Media Do Matter

Do you check your email before brushing your teeth in the morning? I must confess that I do, a habit I acquired as an undergraduate whose computer was nearer to her bed than the shared facilities down the hall. On hindsight, it’s shocking how this new medium went in less than a year from being an occasional diversion to a daily necessity. Many people have had similar revolutionary changes in their everyday practices with television, digital library catalogs, the Internet, and mobile phones, to name a few. Yet these media have become so utterly mundane that we rarely think to tell these remarkable stories.

Perhaps that is why media are too often not taken seriously. If you read, as I do, the online reader comments on The Guardian’s higher education coverage, you would see comment after comment calling the sociological study of the media is a ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject, unworthy of meaningful intellectual inquiry. Such views continue, even after having encountered them countless times, as both surprising and dismaying. As a researcher who hails from Mickey Mouse Country, a.k.a. the United States of America (where the name of its favorite cartoon mouse is never taken in vain this way), I would like to believe that I know better than the naysayers.



I know, for example, that new communication technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones have changed the world in a breathtakingly short period of time, but I still love filling my home with books. I know that the news media helped the Bush administration deceive us into war in ‘The Greatest Show Ever Sold’, to quote Frank Rich. And I don’t know exactly how much the Hollywood film industry is worth, but I do know that it is a really big number. Given the ubiquity of media in all arenas of modern societies, it is awfully hard to argue that media don’t matter. Media have become a part of everything, everywhere.

Welcome, then, to the first installment of ‘Mediated Matters’, a new weekly column series here at Sociological Imagination which takes as its starting point the premise that media are important. I understand a medium to be any technology, from cave paintings to iPads, through which human beings store and express meaning. As the title implies, its thematic focus will be the sociology of the media in the broadest sense; this column is not solely—or even primarily—about journalism. Future columns written by Yours Truly will be posted every Monday and may be expected to fall into two broad categories: 1) columns which contextualize sociological theories and empirical research related to the production, circulation, and consumption of mediated forms, and 2) columns which take particular media objects such as books and movies and use them elucidate particular sociological contributions to knowledge from any subfield.

Media do in fact matter. They enable certain forms of social action, while constraining others, and they both transform and are transformed by social forces. They promise new a siren song of opportunities, as well as new pitfalls, where producers can be powerful but so can consumers. From local news to literature reviews, comic books to Facebook, the so-called boob tube to YouTube, and gamer theory to cultural intermediaries, I invite you to join me in my ongoing explorations of this splendid, ever-shifting sociological terrain of matters mediated—together we are guaranteed to discover a world of inspiration and provocation in equal measure!

Casey Brienza is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Cambridge and Sociological Imagination’s Mediated Matters columnist.


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