This introductory chapter outlines the recent evolution of audience research, focusing on the ways in which the field has addressed the theoretical, economic, cultural, and technological currents of the moment. I argue that audience studies has not only survived the backlash against its populist tendencies in the late eighties to mid-nineties, but it has also thrived and expanded to include a range of audiences, media genres, modes of audience engagement, and institutional and international sites of reception. This chapter explains the volume's contributions, its organizational structure, and the intellectual and empirical terrain of audience studies that the book's remaining chapters cover.
A group of women friends presenting papers at the International Communication Association's May 2011 conference in Boston decide to go to lunch. I am one of the fortunate members of this group. We sit down in a restaurant, and soon after we order our food, the sound of several conversations and of loud laughter begins to fill the space in between and around us. I mention that I had just seen the film Bridesmaids at home in Bloomington, Indiana, with a friend. The whole group is now listening to my reactions to the film, and, in a matter of minutes, others jump in to offer their own critiques of the film's take on weddings, girlfriends, romance, divorce, loyalty, beauty and ...