A few weeks ago I finally made my online existence cleaner and sharper by getting rid of my very ancient websites (notably theory.org.uk and newmediastudies.com), tipping the balance firmly in favour of my newer stuff, which lives here at davidgauntlett.com. But in the process I have deleted from the internet certain things that people now want back. I did say, on the welcome page which now shows up when people try to go to my ancient URLs, that if people wish for something to be resurrected then they could contact me and ask for it to be restored. Which I have already done for a few other things. And now here, I am restoring to the internet my piece, ‘Media Studies 2.0’, which I first posted at theory.org.uk in 2007.
The version presented here is the one that appears in chapter two of Making Media Studies (2015). The main text is the same as in 2007, but it comes with an introduction from 2015, plus a few additional parts. Here we go.
Media Studies 2.0
The ‘Media Studies 2.0’ article was first presented on my website, Theory.org.uk, in February 2007. Over the years I’ve added a few bits and bobs. Because it still seems relevant as a precursor to the creative turn, this chapter gives you the original article, plus some of the bits and bobs [and in the actual book is followed by Chapter 3, which offers some new comments].
It’s perhaps worth mentioning that the 2007 article caused something of a stir in Media Studies circles (you can look up ‘Gauntlett “Media Studies 2.0”’ in Google Scholar to see some of the disparaging remarks). I mention this not out of pride, nor shame – in either case, causing ‘a stir in Media Studies circles’ is hardly the highest form of human achievement – but simply because it seems so odd. This is what I wrote in another introduction to the piece, in 2011:
The discussion about ‘Media Studies 2.0’ tends to baffle me slightly, because my argument seems, to my own eyes, to be perfectly benign, rational, and unsurprising. When I hear people saying how outrageous it is, or how angry it has made them feel, I sometimes regret that I must have said some crazy things in order to provoke an argument. But when I look at what is actually written in the original 2007 ‘Media Studies 2.0’ article, it seems to me to be a modest attempt to refocus the subject on a number of significant phenomena which have already arrived and which have already changed the nature of what ‘media’ studies, if taken seriously and done properly, must be looking at. So the argument is basically ‘let’s acknowledge these significant changes, rather than ignoring them’ – which sounds like the basis for a pretty lame debate, because who on earth would be on the side of ‘yes, let’s ignore them!’? Well, as I have found, the answer to that is quite a lot of people. (Gauntlett, Media Studies 2.0, and Other Battles around the Future of Media Research, 2011)
Things have probably settled down a bit since then. Media studies has largely accepted that the internet is central to everything – although it has mixed feelings about that, and quite often seems nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ of elite media. Should this brief manifesto for a ‘Media Studies 2.0’ ever have been controversial? See what you think.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE (2007)
In a recent interview about the newly popular concept of ‘Web 2.0’, following a spate of mainstream media coverage of Second Life, Wikipedia, and other collaborative creative phenomena in autumn 2006, I found myself mentioning a possible parallel in a ‘Media Studies 2.0’. Although I would not like to be introducing a new bit of pointless jargon, the idea seemed like it might have some value – for highlighting a forward-looking slant which builds on what we have already (in the same way that the idea of ‘Web 2.0’ is useful, even though it does not describe any kind of sequel to the Web, but rather just an attitude towards it, and which in fact was precisely what the Web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, intended for it in the first place).
In this article, I thought it might be worth fleshing out what Media Studies 2.0 means, in contrast to the still-popular traditional model.
Outline of Media Studies 1.0
This traditional approach to Media Studies, which is still dominant in a lot (but not all) of school and university teaching, and textbooks, is characterised by:
→ A tendency to fetishise ‘experts’, whose readings of popular culture are seen as more significant than those of other audience members (with corresponding faith in fake-expert non-procedures such as semiotics);
→ A tendency to celebrate certain key texts produced by powerful media industries and supported by well-known critics;
→ The optional extra of giving attention to famous ‘avant garde’ works produced by artists recognised in the traditional sense, and which are seen as especially ‘challenging’;
→ A belief that students should be taught how to ‘read’ the media in an appropriate ‘critical’ style;
→ A focus on traditional media produced by major Western broadcasters, publishers, and movie studios, accompanied (ironically) by a critical resistance to big media institutions, such as Rupert Murdoch’s News International, but no particular idea about what the alternatives might be;
→ Vague recognition of the internet and new digital media, as an ‘add on’ to the traditional media (to be dealt with in one self-contained segment tacked on to a Media Studies teaching module, book or degree);
→ A preference for conventional research methods where most people are treated as non-expert audience ‘receivers’, or, if they are part of the formal media industries, as expert ‘producers’.
Outline of Media Studies 2.0
This emergent alternative to the traditional approach is characterised by a rejection of much of the above:
→ The fetishisation of ‘expert’ readings of media texts is replaced with a focus on the everyday meanings produced by the diverse array of audience members, accompanied by an interest in new qualitative research techniques;
→ The tendency to celebrate certain ‘classic’ conventional and/or ‘avant garde’ texts, and the focus on traditional media in general, is replaced with – or at least joined by – an interest in the massive ‘long tail’ of independent media projects such as those found on YouTube and many other websites, mobile devices, and other forms of DIY media;
→ The focus on primarily Western media is replaced with an attempt to embrace the truly international dimensions of Media Studies – including a recognition not only of the processes of globalization, but also of the diverse perspectives on media and society being worked on around the world;
→ The view of the internet and new digital media as an ‘optional extra’ is correspondingly replaced with recognition that they have fundamentally changed the ways in which we engage with all media;
→ The patronising belief that students should be taught how to ‘read’ the media is replaced by the recognition that media audiences in general are already extremely capable interpreters of media content, with a critical eye and an understanding of contemporary media techniques, thanks in large part to the large amount of coverage of this in popular media itself;
→ Conventional research methods are replaced – or at least supplemented – by new methods which recognise and make use of people’s own creativity, and brush aside the outmoded notions of ‘receiver’ audiences and elite ‘producers’;
→ Conventional concerns with power and politics are reworked in recognition of these points, so that the notion of super-powerful media industries invading the minds of a relatively passive population is compelled to recognise and address the context of more widespread creation and participation.
Clearly, we do not want to throw away all previous perspectives and research; but we need to take the best of previous approaches and rework them to fit a changing environment, and develop new tools as well.
History and emergence of ‘Media Studies 2.0’
Media Studies 2.0 is not brand new and has been hinted at by a range of commentators, and connects with a range of phenomena that have been happening for some time. The above attempt to specify ‘Media Studies 1.0’ and ‘2.0’ is merely an attempt to clarify this shift. Its emergence was suggested, for instance, by comments I made in the introductions to the two different editions of Web Studies, back in 2000 and 2004. In the first edition, under the heading ‘Media studies was nearly dead: Long live new media studies’, I said:
‘By the end of the twentieth century, Media Studies research within developed Western societies had entered a middle-aged, stodgy period and wasn’t really sure what it could say about things any more. Thank goodness the Web came along.’ (Gauntlett, 2000: 3).
I argued that Media Studies had become characterised by contrived ‘readings’ of media texts, an inability to identify the real impact of the media, and a black hole left by the failure of vacuous US-style ‘communications science’ quantitative research, plus an absence of much imaginative qualitative research. In particular, I said, media studies was looking weak and rather pointless in the face of media producers and stars, including media-savvy politicians, who were already so knowing about media and communications that academic critics were looking increasingly redundant. I concluded:
‘Media studies, then, needed something interesting to do, and fast. Happily, new media is vibrant, exploding and developing… New good ideas and new bad ideas appear every week, and we don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Even better, academics and students can participate in the new media explosion, not just watch from the sidelines – and we can argue that they have a responsibility to do so. So it’s an exciting time again.’ (Gauntlett, 2000: 4).
In the 2004 edition I reviewed these earlier arguments and noted that:
‘Most of these things are still true: you wouldn’t expect old-school media studies to reinvent itself within three years. But the arrival of new media within the mainstream has had an impact, bringing vitality and creativity to the whole area, as well as whole new areas for exploration (especially around the idea of ‘interactivity’). In particular, the fact that it is quite easy for media students to be reasonably slick media producers in the online environment, means that we are all more actively engaged with questions of creation, distribution and audience.’ (Gauntlett, 2004: 4–5).
Soon after that book was published, the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ was coined by Tim O’Reilly. ‘Web 2.0’ is, as mentioned above, not a replacement for the Web that we know and love, but rather a way of using existing systems in a ‘new’ way: to bring people together creatively. O’Reilly has described it as ‘harnessing collective intelligence’. The spirit of ‘Web 2.0’ is that individuals should open themselves to collaborative projects instead of seeking to make and protect their ‘own’ material. The ‘ultimate’ example at the moment is perhaps Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia created collectively by its millions of visitors. (Other examples include craigslist, del.icio.us, and Flickr).
The notion of ‘Web 2.0’ inspired me to write the above sections defining Media Studies 1.0 and 2.0. Soon afterwards, I checked Google to see if anyone else had tacked ‘2.0’ onto ‘Media Studies’ to create the same phrase. This revealed an excellent blog produced by William Merrin, a lecturer in Media Studies at University of Wales, Swansea, called ‘Media Studies 2.0’ and started in November 2006 (http://mediastudies2point0.blogspot.com). The blog mostly contains useful posts about new media developments. The first post on the blog, however, makes an excellent argument that Media Studies lecturers need to catch up with their students in the digital world.
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In 2007, I added this ‘update’ note:
A couple of critics have said that the Media Studies 2.0 model that I proposed above is primarily concerned with ‘audience and reception studies’. But my argument is precisely that the whole idea of media ‘reception’ is rapidly collapsing around our ears (and was always rather patronising). If I was not able to make this clear, I suggest this excellent article: Blogging and the Emerging Media Ecosystem by John Naughton (2006). Naughton shows that, even if you are not interested in media audiences / users / participants (or whatever you want to call them), the changing nature of engagement with media – where more and more people can and do make their own – forces the whole system to adapt. So some changes on the audience/user side of things (people making their own stuff as well as consuming material made by traditional media companies, and other individuals) leads to a change in the whole ‘ecosystem’.
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In 2011, I added this ‘new introduction’, placed at the top of the original article:
I haven’t really felt the need to update this article in the past four years, as it still seems straightforward and speaks for itself.
In particular, I haven’t seen any criticisms of ‘Media Studies 2.0’ which don’t accidentally destroy themselves upon the blunt sword of their own arrogance and complacency.
For example, I have seen it said that traditional ‘Media Studies’ and ‘Cultural Studies’ developed a wonderful set of tools, over 50 years, for understanding the media, and that therefore we should just stick with those, not throw them away! This view can be made to sound wise and sensible. Unfortunately, it is lazy and disingenuous nonsense.
Those tools, such as they were, were designed to address an entirely different landscape based on a simple model of broadcasters/publishers and consumers. They just don’t work any more. (Okay, to be fair, they work if all you want to do is produce yet another ‘analysis’ of a film or television programme, or if you want to consider how the industry worked 30 years ago. And the old version of ‘Media Studies’ is bound to be attractive to the kind of person who wants to shore up their own ‘expertise’ – although they sit, proud and pompous, on a castle made of sand).
I have also seen it said that ‘Media Studies 2.0’ as a theory is ‘hollow and empty’. That’s because it’s not a theory as such, it’s a way of approaching the subject – although it highlights one set of theoretical tools which are going to be much more useful than the old set.
The critics of ‘Media Studies 2.0’ seem happy to dismiss or disregard the rise of everyday creativity online, presumably because they are more comfortable with the old models of communication, where media producers were always powerful institutions and so you could wheel out tried-and-tested critical discussions of power. It was easy to demonstrate your progressive credentials in the old days – but that’s not a good reason for wanting to pretend that nothing has changed. Is it really progressive to cling on to a model which remains true in some cases and is useless in others – and to want to ignore the creativity of previously marginalised people and groups?
Obviously, it was both fun and important to show how those big media barons are evil. And sure, they still are, and are probably getting worse. But if ‘Media Studies’ is a discipline which can only talk about that, and patronising ideas of ‘media literacy’ and things like the boring fruitless notion of ‘genre’, then, I’m sorry, but what’s the point?
Media Studies should not simply sing in praise of particular kinds of technology, any more than it should always be gratuitously critical of everything it sees. That’s why we need an intelligent and sophisticated Media Studies which helps us to properly and critically understand the media of today. But you don’t get that by clinging onto the old models, especially when the very thing you’re looking at is changing so much.
For those who say that ‘Media Studies 2.0’ is little more than a slogan or a couple of blog posts, I would say that – being an orientation to the subject, rather than a single theory – you can find it rich in detail, complex and critical, in a number of books which have started to appear about the relationships between online media, other media, creativity, and everyday life.
My own contribution, in the book Making is Connecting, seeks to link everyday creativity, both online and offline, with a number of critical theories and political themes. It’s not meant to be ‘the book of Media Studies 2.0’, but it is hopefully one way of showing how this orientation is both critical and relevant today.
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In 2011, I also added these updates at the end of the piece:
Perhaps I should clarify that I did not intend to suggest, in this article, that Media Studies teachers and lecturers had absolutely nothing to teach their students. What I was objecting to was the idea of Media Studies teachers as the bearers of God-like insight and wisdom, which had to be transferred into the otherwise empty minds of students so that they could see the world ‘correctly’.
Of course there is a substantial body of theoretical ideas which students benefit from engaging with and perhaps arguing with, and also there is a lot of factual stuff to be understood, about how technologies and businesses work, for instance, without which it is difficult to engage fully and critically with the subject. And then there are lots of things you can learn, for example, about television’s storytelling techniques – such as the ways in which news programmes construct a story to highlight some elements and leave other issues invisible – which are worthwhile in themselves, and also tend to be applicable to the online world. It’s vital to understand, say, how Google works, both in its visible operations and in more ‘back end’ terms, and how organisations of that kind make their money. And, of course, there are many other issues, topics, and critical perspectives. Students are not born with knowledge and understanding of this information and these approaches, so there is much for teachers and lecturers to do in supporting and facilitating their learning and exploration of these issues and ideas.
Sometimes, too, I think the enthusiasm for getting Media Studies teachers and lecturers to try to match the online behaviour of their students can go a bit too far. David Buckingham has made fun of William Merrin’s argument by suggesting that it is all about ‘pimping up your Facebook profile and getting down with the kids’ (spoken comment in discussion at the Media Education Manifesto Symposium, London, 10 June 2011). This is unfair, because Merrin’s arguments overall are much more sophisticated and nuanced. But I accept that proponents of ‘Media Studies 2.0’ should avoid giving opportunities to be misunderstood in this way – even though our opponents almost always seem to take bits of argument out of context, and then both exaggerate and deliberately misunderstand them.
Another mode of attack has been to criticise the argument by picking on things we didn’t actually say, and then mushing it together to create the impression of a coherent criticism. For instance, part of Buckingham’s critique of Media Studies 2.0 involves decrying the notion of ‘digital natives’ – the argument propagated by Don Tapscott and Marc Prensky, amongst others, that the younger generation have abilities unknown to older adults, and can multitask in a way which seems to suggest that they represent a whole new stage of human evolution. Now personally, I find that argument simplistic, unhelpful, and rather nauseating. The abilities of individual human beings vary considerably, and it is true that the experience of those who have grown up with digital technologies pervading their everyday lives is different, in some respects, from the experience of people born before that could be the case, or those who have had different experiences. But the idea that they are like a new breed of superpeople is absurd, and does not help us with understanding anything except on a very simplistic level of what kinds of media people are possibly more likely to feel more comfortable with.
Another odd response appeared in the journal Media, Culture and Society, where Everitt & Mills (2009) managed to spend a whole article discussing the meaning of the ‘2.0’ suffix, and laid out a rather humourless set of reasons why you might not want to throw away ‘Media Studies’ in favour of ‘Media Studies 2.0’ just because it sounds shiny and new. This was diverting but rather pointless, as the term was always deployed with some irony anyway – and with some caution: as you have seen above, the second sentence of the original article says ‘Although I would not like to be introducing a new bit of pointless jargon, the idea seemed like it might have some value – for highlighting a forward-looking slant which builds on what we have already’. So it’s not like we wanted to block out all previous work and then launch ‘Media Studies 2.0’ as an entirely fresh enterprise. At the same time, this ‘2.0’ was intended to quite carefully mirror the ‘2.0’ development of the Web – in other words, not a replacement for what has gone before, as such, but a valuable and challenging new extension built around collaboration and creativity by everyday users.