Media, Society, Power and Politics of Representation

Academic Paper, 2021

32 Pages




1. Media and Society
A. The Mass Society
B. Marxism and Political Economy of Media
C. Functionalism and Dysfunctions
D. Social Constructionism
E. Communication Technology Determinism
F. The Information Society
2. Media and Power
3. Media and Politics of Representation




The relation between the two (media and society) is very interesting and complex in its nature. As society is dynamic and heterogynous, And as well media technology is non sleeping and pluralistic, it needs always research to understand the relationship between the two. Thus no theory solely can describe the relation between media and society. The available evidences shows the connection between media and society are contextual across time and place and heterogeneous across societies and media type. The following six perspectives summarizes the nexus between media and society. Firstly, Media created the notion of mass society; Secondly, As critical school thought based on Marxist view media are capitalist controlled for suppressing the poor. Thirdly , Media are functioning or dysfunction institution of society. Fourthly, media is a social conscience which constructs reality. Fifthly, media technology effects change in society. Lastly, media transformed the human history to the new stage called Information society. In a true pluralist environment media has power to serve as a public sphere to control powerful groups, The problem is media could be dominated by other powerful groups and may serve as suppression tool. M edia fail to represent all cultures, cultural groups and individuals from the processes and the contents of media production, if it is dominated by the oppressors. This marginalization is continuing in the new media (virtual world) too. Thus, The media and society relations always needs research and critical understanding as their power functions and dysfunctions societies across time and geography ,as a societal phenomenon are very dynamic.


John Dewey in Democracy and Education, 1916 - Society not only continues to exist by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly be said to exist in transmission, in communication.” This shows how much communication/ media is so crucial phenomena in the human (society) survival.

(Poepsel, 2018) Communication systems can be used as weapons. The evolution of mass communication tools is the story of increased capacity to do the same good and evil things people have always done in societies and between them. Looking beyond technological utopianism the idea that new technologies (particularly ICTs) will lead to greater social understanding and better conditions for the global population we are left with a tedious but massively meaningful project. We must find ways to coexist with other societies even as we are constantly aware of our differences and of possible threats that may have existed before but now are much easier to see.

In understanding Media and society the most important part should be discussed is - Power! what role the media play in power and what role the powers play on media are interesting and another complicated issue in Human world. Final issue discussed in this thesis is The politics of representation in media industry and content. Mostly the society segments/groups like race, gender, age, class, etc are portrayed and included in the production and dissemination of meaning in the media industry.

(McQuail, 2010) depicted four basic themes in connecting media and society. These are 1. Power role and Inequality 2. Social integration and identity 3. Causing social change and development 4. Bridging space and time. But this roles are not always and universally positive or negative phenomenon culture variations determines the theoretical and practical nature of media role. for example critical and post modernists may be critical of media power role and positivists may have pro power assumptions. This four themes provides a comprehensive lens to discuss the relationship between media and society, power and representation.


1. Media and Society

Understanding the nexus between media and society is very complex, Media is very dynamic and media technology is with non sleeping trend; society is vast and components of society and their needs ever growing and very dynamic. To begin to understand the mass media and their role in society and how they shape culture and are shaped by cultural preferences, it helps to think about how the mass media may influence you. So, understanding media and society nexus demands understanding individual to the global society relationships with media technologies.

According to Denis (McQuail, 2010), mass communication can be considered as both a ‘societal’ and a ‘cultural’ phenomenon. The mass media institution is part of the structure of society, and its technological infrastructure is part of the economic and power base, while the ideas, images and information disseminated by the media are evidently an important aspect of our culture .

In discussing this problem, Rosengren (1981) offered a simple typology which cross-tabulates two opposed propositions: ‘social structure influences culture’; and its reverse, ‘culture influences social structure’. This yields four main options that are available for describing the relation between mass media and society.

If we consider mass media as an aspect of society (base or structure), then the option of materialism is presented. There is a considerable body of theory that views culture as dependent on the economic and power structure of a society. It is assumed that whoever owns or controls the media can choose, or set limits to, what they do. This is the essence of the Marxist position. If we consider the media primarily in the light of their contents (thus more as culture), then the option of idealism is indicated. P.80

The media are assumed to have potential for significant influence, but it is the particular ideas and values conveyed by the media (in their content) which are seen as the primary causes of social change, irrespective of who owns and controls. The influence is thought to work through individual motivations and actions. This view leads to a strong belief in various potential media effects for good or ill. Examples include the promotion by the media of peace and international understanding (or having the opposite effect), of pro- or anti social values and behavior, and of enlightenment or the secularization and modernization of traditional societies. A form of idealism or ‘mentalism’ concerning media also lies behind the view that changes in media forms and technology can change our way of gaining experience in essential ways and even our relations with others (as in the theories of McLuhan 1962, 1964).

The two options remaining – of interdependence and of autonomy – have found less distinctive theoretical development, although there is a good deal of support in common sense and in evidence for both. Interdependence implies that mass media and society are continually interacting and influencing each other (as are society and culture). The media (as cultural industries) respond to the demand from society for information and entertainment and, at the same time, stimulate innovation and contribute to a changing social cultural climate, which sets off new demands for communication.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, writing about 1900, envisaged a constant interweaving of influences: ‘technological developments made newspapers possible, newspapers promote the formation of broader publics, and they, by broadening the loyalties of their members, create an extensive network of overlapping and shifting groupings’ (Clark, 1969). Today, the various influences are so bound together that neither mass communication nor modern society is conceivable without the other, and each is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for the other. From this point of view we have to conclude that the media may equally be considered to mould or to mirror society and social changes,P.81

These comments can be summed up in terms of the concept of mediation of contact with social reality. Mediation involves several different processes. As noted already, it refers to the relaying of second-hand (or third-party) versions of events and conditions which we cannot directly observe for ourselves. Secondly, it refers to the efforts of other actors and institutions in society to contact us for their own purposes (or our own supposed good). This applies to politicians and governments, advertisers, educators, experts and authorities of all kinds. It refers to the indirect way in which we form our perceptions of groups and cultures to which we do not belong. An essential element in mediation as defined here is the involvement of some technological device between our senses and things external to us. Mediation also implies some form of relationship. Relationships that are mediated through mass media are likely to be more distant, more impersonal and weaker than direct personal ties. The mass media do not monopolize the flow of information we receive, nor do they intervene in all our wider social relations, but their presence is inevitably very pervasive.

Early versions of the idea of ‘mediation of reality’ were inclined to assume a division between a public terrain in which a widely shared view of reality was constructed by way of mass media messages, and a personal sphere where individuals could communicate freely and directly. More recent developments of technology have undermined this simple division, since a much larger share of communication and thus of or contact with others and our environmental reality is mediated via technology (telephone, computer, fax, e-mail, etc.), although on an individual and a private basis. The implications of this change are still unclear and subject to diverse interpretations.P.83

Thompson (1993) has suggested a typology of interaction to clarify the consequences of the new communication technologies that have detached social interaction and symbolic exchange from the sharing of a common locale. He notes (1993: 35) that ‘it has become possible for more and more individuals to acquire information and symbolic content through mediated forms of interaction’. He distinguished two types of interaction alongside face-to-face interaction. One of these, which he calls ‘mediated interaction’, involves some technical medium such as paper, electrical wires, and so on, which enables information or symbolic content to be transmitted between individuals who are distant in space or time or both.

The partners to mediated interaction need to find contextual information as well having fewer ones than in face-to-face contact. The other type is called ‘mediated quasi-interaction’ and refers to relations established by the media of mass communication. There are two main distinguishing features. First, in this case, participants are not oriented towards other specific individuals (whether as sender or receiver), and symbolic forms (media content) are produced for an indefinite range of potential recipients. Secondly, mediated quasi-interaction is monological (rather than dialogical), in the sense that the flow of communication is one-way rather than two-way. There is also no direct or immediate response expected from the receiver. Thompson argues that the ‘media have created a new kind of public sphere which is despatialized and non-dialogical in character’ (1993: 42)

Some of these images are to be found in the media’s own self-definition – especially in the more positive implications of extending our view of the world, providing integration and continuity and connecting people with each other. Even the notion of filtering is often accepted in its positive sense of selecting and interpreting what would otherwise be an unmanageable and chaotic supply of information and impressions. These versions of the mediating process reflect differences of interpretation of the role of the media in social processes. In particular, the media can extend our view of the world in an open-ended way or they can limit or control our impressions. Secondly, they may choose between a neutral, passive role and one that is active and participant. They can vary on two main dimensions: one of openness versus control, another of neutrality versus being actively participant. The various images discussed do not refer to the truly interactive possibilities of newer media, in which the ‘receiver’ can become a ‘sender’ and make use of the media in interaction with the environment. However, it is now clear that new online media can fulfil most of the roles indicated as well as additional ones, as outlined in Chapter 6 (p. 139), with reference to Internet portals.

(McQuail, 2010)The general notion that mass communication interposes in some way between ‘reality’ and our perceptions and knowledge of it refers to a number of specific processes at different levels of analysis. The Westley and MacLean (1957) model indicates some of the additional elements needed for a more detailed frame of reference. Most significant is the idea that the media are sought out by institutional advocates as channels for reaching the general public (or chosen groups) and for conveying their chosen perspective on events and conditions. This is broadly true of competing politicians and governments, advertisers, religious leaders, some thinkers, writers and artists, and so on. We are reminded that experience has always been mediated by the institutions of society (including the family), and what has happened is that a new mediator (mass communication) has been added which can extend, compete with, replace or even run counter to the efforts of other social institutions.P.85

The simple picture of a ‘two-step’ (or multiple) process of mediated contact with reality is complicated by the fact that mass media are not completely free agents in relation to the rest of society. They are subject to formal and informal control by the very institutions (including their own) that have an interest in shaping public perceptions of reality. Their objectives do not necessarily coincide with the aim of relaying some objective ‘truth’ about reality. An abstract view of the ‘mediation of reality’, The media provide their audience with a supply of information, images, stories and impressions, sometimes according to anticipated needs, sometimes guided by their own purposes (e.g. gaining revenue or influence), and sometimes following the motives of other social institutions (e.g. advertising, making propaganda, projecting favourable images, sending information). Given this diversity of underlying motivation in the selection and flow of the ‘images of reality’, we can see that mediation is unlikely to be a purely neutral process. The ‘reality’ will always be to some extent selected and constructed and there will be certain consistent biases.

These will reflect especially the differential opportunities available for gaining media access and also the influence of ‘media logic’ in constituting reality represents the fact that experience is neither completely nor always mediated by the mass media. There are still certain direct channels of contact with social institutions (e.g. political parties, work organizations, churches). There is also some possibility of direct personal experience of some of the more distant events reported in media (e.g. crime, poverty, illness, war and conflict). The potentially diverse sources of information (including personal contact with others, and via the Internet) may not be completely independent from each other, but they provide some checks on the adequacy and reliability of ‘quasi-mediated interaction’. Figure 4.2 A frame of reference for theory formation about media and society: media interpose between personal experience and more distant events and social forces (based on Westley and MacLean, 1957).

In the upcoming section I am going to briefly discuss the media and society connectedness based on his (McQuail, 2010) propositions.

A. The Mass Society

This view of media and society is positivist view towards media and considers media can create a mass society. According to C. Wright Mills (1951: 333), ‘Between consciousness and existence stand communications, which influence such consciousness as men have of their existence.’ Mass society is, paradoxically, both ‘atomized’ and centrally controlled. The media are seen as significantly contributing to this control in societies characterized by largeness of scale, remoteness of institutions, isolation of individuals and lack of strong local or group integration. Mills (1951, 1956) also pointed to the decline of the genuine public of classic democratic theory and its replacement by shifting aggregates of people who cannot formulate or realize their own aims in political action. This regret has been echoed more recently by arguments about the decline of a ‘public sphere’ of democratic debate and politics, in which large-scale, commercialized mass media have been implicated (Dahlgren, 1995).

Although the expression ‘mass society’ is no longer much in vogue, the idea that we live in a mass society persists in a variety of loosely related components. These include a nostalgia (or hope) for a more ‘communitarian’ alternative to the present individualistic age as well as a critical attitude towards the supposed emptiness, loneliness, stress and consumerism of life in a contemporary free-market society. The seemingly widespread public indifference towards democratic politics and lack of participation in it are also often attributed to the cynical and manipulative use of mass media by politicians and parties. The actual abundance and diversity of many old and new forms of media seem, however, to undermine the validity of mass society theory in its portrayal of the media as one of the foundation stones of the mass society. In particular, the new electronic media have given rise to an optimistic vision of what society can become that runs counter to the central mass society thesis.

The media in human history witnessed creating a mass society and become a reason for mass culture and finally caused pop culture in the west part of the globe. Today pop culture is a reality in most of cultural nations even.

B. Marxism and Political Economy of Media

The central notion of this category is media is a suppression tool for ruling power in class antagonism. The question of power is central to Marxist interpretations of mass media (Murdock and Golding, 1977: 15). Marxist theory posits a direct link between economic ownership and the dissemination of messages that affirm the legitimacy and the value of a class society. These views are supported in modern times by evidence of tendencies to great concentration of media ownership by capitalist entrepreneurs (e.g. Bagdikian, 1988; McChesney, 2000) and by much correlative evidence of conservative tendencies in content of media so organized (e.g. Herman and Chomsky, 1988).

Gramsci’s (1971) concept of hegemony relates to this tendency. Marcuse (1964) interpreted the media, along with other elements of mass production systems, as engaged in ‘selling’ or imposing a whole social system which is at the same time both desirable and repressive. All in all, the message of Marxist theory is plain, but questions remain unanswered. How might the power of the media be countered or resisted? What is the position of forms of media that are not clearly in capitalist ownership or in the power of the state (such as independent newspapers or public broadcasting)? Critics of mass media in the Marxist tradition either rely on the weapon of exposure of propaganda and manipulation (e.g. Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Herman, 2000) or pin their hopes on some form of collective ownership or alternative media as a counter to the media power of the capitalist class.

The theories in this category proposes media and society relation: Economic control and logic are determinant, Media structure always tends towards monopoly, Global integration of media ownership develops, Contents and audiences are commodified, Real diversity decreases (concentration), Opposition and alternative voices are marginalized, Public interest in communication is subordinated to private interests, Access to the benefits of communication are unequally distributed.

C. Functionalism and Dysfunctions

A dual perspective on media Theorists of mass communication have often shared with sociologists an interest in how social order is maintained and in the attachment of people to various kinds of social unit. The media were early associated with the problems of rapid urbanization, social mobility and the decline of traditional communities. They have continued to be linked with social dislocation and a supposed increase in individual immorality, crime and disorder. A good deal of early media theory and research focused on questions of integration. For instance, Hanno Hardt (2003) has described the concerns of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century German theorists with the integrative role of the press in society.

The perceived social functions of the early press lay, Binding society together, Giving leadership to the public, Helping to establish the ‘public sphere’ Providing for the exchange of ideas between leaders and masses, Satisfying needs for information, Providing society with a mirror of itself, Acting as the conscience of society McQuail (2010).

Mass communication as a process has often been typified as predominantly individualistic, impersonal and isolating, and thus leading to lower levels of social solidarity and sense of community. Addiction to television has been linked to nonparticipation and declining ‘social capital’ in the sense of participating in social activities and having a sense of belonging (Putnam, 2000). The media have brought messages of what is new and fashionable in terms of goods, ideas, techniques and values from city to country and from the social top to the base. They have also portrayed alternative value systems, potentially weakening the hold of traditional values. An alternative view of the relation between mass media and social integration has also been in circulation, based on other features of mass communication. It has a capacity to unite scattered individuals within the same large audience, or to integrate newcomers into urban communities and immigrants into a new country by providing a common set of values, ideas and information and helping to form identities (Janowitz, 1952).


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Media, Society, Power and Politics of Representation
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media, society, power, politics, representation
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Mr. Abayneh Tilahun (Author), 2021, Media, Society, Power and Politics of Representation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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