Sociology of Media: definitions of core concepts

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Sociology of Media: definitions of core concepts within the cultural and media studies.

Submitted: November 15, 2016

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Submitted: November 15, 2016






The previous communist and fascist dictatorships of the twentieth century efficiently demonstrated how essential the control of mass media is and how these means can be used as propaganda. This control in its turn leads to a direct control of individuals. (Baran, 2014, p.37)

Like communication, power is omnipresent. It is thought as a crucial dimension of output and circulation of meaning. When we discuss power, we need to focus our attention on how ideas are constructed and are widespread by certain people. Power is a broad phenomenon with various definitions. It is seen as the capability to get what you want when socializing with others. Max Weber expressed this process when saying that those in power can realise their own will even against the resistance of others. (Swedberg, 2005, p.205) Getting and maintain power is directly proportional to the capacity of those in power to control meaning and its spreading. In any human society, relationships can be observed among dominant groups, the means of communication and the flow of meaning. (Lukes 1974, p. 3).

Discussing the relationship among power, social elites and media can quickly end up sounding like a conspiracy theory in which influence elites are seen to manipulate media content to assist their interests. Otherwise, the control of meaning-making is not always repressive; it can be flexible, adaptable and more interactive. Media production is handled by powerful groups to preserve power, but this does not mean they can solely use the media to exert straight manipulative control over people.

On the other hand, Frankfurt theorists see media as a consensus factory. Media are the means through which those who own political power keep peoples exploited.

According to the communication sociologist Manuel Castells, Media do not represent further power but “the land of the struggle for the power”. (2013, p.10)




Ideology is a framework of believes, ideas, representations and values which orient a determinate social group. (Destutt de Tracy. 1825).

According to the above meaning and to O’Shaughnessy, the concept of ideology has always been studied to demonstrate the marked link that exists between powerful groups’ interest in mass media and their own interests.

Furthermore, ideologies are continuously represented through mass media and influence society and its every value and institution. Believes, rules, ethical and moral behaviours are established and maintained by ideology which is controlled by the top groups but which reflects the entire society. This represented ideologies are also recognized as dominant ideologies. (1999, p. 20)

Ideology allows people to distinguish what is useful from what is useless, what is right from what is wrong, what is dangerous from what is safe and therefore it gives people a guideline when living everyday experiences and on how society must work. (Mitchell, 1986).

Rules and directions represented by media’s society have to become natural, inalienable and uncompromising. Every item of information which circulates through  media and which is in contrast with the dominant ideology or it’s different from the original version of the facts, is being marginalised or labelled as conspiracy theory. (Burton, 2004)

Therefore, this process discourages individuals to rebel to these ideologies which must be shared by the whole community. Secondly it shows a “uni-directional ideology” which guarantees a sense of stability within society. (Louw and Carah, 2015, pp. 24–26)

For instance, consumerism has been considered a dominant ideology, especially in the western society since the first industrial revolution. Media have always supported the capitalistic philosophy through commercial advertising, movies, and sponsors.

They have always pressed people into thinking that there is the necessity to buy and consume goods in order to reach happiness and consequently into believing that a consumer is happier than another one since he bought more goods than the other.




Representation is the social method of making and exchanging meaning (Hall, 1997, p. 3). People use media to construct a view of reality and to understand the world through language, through representation. Individuals filtrate reality through their representation. This process leads to a “Mediate reality” and we have to accept the fact we don’t have a direct and not mediated access to it.

Media do not solely reflect or mirror reality. Media are the social process itself. People interact with others to build a sense of reality. These social interactions develop between people with different levels of access to economic, cultural and symbolic sources, institutions and rituals. By social construction of reality, we mean that reality as we understand it is produced out of the social relationship between people. (Louw and Carah, 2015, pp. 15–18).

A significant philosophical question to be considered is the extent to which representations accurately portray the world “as it actually is”. To answer this question, we can say that representations can never be fixed since people always create new meaning and always have new ways to see the world they are living. This is a post-modern view and it assumes there is a continuous game of making meaning. (O’Shaughnessy, 1999, pp. 45) 


On the other hand, a hegemonic view sees powerful groups aim to fix meanings. It argues that powerful groups have the capacity to control media, every institutions and every resource of society.


In this way, they decide what has to be represented and what should not, for example, groups and minorities who are already marginalised by the current society have to be “double marginalised” also by the media.






The definition of discourse can be elaborated in a sociological contest and it is described as the use of language in social life to control and direct society. (Bell, 1998, p. 2)  

Van Dijk offers a sociological approach to discourse. He argued that discourse connects social interactions since a link is established between text and its discourse. The interpretation of this bound by the reader depends on personal socio-cognitive capabilities and develops two different memories.

The episodic memory is subjective and is linked to previous biographical experience and links the reader to the discourse creating a personal interpretation of it.

The social memory is based on shared values within a community and links the reader to the discourse creating an ethical interpretation of it.

Newspapers or news can be a clear example of brain control. It is enough to think of how title, genre, structure and allegorical figures can shape the mind of the reader or viewer. (1985, p. 199).

Another example can be founded especially in movies and TV narratives.

The situation of a story can be told by different voices and every voice has its own point of view and its own view of reality and which makes sense of the world. MacCabe argues that a plot will arrange these voices in a hierarchy; one voice will be more important than the others and in conclusion it will produce a dominant discourse and the main point of view. The task of the viewer/reader is to work out whose voices whose discourse in the film is right and discover the truth about events. (1985, p.82).






Baran, S.J. and Davis, D.K. (2014) Mass communication theory: Foundations, ferment, and future. 7th edn. Stamford, CT, United States: WADSWORTH Publishing CO.

Bell, R.E.B. (1998) Approaches to media discourse. Edited by Allan Bell and Peter Garrett. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Burton, G. (2004) Media and society: Critical perspectives. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Castells, M. (2009) Communication power. Oxford, UK; Oxford University Press.

Destutt de Tracy, A.-L. (1825) Elemens d’ideologie. Paris.

Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage in association with the Open University.

Louw, E. and Carah, N. (2015) Media and society: Production, content and participation. London, United Kingdom: SAGE Publications.

Lukes, S. (1975) Power: A radical view. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

MacCabe, C. (1986) Theoretical essays: Film, linguistics, literature. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Mitchell, W.T.J. (1986) Iconology: Image, text, ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

O’Shaughnessy, M. (1999) Media and society: An introduction. Oxford: OUP Australia and New Zealand.

Swedberg, R. and Agevall, O. (2005) The Max Weber dictionary: Key words and central concepts. United States: Stanford University Press.

Van Dijk, T.A. (1985) Discourse and communication: New approaches to the analysis of mass media discourse and communication. Berlin: W. de Gruyter. 

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