by Laurie Ouellette
The relationship between media and citizenship is contradictory and evolving. Since the rise of mass media, social scientists and critics have worried about its deleterious impact on democracy. Such concerns typically hinge on the assumption that commercial media trade on trivial pleasures, emotions, and consumer values that inhibit public participation in political affairs. However, mass media have also been understood as “citizen machines” (McCarthy 2010) that can be harnessed to guide and shape the citizenry (or segments of it) for democracy and public life—an agenda that gave rise to twentieth-century national public broadcasting systems (Ouellette 2002). The proliferation, fragmentation, and globalization of media culture in recent decades, and the development of new conceptual frameworks (such as cultural studies) to analyze it, have required a critical reevaluation of citizenship. While the marginalized and degraded state of “serious” news and public information remains a pressing concern for many, a growing body of critical scholarship recognizes the role of popular entertainment in constituting citizenship as a social identity and everyday practice that is not limited to the formal political sphere.
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.