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Television and its Viewers, Cultivation Theory and Research

James Shanahan and Michael Morgan
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
1999
0521587557 (pb); 0521582962 (hb)
13.95(US$19.95) (pb); 37.50 (US$57.95) (hb)
283 pp

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In this book, Shanahan and Morgan take the reader on a trip through the origins, current state, and future possibilities of cultivation theory. They begin by establishing a common ground with the reader, arguing the commonsense notion that television has been, and continues to remain, an important and influential part of our social lives. While there has been much concern over the 'effects' of television on its viewers, the authors are quick to point out that cultivation theory isn't well suited to the study of the cognitive and social effects of short-term exposure to certain types of media programs, such as violent television broadcasts. Rather, they write that cultivation research looks at the "broad patterns of relationships between the social consumption of media messages and stable, aggregate belief structures among large groups of people" (p. 6). At several points in the book, the authors restate this basic principal of cultivation theory and research. They make clear that cultivation theory and research do not try to describe any direct, unidirectional causal 'effects' of television on its viewers, but rather the relationships between people and their view of the social world that can be mediated by long-term television viewing. In simpler terms, the basic premise of cultivation theory is that heavy television viewers often express attitudes and a world view that more closely resemble television's portrayal of reality than light television viewers do.

The authors continue by placing cultivation theory in the critical theory tradition. They write that cultivation theory can be seen to be a theory of social control. In outlining the assumptions of cultivation analysis, the authors make clear several key aspects of the theory. First, those of the cultural, social and economic elite classes control the messages and stories in television programs. As these messages are internalized by viewers (more so in heavy viewers than in light), the result is a view of social reality which more closely conforms to the attitudes and value systems of those controlling the media. Finally, all of this, from the content analysis of the programs appearing on television, to the related attitudes of those who watch them, can be evaluated quantitatively. With these key points thoroughly discussed, the authors move on in subsequent chapters to discuss the early findings of cultivation research, the criticisms made of cultivation research and their own responses to them, and further refinements of the theory made in response to these criticisms. They then provide the reader with the results of their own meta-analysis of the past 20 years of cultivation research, as well as an analysis of longitudinal General Social Survey data that relate to cultivation research. They also look at how researchers have tried to answer the question of 'how' cultivation might take place, and how new media (for example, the Internet) might affect the landscape of cultivation research. The final chapter is a summary of the preceding chapters, as well as a restatement of the larger questions raised throughout the book. Readers of this book will have to form their own opinions about the importance of cultivation theory and research in the study of communications, media, and the social sciences in general. The authors admit that they are unapologetic about their support for cultivation analysis, however they do go to great lengths to make sure both cultivation analysis, and the criticisms of it are presented in a fair manner. Readers embracing the critical theory tradition may find that the authors fail to fully bring the assumptions of cultivation analysis from the early chapters through to the later chapters, and hardened quantitative methodologists may find the basic statistical methods somewhat facile. However, this is a well-written book covering all aspects of cultivation theory and research, and comes at a time when mega-mergers of media conglomerates are front-and-centre in the news. Especially interested in reading this might be bright undergraduate or graduate students wishing to study one of society's favorite topics in a way that goes well beyond a simple content analysis, while at the same time not always requiring advanced quantitative analyses.

Dave Haans
University of Toronto

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