questions are.

Ciaran Bartlett
4 years ago · Reply

A great read.

Since when is teaching journalism students about the works of Chomsky, Philo et al and getting them to think critically about events, reports and their own choices an equivalent of pub-chat? I would hate to have a drink with the person who wrote that for the Sunday Times.

Thanks for this though, really good to read!


Greg McLaughlin
4 years ago · Reply

Following from Steve’s comments above, I wonder who will listen to a bunch of media academics like us defending the discipline? Their assailants from Oxbridge and the media world? I don’t think so? Students? I don’t think so. The staff at Moka Coffee shop? I don’t think so.

While I sympathize to an extent with James Curran’s exasperation with persistent and disingenuous attacks on Media Studies on grounds of academic vacuity, I’m just not convinced that a counter-reformation is going to make much difference. Closer attention to what is happening to the discipline in terms of higher education policy reform and institutional pressures might suit us better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *