Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000

Studying the Media (2nd edition)

Tim O'Sullivan, Brian Dutton and Philip Rayner
Arnold: London
034067685X (pb)
£15.99 (pb)
xii + 388

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This work, a new edition of the authors' popular textbook, has been substantially revised to include new media technologies, recent advances in the field and an updated frame of media examples. The work is aimed at introductory levels within media studies and features extensive coverage of key themes and approaches. The text is divided into nine key themes to correspond to the areas of major A-Level syllabuses, starting with an overview of the role of media within contemporary western society, and covering analysis of media content, media history, production, audience and reception studies, studies of the media industry and recent changes in media delivery and forms.

Surprisingly for a volume so wide-ranging in ambition, this work does achieve a fairly in-depth coverage of the material. Although the scope for evaluation or a critical engagement with the studies presented is limited by the breadth of coverage, the text flags up key issues and provides a useful set of signposts to appropriate literature. The work covers many of the leading approaches to studies of media, with equal emphasis on both quantitative and qualitative studies. "Studying the Media" also introduces many of the leading figures within cultural studies of media and summarises their contributions. Although this introduction can at times read as a little disjointed, with constraints of space militating against situating the theorists in relation to each other, in general this coverage serves as a valuable guide to further reading for the interested student.

Moreover, the text uses a wide range of examples drawn from contemporary media in order to ground the issues discussed within the experiences of the student and render them more immediately accessible. The use of examples drawn from popular culture, television, print media and the internet renders the text more dynamic as well as providing a useful frame for discussion of the issues raised.

The most valuable feature of the text, however, is the use of reinforcement and elaboration activities which are integral to each of the chapters. The authors have placed great emphasis on the use of these exercises which draw the student into a reflexive engagement with their use of media, enabling them to situate themselves within studies of media and media practices. This is particularly useful insofar as, as well as acting as a reinforcement of the materials, this also provides a platform for the student to enter into an immediate critical engagement with the theories presented, based on their own experiences.

The use of such activities gives evidence to the work's underlying philosophy, the promotion of a synthesis of theory and practice in media studies. This philosophy is extended within the text to a discussion of the ways in which practical media production can serve as an arena for application of the concepts and issues discussed. Hence students are encouraged to undertake projects within media production in a variety of forms in order to locate the theoretical concerns within the everyday environment of media studies. In this way the authors tacitly situate the work within a cultural studies paradigm which understands meaning as an artefact of media organisation and production, rather than as a purely semiotic question.

On the whole the work is a dynamic and engaging text book for the beginner in media studies and its useful store of examples, exercises and summaries will no doubt make this required reading for many A level and introductory undergraduate courses. The work would be of particular value to students who may be looking to apply theoretical studies in a vocational environment, especially those on higher level vocational courses, for whom the focus on practical activities will have a particular resonance. I would also recommend it for those seeking a broad overview of approaches to studies of media, and as a seminar discussion work for introductory courses at degree level.

Allison Cavanagh
University of Manchester

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000