Media Sociology

Media Sociology:
A Reappraisal

Edited by Silvio Waisbord

Copyright © this collection and all chapters except Chapter 4 Polity Press 2014
Copyright © Chapter 4, Richard Butsch 2014
First published in 2014 by Polity Press
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Introduction: Reappraising Media Sociology
Silvio Waisbord
Part I  Media, Institutions, and Politics
 1  Strategy Follows Structure: A Media Sociology Manifesto
Rodney Benson
 2  Linking Media Sociology to Political Development in Trans-Legislative Democracies
Michael Schudson
 3  Back to the Future? The Sociology of News and Journalism from Black and White to the Digital Age
Howard Tumber
Part II  Media Industries and Audiences
 4  Agency, Social Interaction, and Audience Studies
Richard Butsch
 5  Media Industry Sociology: Mainstream, Critical, and Cultural Perspectives
Timothy Havens
 6  The Political Economy of Media Work and Watching
Toby Miller
Part III  Media Representations
 7  When Media Representation Met Sociology
Shani Orgad
 8  Too Little But Not Too Late: Sociological Contributions to Feminist Media Studies
Laura Grindstaff and Andrea Press
 9  Media Sociology and the Study of Race
Ronald N. Jacobs
Part IV Digital Technologies, Self, and Society
10  Digital Media Technology and the Spirit of the New Capitalism: What Future for “Aesthetic Critique”?
Graeme Kirkpatrick
11  Mobile Communication and Mediated Interpersonal Communication
Rich Ling
12  Sociology and the Socially Mediated Self
Jeff Pooley

Introduction: Reappraising Media Sociology

Silvio Waisbord

As a sociologist working on media, journalism, and politics, I often ponder how sociology shapes my work. Call it the recurrent preoccupation of the academic émigré, bound to frequently interrogate matters of academic identity. I am a sociological refugee in media studies. Sociology is my intellectual mothership, but it isn’t my academic home. I rarely attend sociological meetings or publish in sociology periodicals. Despite my institutional distance from academic sociology, I regularly go back to the sociological well. The discipline remains a rich source of ideas for my work on different issues in communication and media studies. As editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics, I regularly read submissions by psychologists, political scientists, and international relations and communication scholars (and a small number of sociologists) addressing a range of issues located at the intersection between news/journalism and political actors and processes. And, inevitably, I am reminded of the influence of disciplinary, theoretical, and methodological traditions on research questions and arguments.

Given this biographical trajectory, I was drawn to recent argument about the relation between communication/media studies and sociology. Jeff Pooley and Elihu Katz (Katz 2009; Pooley and Katz 2008) offer a much-needed, thought-provoking reassessment of the paths of media sociology. 1 They argue that sociology “abandoned” communication due to internal and external processes half a century ago. Although the Chicago School had laid the groundwork for communication studies during the interwar period, sociology eventually shifted attention away from communication. Early press studies were the province of sociologists on both sides of the Atlantic. Robert Park notably raised questions about the press and social identity and the formation of communities/publics/crowds amidst social change driven by industrialization, international migration, and urbanization. Although questions about communication remained central to the symbolic interactionism tradition of sociological research represented by George Mead, Herbert Blumer, and Erving Goffman, sociology increasingly lost interest in media effects and public opinion research. This shift happened simultaneously with the ascent of public opinion and persuasion studies in the postwar years. This line of inquiry, identified with the “propaganda” studies at the height of the Cold War, obtained substantial government and philanthropic funding and conquered a field originally grounded in sociology. This double academic/geographical move led to several intellectual shifts. Questions about short-term media effects overshadowed interest in the role of the media in social integration, collective identities, and structural issues. Positivism and quantitative methodologies prevailed over qualitative and ethnographic approaches. Sociopsychological questions and theories displaced sociological concerns rooted in foundational theories. Simultaneously, the opening of journalism and communication departments in subsequent decades offered a home to media sociologists who found that their discipline was becoming uninterested in communication/media research. The institutional consolidation of media studies in various departments across US colleges cemented the growing distance between sociology and communication. Although they try to find signs of a possible rapprochement between sociology and media/communication research, Katz and Pooley are “skeptical (if not resigned)” (2008: 776) to the prospects of media sociology. As long as the institutional infrastructure remains weak (the lack of journals or divisions in the American Sociological Association devoted to media issues) and mainstream sociology remains largely uninterested, prospects are dim for a reconciliation.

Other scholars have similarly concluded that sociology is missing in public opinion/political communication studies. As editor of a special issue devoted to sociology in the journal Political Communication, Schudson (2004) observed that few sociologists were working in the field. In the same issue, Benson (2004) shared Schudson’s observation, calling for sociology’s return to the study of political communication.

Manza and Brooks (2012) argue that sociology “lost” public opinion research at the hands of social psychology and political science due to the structural, anti-functionalist turn in political sociology in the 1970s. Interest in long-term structural processes and collective action drove attention away from “public opinion” which became identified with the problematic explanations of democracy and social change advanced by functionalist-cultural theorists in the postwar years. Media, communication, and public opinion were not central to seminal works by Charles Tilly, Theda Skocpol, and Michael Mann that outlined the analytical contours of political and historical sociology’s study of revolutions and collective action. This tradition found problematic “political culture” arguments identified with modernization theories that dominated the literature in previous decades. Media and opinion research was caught in the functionalist, culturalist, and positivist side of the argument that lost ground vis-à-vis structural positions in neo-Marxist and neo-Weberian variants. Consequently, political sociologists have paid virtually no attention to issues that had been central to early studies of politics and communication. They are guided by the notion that structural, socioeconomic and political processes and “movements from below” are critical for understanding massive social change. Public opinion, and consequently the role of the news media in shaping beliefs and attitude changes, seemed superfluous for understanding the origins and consequences of large-scale social transformations such as democracies, revolutions, labor markets, protest and insurrection, state formation, and social movements.

The absence of sociology in public opinion/political communication research troubles scholars. Vliegenthart and van Zoonen (2011), as well as Carragee and Roefs (2004), note the limitations of news framing research, mainly lack of attention to power, which they attribute to refusal to engage with sociological questions. By ignoring power, the literature sidelines a key reason why news frames are analytically important: they perpetuate specific ideologies grounded in social and political inequalities and fail to understand how frames are opportunities for organized publics to contest interpretations over events and policies. The absence of sociological analysis particularly in news frames studies is remarkable, considering that sociologists (Gamson and Modigliani 1989; Gitlin 1980; Goffman 1974) produced landmark writings and that the sociology of social movements has extensively dealt with this question (Benford and Snow 2000). Unlike communication researchers and political scientists who primarily deal with the “effects” of news frames on knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs, sociologists were interested in news frames to address questions about hegemony, control, and domination.

Arguably, the absence of power in frame analysis is not only the consequence of sociology’s weak presence in communication research. It also reflects the absence of questions about power within a line of political communication research primarily concerned with discussing media effects on public opinion. By failing to contextualize frame analysis within contemporary politics and media organizations in capitalist societies, “media effects” research not only overlooks sociological studies, but also sidelines critical work by political scientists such as Entman (2004) and Wolfsfeld (1997) who raise questions about links between news frames and power inequalities. As long as narrow questions about “media effects” prevail, the links between the news media, public opinion, and political and social power remain neglected.

In my mind, the argument about the rift between sociology and communication/media studies raised the question whether “media sociology” is a unique case, given sociology’s long history of producing and pushing specializations out. Sociology has been described as an “exporter discipline” (Holmwood 2010) with a distinguished academic progeny. A host of interdisciplinary fields that exploded in the post-1960s US academe are rooted in sociology. An incomplete list includes criminology, gender studies, race and ethnicity studies, women’s studies, urban studies, health policy, cultural studies, education, and science and technology studies. Although these fields became meeting points for scholars from diverse disciplines, their origins are grounded in sociology (J. Turner 2006). Their analytical parameters, central questions, and conceptual baggage are sociological. Their interest in power, control, structure, institutions, class, and community are indelibly sociological (Rosenfeld 2010).

The case of media sociology seems symptomatic of sociology’s specialization (Smelser 1988), the constant shedding of areas of study driven by its long-standing, thematic omnivorousness and US academe’s institutional and programmatic fragmentation in past decades. Sociology’s interests have been wider than other social sciences such as political science and economics (Calhoun 2007; Calhoun, Rojek, and Turner 2005; Holmwood 2010). Its wide-ranging theoretical stock provides research questions and insights relevant for various fields of study. Thematic and analytical dispersion has fueled balkanization (Cole 2001). From Bourdieu to Weber, sociology’s theoretical canon provides common reference points, but it doesn’t create a collective corpus or research enterprise. Instead, competing visions and interests continue to characterize sociology (Patel 2010).

Additionally, the academic drive towards specialization offered the “pull” factors for sociologists’ migration. Proliferation of interdisciplinary programs and specialized journals built the necessary professional scaffolding and appealing institutional incentives for departure. Sociology was not the only (or main) source of employment or intellectual community. From urban studies to gender programs, the opening of academic units dealing with contemporary social problems and issues offered opportunities for sociologists to migrate. Although social sciences’ fragmentation and specialization encourages social scientists to leave home disciplines, sociology’s fissiparous tendency (Lamont 2009; Turner 2012) provided “push” factors. Sociologists became academically nimble, taking their highly portable specific interests, their slice of the broad sociological universe, across the social sciences and humanities.

These dynamics suggest that the case of “media sociology” may not be exceptional. Instead, it reflects the “fractal” character of sociology (Abbott 2001), permanently subjected to secessions and recombinations. The evolution of media sociology may be symptomatic of this tendency to generate and export new fields of study. Sociology’s “abandonment” of media/communication research can be interpreted as reflecting broad internal movements: just as “gender,” “science/technology,” and “crime” sociologists moved to new programs in the 1970s and 1980s, media sociologists similarly found congenial the growing numbers of departments of communication, media, and journalism.

Katz and Pooley’s argument raises other questions: Is the process they observed generally indicative of media sociology? Or does it apply to specific lines of inquiry in communication/media research, namely, media effects and opinion research? Has sociology as a whole abdicated from communication/media studies? Or are some branches of media sociology still attached to it? Does it reflect the unique experience of media sociology in US academe?

Parsimonious answers to these questions are difficult to offer because communication and media studies are disjointed fields. The contours of communication/media studies permanently shift. They are hardly what they were when media sociologists interrogated the field’s analytical directions and theoretical strands in the 1970s (Gitlin 1978; Tunstall 1970). At the crossroads of the social science and humanities, communication/media studies neither have central, unifying questions nor single, theoretical, or disciplinary entry points. Ongoing transformations of the analytical object (whether “communication” or “media”) are doubtless partially responsible for fragmenting communication/media studies. In the case of media studies, its expanding analytical reach reflects the conceptual instability of “media” understood as platforms for production and consumption of symbolic content (Couldry 2012). Originally identified with specific and separate technologies and institutions consolidated during the twentieth century (broadcasting, print, audiovisual, recording, and telecommunications), “media” became more fluid with recent technological innovations. Digital technologies’ dominance and the multiplication of channels (from computers to mobile platforms) challenge old industrial/technology divisions. Global expansion of portable, digital, and interactive platforms not only heralds a “post-broadcast” era, but also transforms the meanings of “media.” “Media” are not simply what people consume when not working or sleeping; they are interwoven in social life, making “mediation” integral to everyday life. Therefore, the analytical subjects of media sociology are broader than ever, as it incorporates questions that were once the purview of technology studies. New media have, if not completely abolished, certainly reduced the distance between interpersonal and mass communication. If sociology, particularly after relinquishing media effects/public opinion research, once focused on “mass communication,” such clear-cut differentiations are no longer tenable: digital technologies blur separations between personal, interpersonal, and mass communication (Peters and Pooley 2012).

As communication/media studies are analytically dispersed, it is worth examining the proposition that sociology may be absent in some lines of research but present in others.

Ron Jacobs’s (2009) position on this issue seems right, namely that the relationship between media studies and sociology is more nuanced than Katz and Pooley suggest. Jacobs affirms that narrow focus on the impact of messages on society in communication/media studies pushed sociology out. For Jacobs, renewed centrality of cultural research in sociology in past decades attests to the durability of questions and relevance of arguments originally developed by the Chicago School in the 1920s. Thus, there is no complete separation but a narrow interest in media research about sociological ideas and themes. His argument for this complex relationship is supported by other scholars. Silverstone (2005) described it as “paradoxical,” characterized by analytical ebbs and flows across the sociological universe. In a similar vein, Couldry (2010a) and McQuail (2008) outlined the ambiguities of the relationship and recognized that in some disciplines, such as cultural studies, sociology underpinned critical studies of communication, culture, information, and media.

Perhaps Katz and Pooley referred to a particular set of questions and issues that were abandoned by sociology during the postwar years rather than to media/communication issues at large. Undoubtedly, psychology, social psychology, and political psychology have colonized public opinion and media effects research, areas in which sociology has a meager presence. It is also reasonable to suggest that sociology turned away from communication, as reflected by limited numbers of articles published in leading sociological journals and the few media sociologists in the faculty of (particularly US) sociology departments.

This position confirmed my knowledge of specific areas of research in communication/media studies, as well as my impression based on reading journals and attending conferences. Journalism studies is filled with references to the sociology of news, and ideas such as “risk,” “field,” and “liquid modernity” that reference, respectively, the work of prominent sociologists such as Ulrich Beck, Pierre Bourdieu, and Zygmunt Bauman. Sociological themes of globalization are central in international media studies about the changing political economy of media industries, the dynamics and hybridization of media cultures, and national and cosmopolitan identities anchored in global media flows.

I came to think, then, that sociology has a different presence in areas of communication/media inquiry. Despite the dearth of media sociologists in US sociology departments and journals, one finds scholars across academe who think sociologically about media/communication issues. Just as there is neither unified sociology nor communication/media studies, no single coherent media sociology exists, but rather sociologists engage differently with communication/media issues. The state of media sociology may look different for scholars interested in different issues.

The book

With this in mind, I decided to put this book together. My interest is threefold: to take stock of media sociology, map out current lines of communication/media research embedded in sociological thought, and highlight the contributions of sociological thought to media studies. By “media sociology,” I understand the study of media processes and phenomena anchored in classic and contemporary sociological questions and methods. Media sociology interrogates the relevance of the media to understand “how society works” – specifically, by linking the media to fundamental social processes such as stratification, organizations, identity, autonomy, individualism, community, social influence, and power. It also draws from theories and arguments about these key dimensions of social life to analyze various aspects of the media – industries, institutions, audiences, content, and policies. Media sociology assumes that unpacking the complexity and multidimensionality of “the media” is critical to understanding fundamental aspects of societies, and that sociological theories offer critical questions and conceptual frameworks to analyze media processes and dynamics. Media sociology is guided by a double conviction: sociological understanding of the media helps us foreground important questions about how the media work and their impact on multiple aspects of social life; and the study of “the media” illuminates key areas to explain significant trends and transformations in contemporary societies.

Several questions drove my interest in this project: Are sociological approaches relevant in communication/media studies? What does sociology bring to media studies? What classic and contemporary sociological questions remain important? What has media sociology contributed to sociological research? A collective approach seems suitable to answer these questions. If my own experience is correct, specializations in the vast world of media sociology offer incomplete perspectives. Because answers may vary according to where sociologists stand in the fragmented landscape of communication/media studies, a collection of reflections could provide a better, comprehensive view. An edited book featuring contributions from media sociologists working on different research areas seemed appropriate to review the historical path and current whereabouts of media sociology. The goal of this book is not to discuss the institutional position of media sociology in academia measured by departments, conferences, funding, and journals. Instead, it seeks to provide snapshots of media sociology by scholars interested in various communication, media, and sociological questions.

The book is divided into four thematic sections: media, institutions, and politics; media industries and audiences; media representations; and technologies, self, and society. Each section features three original chapters. Although these sections do not capture the full range of subjects in media sociology, they reflect key areas of interest in media studies embedded in sociological theories and questions.

The first section addresses the study of media, institutions, and politics. Rod Benson revisits the study of structure and agency, particularly regarding comparative research about news and politics. He demonstrates the problems of continuing to talk about “the media” as if they were institutionally monolithic. Such a commonplace, offhand concept ignores divisions and multiple articulations of media institutions within social fields. Benson doesn’t just remind us that “institutions matter.” Reviewing comparative studies, he shows why media sociologists need to examine how different institutional logics embedded in politics, culture, and economics shape media dynamics and content. Michael Schudson similarly argues that political institutions are crucial to understanding the performance of media organizations and their contributions to democracy. He discusses four developments that have changed the political context of the news media in contemporary democracies: the rise of the administrative state, the multiplication of opportunities for active citizenship, the strengthening of monitoring mechanisms, and the consolidation of globalization to assess models. His interest is to examine institutional changes in order to reexamine classic questions and arguments in the analysis of press, journalism, and democracy. Questions about watchdog journalism, representation, activism, and control cannot be understood as they were fifty years ago. Democratic institutions have changed. Scholars therefore must be sensitive to substantial differences in the institutional context in which news media operate. Howard Tumber’s chapter examines the contemporary relevance of classic sociology of news and journalism from the 1970s and 1980s in order to understand major changes in the news industry and journalistic practice in intervening years. Tumber demonstrates the importance of sociological methodologies and theoretical frameworks to identify questions and the complexity of news production. So-called “golden age” studies laid out arguments about structures and agency in news-making that should be critically examined in news landscapes transformed by technology, economics, and politics.

The second section discusses the contributions of sociological analyses of media industries and audiences. The sociological themes of structure and agency are central to Richard Butsch’s discussion of audience studies. Butsch offers a comprehensive genealogy of audience studies that attests to the continuous presence of sociological interests. Issues such as social action and identity have been central to various scholarly approaches. Indeed, central themes in this research directly emerged from sociological debates on both sides of the Atlantic. Audience studies not only demonstrate the prevalence of the media in contemporary societies; they also show the impossibility of understanding sociological questions about identity, class, and collective action without integrating the study of the media. Tim Havens traces the sociological inspirations of various terms used to define “media industries” and reviews the central assumptions and arguments of three dominant perspectives. Tidying concepts is not simply a matter of semantics, for they reflect different assumptions about the existence of and links between “the media” and “society.” No consensus exists on how to study “media industries.” Markets, culture, and power are often viewed in contrasting terms, such that sociological approaches render different pictures about the state and functioning of “media industries.” Havens identifies areas for further research to move analysis forward and test old arguments in light of major transformations. Toby Miller’s chapter reassesses the state of the political economy of “media work” to account for recent developments in terms of ownership, control, and political struggle. He underscores why critical political economy is vital to uncover capitalist domination in “media industries,” strip neoliberal truisms, and illuminate matters of labor, corporatization, globalism, and collective action. His chapter foregrounds issues long defining critical sociology of the media: relations of production, commoditization, social and ecological exploitation, and cultural domination. Eschewing cliché, dichotomic approaches that envision either full control by industries or absolute individual autonomy, Miller directs attention to areas where corporate strategies meet audience activism. He urges media sociologists to reveal patterns of domination and challenge relations between media industries and power.

The third section focuses on sociological analyses of media representations. Media representations are, as Shani Orgad writes in her chapter, “the images, narratives, accounts and frames that circulate in the media and carry symbolic content.” Although various disciplines study media representations, sociologists have been particularly interested in understanding their links to specific social contexts and questions about power and inequality. Orgad reviews the “social work” of media representations – how they simultaneously promote certain understandings of society and specific groups and issues and discourage other interpretations and views. Sociologists are also concerned with how media representations solidify certain notions of order and acceptability and help certain groups to manage dissent and reify values. Orgad reminds us about the multiple, open, and subtle ways in which media representations are constitutive of social orders in a globalized world. She neither embraces a deterministic view, according to which media representations are reality nor subscribes to the position that they are naturally open and ambiguous. Instead, she suggests that sociological analysis needs to examine the dynamic nature of media representations by addressing actions to control and contest meaning and uses. Several of these issues, particularly the symbolic and material force of media representations, are discussed by Laura Grindstaff and Andrea Press. Their chapter examines the relationship between feminist sociology and feminist media studies. It argues that the relationship has not been as close as it should have been. This gap is grounded in the different trajectories of both fields and the eclectic disciplinarity and theoretical underpinnings of feminist media studies. In a crowded field of study, sociology’s unique contribution is to pay close attention “to the people, practices, and institutional contexts at stake in the production and consumption of media texts in addition to the texts themselves.” They enumerate several lines of research which could not only promote a sociological mindset in feminist media studies, but also critically address contemporary debates about multiple waves of feminism and post-feminism. Ron Jacobs’s chapter offers further insights into media representations by discussing the relevance of classic sociological studies on media and race, particularly the portrayals of African Americans during the past decade. In line with arguments presented in this section, Jacobs argues that it is necessary to consider a range of mediated representations, to ground the analysis in political and social matters, and to search for domination and resistance in texts and meanings. The changing politics of language and narratives, demonstrated by contrasting portrayals of race in the US media in recent years, cannot be comprehended outside sociological concerns such as stratification, marginalization, and conflict. Furthermore, the production of texts, as well as the interaction between representations and audiences, needs to be placed within changing conditions for public expression, such as the proliferation of digital spaces for representing and contesting race, which pushes sociological studies in new directions.

The final section features sociological studies on technologies, self, and society. The three contributions show the relevance of a range of sociological questions in the contemporary study of technologies. Debates about media technologies and societies are embedded in classic sociological interests – domination, identity, difference, and representation – which have attracted attention from several theoretical perspectives. Graeme Kirkpatrick discusses the impact of social changes in late capitalism on technological design, purpose, and aesthetics. Society shapes digital media technology and is shaped by specific technological developments in unpredictable ways. Because of this conflictive relationship, technology should not be narrowly seen as the handmaiden of capital intended to achieve instrumental goals, as orthodox critical approaches contend. Capitalist rationality and aesthetics are rather articulated in dynamic, ever-changing relations between society and technology. By showing the reality and potential of the aesthetic critique of capitalist uses of technology, Kirkpatrick identifies conflictive assessments about control and autonomy. He avoids both sociological techno-pessimism and ingenuous techno-optimism by focusing on areas such as ludification/ludefaction, demonstrating the ambiguous relationship between society and digital technologies. Rich Ling’s chapter draws on a different set of sociological theories and questions to produce a critical survey of the social consequences of mobile communication. Ling makes a persuasive case for why classic sociological questions about belonging and coordination are critical in the study of portable technologies. Global ubiquity of mobile communication means we cannot analyze social interactivity without addressing the role of technology. Mobile platforms have rapidly transformed interpersonal communication as they are central to the conduct of social activities, from safety to daily logistics. The interweaving of mobile technologies into everyday life reminds us about the significance of classic sociological themes, namely, the inherent tension between autonomy and dependency, individualism and community. Some of these themes are also discussed in Jeff Pooley’s chapter, which carefully dissects the burgeoning literature on digital social networks. It concludes that sociological analyses are scarce and marginal. Pooley’s concern is not to defend sociology vis-à-vis prevalent psychological approaches. He rather wants to alert us to important analytical lacunae resulting from individualistic, ahistorical and pre-social frameworks. One way to properly address these issues is to move sociological approaches concerned with “interactional, institutional, and historical” questions to the center, lest communication studies remain limited by the epistemological assumptions of psychological approaches. As social media are embedded in critical questions about community, self and social experience, sociology has much to contribute to this growing field of study.

In all, these twelve chapters provide a panoramic yet nuanced examination of key themes, questions, and theories at the intersection between sociology and media studies. This book doesn’t pretend to offer an exhaustive survey of media sociology. Any table of contents would inevitably be incomplete, given the expanding and porous borders of communication/media studies.

One absence is the lack of assessments about the state of media sociology outside the West. The question “where is media sociology?” can be approached thematically, analyzing areas of specialization in media/communication studies, and geographically, comparing academic traditions around the world. This book takes the former approach, given that the debate that originated my interest in this project focused on the evolution of media sociology in US academe. Moreover, no criteria were obvious for selecting one country/region over others. As the traditions of sociology, communication, and media studies have particular trajectories in the global South (see Sreberny 2008; Tomaselli 2009; Yu 2011), a global comparative analysis of media sociology requires a separate study beyond the scope of this volume.

Another omission is thematic. The book doesn’t have contributions on important contemporary themes, such as media and collective action/social movements (McCurdy 2012; Mische 2008; Van Aelst and Walgrave 2002), media and risk (Anderson 2009; Tulloch and Zinn 2011), media consumption and rituals (Couldry 2003), media and surveillance (Fuchs 2011), and political identity and communication (Schlesinger 1991). Space constraints made it impossible to cover comprehensively the rich variety of issues at the intersection of sociology and media/communication studies.

Sociology in communication/media studies

Aside from critically reviewing the literature on specific themes, the chapters reflect on how sociology informs current thinking in various lines of research. The authors raise a range of sociological theories and arguments – from cultural sociology to the sociology of technology and aesthetics, from postfeminism to post-structuralism, from neo-Marxism to neo-Durkheimianism.

The emerging picture suggests that the relationship between sociology and communication/media studies cannot be categorically summarized in terms of estrangement or rapprochement. A sociological sensibility is present in several lines of research. Sociological questions continue to be important, despite the weak position of media sociology in sociology, as Butsch observes in his chapter on media audiences. Tumber also shows that the rich legacy of sociological works informs contemporary studies of journalism. Research on the adaptation of news organizations to digital technologies attests to the vitality of sociological questions about organizational values, routines, and norms. Sociology is also present in contemporary studies of media and technology, as Kirkpatrick and Ling demonstrate in their chapters. From the critical views of Marcuse to arguments about everyday sociability by Goffman, theoretical frameworks and questions identified with macro- and micro-sociology are central to current research on media, technology, and society. Likewise, as shown by Miller and Havens in their respective chapters, sociological insights about power, capitalism, commodification, autonomy, and stratification are central in the analysis of media industries. Butsch, Jacobs, and Orgad also demonstrate that sociological questions are central in the study of media representations and audiences.

A different picture is presented about the state of media sociology in other areas of communication/media studies. Grindstaff and Press lament the marginalization of sociological analysis in feminist media studies, as well as the fact that feminist sociology has largely ignored the media. For them, a drift still exists as “the two arenas of scholarship seem to run on parallel rather than intersecting tracks.” They call for the incorporation of sociological approaches to power and social justice into feminist media studies. Pooley finds a persistent rift in his nuanced analysis of the voluminous literature about communication studies on social media. Psychological questions and methodologies are dominant. Sociological issues are notably absent, such as the social and historical embeddedness of subjectivity, including matters of social stratification and inequalities, as well as the political economy of “social” platforms/companies. Ignoring these issues, psycho-communication studies ignore questionable western-centric assumptions about individual self-identity, the significance of gender, class and race self-presentation in digital platforms, and the social context of technology and its uses. Although he confirms that communication questions are still anchored in the psychological paradigm, Pooley remains hopeful that sociological questions could gain more attention.

It is difficult to explain concisely why sociology has had a different presence across communication/media studies. Explanations may need to address the position of sociology and the presence of other disciplines within the particular genealogy of fields of research. Sociology has been able to maintain its original lead position in the study of media organizations/industries, technology, and cultural studies – all interdisciplinary fields studied by economists, historians, psychologists, and humanities scholars. For example, Havens argues that the material and historical analysis of media organizations’ “creative industries” has drawn from sociology (also, see Starr 2004). Kirkpatrick confirms that studies of the social impact of technology have been traditionally informed by sociological questions. Instead, the analytical boundaries of research on health communication (Kreps and Maibach 2008), media effects, and political communication have been shaped by psychology and political science. There may be self-perpetuating cycles at work. Theories and empirical questions shape the analytical contours of certain specializations in communication/media studies. Just as disciplines that originally defined a certain field shaped its analytical parameters and early direction, questions that eventually became central tilted research in favor of specific disciplinary and theoretical directions.

The chapters also help us unpack the meanings of having a “sociological sensibility,” or “sociological imagination” to use C. Wright Mills’s (1959) well-known expression, in communication/media studies. Contributors offer various ideas for understanding “sociological sensibility” and its contributions. Orgad suggests that media sociology is driven by an interest in the social role and the social “work” of media representations in particular contexts. For Butsch, media sociology is attentive to the complexity of the social and political dimensions of the media. Benson asserts that media sociology constantly reminds communication/media scholars about the importance of political, economic, and social structures, and that it serves as a necessary mediator between different disciplinary and theoretical traditions. Havens argues that media sociology brings up questions about social power and the relation between fields and actors.

In lieu of a succinct definition, a sociological sensibility can be characterized as the interest in linking the analysis of media industries, text, and audiences to questions about stratification, order, collective identity, sociability, institutions, domination/control, and human agency. It seeks to examine both the significance of media developments for the study of contemporary social trends and transformations, and the relevance of sociological questions for understanding communication/media issues (e.g. the functioning of media industries and occupation, the mobilization and contestation of media meanings, the context of media labor including engagement with media texts, or the characteristics and dynamics of media systems). Sociology places communication/media questions within important transformations in contemporary societies, such as the affirmation of “the network society” (Castells 1996), labor conditions in media industries (Mayer 2011), and the emergence of innovative forms of political action (Van Aelst and Walgrave 2002; Walgrave et al. 2011). It links communication and media to urgent social problems such as the environment (Maxwell and Miller 2012) and health (Seale 2003). Sociological analysis reflects on the materiality and symbolic dimensions of the social processes of mediation – how individuals, groups, and societies integrate media texts, technologies, and forms in everyday experience and definitions of private and public spaces, and local and global (Livingstone 2009; Silverstone 1999).

What does a sociological sensibility add to communication/media studies? What is missing if sociological issues aren’t addressed? The chapters offer several insights into these questions.

One argument is the fallacy of thinking about “the media” as an institution driven by a single, unified logic. The media are everywhere in contemporary societies, but they are not regulated by a coherent, integrated logic, a point made by Benson and Butsch. Research needs to flesh out this question by examining and comparing the inner workings of media industries and organizations. This conclusion finds further support in the chapters by Havens and Tumber. Whether in traditional audiovisual or news industries, the study of power dynamics, status, socialization, and values finds the presence of different rationalities and influences in decision-making processes. Informed by the sociology of work, organizations, and professions, the analysis needs to be sufficiently nuanced to examine similarities and differences in the functioning of media industries and occupations in late capitalism. Matters of occupational autonomy, labor conditions, and organizational adaptation to changing social/technological/economic/political environments need to be put at the center of analysis.

Another argument is that communication/media studies need to pay attention to the interplay between structure and agency. From Marx’s notion about the constraints on human action to Durkheim’s social facts to Giddens’s concept of “structuration,” this line of thinking has a long tradition in sociological thought. It remains helpful to ascertain the interaction between structural forces (economic, political, cultural) and human action in myriad processes, such as changes in media policies/industries/texts, and the uses of media in processes of social and political change. Media studies need to be grounded in the analysis of social process and forces that shape the dynamic interaction between structures and agency. Structures, whether market forces, institutional settings, or cultural traditions, are shaped by policy traditions, cultural repertoires, and forms of socialization. Although they may not determine present and future decisions and practices, they affect the way people, for example, find opportunities for public expression, define self- and collective identity, and use media for everyday interaction. Media definitions of social issues, consumption and contestation of media content, and oppositional publics are inextricably linked to opportunities and inequalities shaped by social structures, as discussed by Benson, Jacobs, Lin, and Orgad. While warning communication/media research, particularly embedded in psychological traditions, about the perils of forgetting social structures, sociologists also emphasize the importance of agency in communication/mediated processes.

Communication/media studies should be equally sensitive to the infrastructure of public expression as to citizens/audiences’ meaning-making and interaction. Just as structures don’t close media dynamics, human action doesn’t happen in a social vacuum. Infrastructure can be understood in terms of sociological concepts such as Habermas’s public sphere, Castells’s network, Bourdieu’s field and Marx’s labor/political economy. A dynamic, actor-centered media sociology should integrate structural issues in the study of how citizens mobilize social, cultural, and media resources to create/challenge media content and promote political and cultural democracy, as discussed by Orgad and Schudson.

Another important contribution of sociological approaches has been to foreground social questions in the study of media technologies. No matter what the technology is or does, whether digital news-gathering and news-disseminating platforms (or mobile telephony), research should socially and historically contextualize media and technology. Following recent studies (Anderson 2012a; Murthy 2012; Pinch 2010; Wajcman 2008), several contributors suggest that sociologists offer a corrective to psychological and nonsocial interpretations permeating recent thinking about digital technologies in the humanities and social sciences. Ling believes that matters of self-representation, social cohesion, autonomy, and interpersonal communication are critical to understanding the transformation of social life by mobile technologies. Mobile connectivity is central to the way people establish and renew social bonds and develop expectations about social interactivity. Pooley argues that sociology brings out important social dimensions missing in recent analysis of “social media.” Kirkpatrick emphasizes the importance of sociological questions about power and labor to assess the innovations and limitations of digital media.

The authors offer plenty of evidence to explain why sociology matters for communication/media studies. Without “bringing sociology in,” questions about capitalism, history, power, inequality, control, institutions, autonomy, and human agency may not be foregrounded. They don’t simply heap praise for sociology; some recognize several limitations. For example, Schudson argues that although media sociologists have made important contributions, they have not properly recognized changes in governance and democratic participation in past decades. The workings of news organizations and the role of journalism in democracy cannot be understood outside the evolving institutional architecture of democracy. In what he calls a “post-legislative democracy,” citizens use news and information technologies in novel and sophisticated ways. The multiplication of advocacy organizations that constantly produce news and commentary indicates important changes in the information landscape that need to be considered. Newsrooms, the traditional analytical focus of the sociology of news, aren’t the only or dominant sources of information. Sensitivity to the interplay between media institutions and processes and political and social transformations is necessary. Sociology should not forget one of its own critical points: the value of a historical sensitivity to media institutions and political conditions. Historicizing media institutions and comparing media systems/practices across time are necessary for solid theory-building.

Media sociology and its futures