Selasa, 29 November 2011

Different kinds of theory mass communication


If theory understood not only as a system of law-like proposition, but as any set of ideas which can help make sense of a phenomenon, guide action or predict a consequence, then one can distinguish at least four kinds of theory which are relevant to mass communication: social scientific, normative, operational and everyday theory. The most obvious kind to be expected in a text like this consist of social scientific theory – general statements about the nature, working and effects of mass communication, based on systematic and objective observation of media and other relevant sources.

The body of such theory is now large, although it is loosely organized and not very clearly formulated or even very consistent. It also covers a very wide spectrum, from board questions of society to detailed aspect of individual information sending and receiving. Some ‘scientific’ theory is concerned with understanding what is going on, some with developing a critique and some with practical applications in processes of public information or persuasion (see Windahl and Signitzer, 1992)

A second kind of theory can be described as normative, since it concerned examining or prescribing how media ought to operate if certain social values are to be observed or attained. Such theory usually stems from the broader social philosophy or ideology of a given society. This kind of theory is important because it plays a part in shaping and legitimating media institutions and has considerable influence on the expectations which are placed on the media by other social agencies and even by the media’s own audiences. A good deal of research into mass media has been the result of attempts to apply norm of social and cultural performance. A society’s normative theories concerning its own media are usually to be found in laws, regulations, media policies, codes of ethics and the substance of public debate. While normative media theory is not in itself ‘objective’, it can be studied by the ‘objective’ methods of the social sciences (McQuail, 1992)

A third kind of knowledge about the media can best be described as operational theory, since it refers to the practical ideas asslembed and applied by media practitioners in the conduct of their own media work. Similar bodies of accumulated practical wisdom are to be found in most organizational and professional setting. In the case of the media it helps to organize experience on many questions such as how to select news, please audience, design effective advertising, keep within the limits of what society permits, and relate effectively to sources and audiences. At some points it may overlap with normative theory – for instance, in matters of journalistic ethics.
Such knowledge merits the name of theory because it is usually patterned and persistent, even it never codified, and is infuential in respect of behaviour. It comes to light in the study of communicators and their organizations (for example. Elliott, 1972; Tuchman, 1978). Katz (1977) compared the role of the researcher in relation to media production to that of the theorist of music or philosopher of science who can see regularities which a musician or scientist cannot be, or does not even need to be, aware of (though usually also without theorist themselves being able to make music or do science).

Finally, there is everyday or common-sense theory of media use, referring to the knowledge we all have from our own long experience with media, which enables us to understand what is going on, hoe a medium might fit into our daily lives, how its content is intended to be ‘read’, as well as how we like to read it, what the differences are between different media, different media genres and examples of content, and much more. On the basis of such theory is grounded the ability to make consistent choices, from tastes and make judgements. This ability, in turn, shapes what the media actually offer to their audiences and sets both directions and limits to media influence (for instance, by enabling us to distinguish between reality and fiction, to ‘read between the lines’ or to see through the persuasive aims and techniques of advertising and other kinds of propaganda).

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