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Body of Knowledge

Bringing the Sociology of Media Back In - Political Communication, Volume 21, Number 3 / July-September 2004
by Rodney Benson

In political communication research, news media tend to be studied more as a dependent than independent variable. That is, few studies link structural characteristics of media systems to the production of journalistic discourse about politics. One reason for this relative silence is the inadequacy of prevalent theories. Influential scholars in sociology and political communication such as Jürgen Habermas, Manuel Castells, and William Gamson provide only sketchy, institutionally underspecified accounts of media systems. Likewise, models in the sociology of news have tended to either aggregate societal level influences (chiefly political and economic) that are analytically and often empirically quite distinct or overemphasize micro-level influences (news routines, bureaucratic pressures). In between such micro- and macro-influences, the mezzo-level "journalistic field" represents an important shaping factor heretofore largely ignored. As path-dependent institutional logics, fields help ground cultural analysis; as interorganizational spatial environments varying in their level of concentration, they explain heretofore undertheorized aspects of news production. Drawing on the sociology of news and field theory (Bourdieu and American new institutionalism), this essay offers a series of hypotheses about how variable characteristics of media systems shape news discourse. Since variation at the system level is most clearly seen via cross-national comparative studies, international research is best positioned to build more generalizable theory about the production of journalistically mediated political discourse.

Publication Type: Article / Chapter / Essay: 17 pages
Publisher: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group (2004)
Location: London, United Kingdom
Language: English
ISSN: 1058-4609

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