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The Political Economy of Audiences

Daniel Biltereyst and Philippe Meers

… the audience remains a problem for media research, as indeed it must. It [is] a potentially crucial pivot for the understanding of a whole range of social and cultural processes that bear on the central questions of public communication.

Silverstone 1990, 173

Introduction

If there is one truism in media and communications research then it is the one about how people rely on the cultural industries for the images, words, and voices with which they interpret and interact with their social environment. The degree to which people depend upon or use products and technologies from those industries is probably the key question along which various research traditions and perspectives develop and compete. Research on the audience, the public, or whatever other instance referring to the receiver’s or user’s end, draws on what Sonia Livingstone (2005a, 17) has called, a “long and distinguished intellectual history” which has proved to be “creative, even provocative, in its analysis of processes of mediation, participation and influence.” Although political economy perspectives are often described as “holistic” in their approach, “seeing the economy as interrelated within political, social and cultural life” (Hesmondhalgh 2002, 33; Golding and Murdock 1991, 18), we seldom find references to these perspectives in mainstream overviews of audience research (though in some cases there are smaller references, such as the one ...

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