Why Study the Media?


Roger Silverstone

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    For Jennifer, Daniel, Elizabeth and William

    Preface and Acknowledgements

    Just how to begin. Now that I have completed it. Perhaps by re-reading my initial proposal. To remind myself of what it was that I set out to do. And not to do.

    This was to be a book about the media, but not about media studies, at least not about media studies as it is often seen to be. It was to be a book which would argue for the central importance of the media in culture and society as we enter the new millennium. It was to be a book which raised difficult questions and which tried to define different agendas for those of us who are concerned with the media, but it would not seek too many answers. Openness rather than closure was the aim.

    We cannot escape the media. They are involved in every aspect of our everyday lives. Central to the project as a whole was a desire to place the media at the core of experience, at the heart of our capacity or incapacity to make sense of the world in which we live. Central, too, was a desire to claim for the study of the media an intellectual agenda that would pass muster in a world too quick to dismiss the seriousness and relevance of our concerns.

    I wanted the study of the media to emerge from these pages as a humane as well as a human undertaking. It was to be humane in its concern for the individual and the group. It was to be human in the sense that it would set a distinct logic, sensitive to the historically and sociologically specific and refusing the tyrannies of technological and social determinism. It would attempt to navigate the boundary between the social sciences and the humanities.

    Perhaps, above all, the book was conceived as a manifesto. I wanted to define a space. To engage with those outside my own discourse, elsewhere in the academy and in the world beyond. It was time, I thought, to take the media seriously.

    The study of the media needs to be critical. It needs to be relevant. It needs to create and sustain a certain distance between itself and its subject. It needs to be seen to be thinking. I hope that what follows will, at least in some degree, meet these exacting requirements.

    However, if it succeeds, even partially, in meeting its objectives, then as much as anything it will be because so many individuals, both colleagues and students, have in direct and indirect ways contributed to it. Let me list them in alphabetical order, with gratitude: Caroline Bassett, Alan Cawson, Stan Cohen, Andy Darley, Daniel Dayan, Simon Frith, Anthony Giddens, Leslie Haddon, Julia Hall, Matthew Hills, Kate Lacey, Sonia Livingstone, Robin Mansell, Andy Medhurst, Mandy Merck, Harvey Molotch, Maggie Scammell, Ingrid Schenk, Ellen Seiter, Richard Sennett, Bruce Williams, Janice Winship and Nancy Wood. None, of course, bears any responsibility for what errors and infelicities may still remain.

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