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What Is Sociology of Media?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 23, 2024
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The sociology of media is the study of how mass media communication impacts people's views of each other as well as their daily interactions. This particular sub-field of sociology is often concerned with how mass media relates to the transmission and accessibility of information between different groups of people. Scholars who study the sociology of media often outline how digital communication differs from face-to-face interaction. They also sometimes attempt to document how different types of media are designed to affect people's behavior, particularly in areas such as advertising and entertainment. The sociology of media actually differs from the sociology of technology because it encompasses a wider range of communication mediums such as newspapers, films, and television shows in addition to the Internet.

Studying the sociology of media often includes examining how different kinds of mass media are structured and designed. Some factors such as regulation impact the content of different forms of media, and sociologists sometimes form case studies of why such regulations are in place. They can also document the perceived objectivity or neutrality of various media such as print, television, Internet, and radio. A few of these mediums are considered more timeless than others, and some studies attempt to provide explanations for these changing trends.

Technology is a frequent topic in the sociology of media because it is considered a main factor in many of the changes that are noticeable in mass media studies. Innovations in communication technology bring increasing amounts of information to audiences that are much larger and more diverse than in the recent past. A related area of interest addresses how various kinds of media shape people's ideas of acceptable behavior within their given culture. Clashes between traditional and media-advertised values are also frequent topics of interest in this area of sociology.

Learning sociology usually entails examining and applying existing theories to different situations. Three specific theories in the sociology of media are known as the class dominant theory, the limited effects theory, and the culturalist theory. The class dominant theory maintains that an elite few actually own and control the mass media along with its content. Proponents of the limited effects theory claim that audiences are generally selective about the media in their daily lives based on their existing beliefs. The culturalist theory focuses on active roles that audiences take in their media viewing and communication habits in terms of evaluating, accepting, or dismissing the messages they see and hear.

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Discussion Comments

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 18, 2012

@indigomoth - I don't know, it kind of reminds me of 1984 the way that kids seem to be narrowing their language like that. I know that it's good that they have forums where they can express themselves now and that they tend to write more than they ever had before, but I don't know if it's an improvement.

The whole rise of the internet is going to have such a huge effect on human culture. I mean, when TV hit the world, it was such a big impact, but this is even bigger.

By indigomoth — On Jul 17, 2012

@croydon - Media isn't a universal evil though. I'll bet the women of that particular culture have more access to information now than they ever did in the past, which can only be ultimately a good thing. Technology is always going to change cultures as it develops, but they will eventually adapt to it.

The example I see people moaning about all the time is the text speak that people use in their cell phones and online and how that can be adversely affecting young people. But, I've seen a study that showed that young people are writing more in their youth than ever before in history, because of text messaging. Whether it's in text speak or not, that's going to hopefully change them for the better.

By croydon — On Jul 16, 2012

One of the most fascinating sociological studies I've seen recently on how the media can affect culture was focused on the changes recent technology has made to Bedouin culture. Apparently it used to be that this normally stern group of people would express their emotions through poetry, which would be read aloud so that the whole family could hear it. They lived in tents so that, even though the men and women were separated by a wall most of the time, they could hear each other anyway.

Now many of them live in wooden or brick houses which prevents them from hearing the poetry of other people in the family, and in fact many of them don't bother with it at all now. Some of the best poets have started distributing their poetry on tapes and CDs and people listen to those rather than make up their own. Which is terrible, because they once made up their own expressions of emotion and shared them among their family as a means of communication, but now it's cut off in multiple ways. It's just one more example of how mass media can corrupt culture.

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