by Jonathan Gray
A text is a unit of meaning for interpretation and understanding. As such, most things are (or could be treated as) texts. Within media studies, a text could be a TV program, film, video game, website, book, song, podcast, newspaper article, tweet, or app. Texts matter because they are bearers of communication and movers of meaning. Texts can inspire and delight, or disgust and disappoint, but more importantly they intervene in the world and into culture, introducing new ideas, or variously attacking or reinforcing old ones. Textual analysis has long been a primary mode of “doing” media studies, as scholars seek to ascertain what a text means, how it means (what techniques are used to convey meaning), and what its themes, messages, and explicit and implicit assumptions aim to accomplish.
Keywords for Media Studies introduces and aims to advance the field of critical media studies by tracing, defining, and problematizing its established and emergent terminology. The book historicizes thinking about media and society, whether that means noting a long history of “new media,” or tracing how understandings of media “power” vary across time periods and knowledge formations.
Keywords for Media Studies introduces and advances the field of critical media studies by tracing, defining, and problematizing its established and emergent terminology. Like the authors of other books in the New York University Press Keywords series, we take our bearings from the Welsh scholar Raymond Williams. In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976/1983), Williams presented a “shared body of words and meanings” for understanding “general discussions of… the practices and institutions which we group as culture and society” (15). Less a dictionary or an encyclopedia than a holistic conceptual map organized around words, his book charted the history and usage of “key” words as a means of “recording, investigating and presenting” problems of culture and society to which they were bound (15). Williams did not set out to define a definitive canon of important terms, or to fix their significance for all time. Rather, he charted the dynamic relationship between language, knowledge, and subjects. By tracing the origins and meaning of words across changing social, economic, and political contexts, he opened up space to interrogate and disrupt commonsense assumptions about culture and society in the present. Keywords for Media Studies adapts this approach to the vocabulary of critical media studies. The pages that follow present sixty-five keywords, reflected upon by leading scholars tasked to show how their meanings, histories, and usage intersect with and inform problems and debates in media and society.