Meenakshi Gigi Durham
Because media audiences are changing as technologies and populations change, ethnographic approaches offer nuanced and versatile ways of understanding the complex interactions between people and media. Although a quarter-century ago cultural theorists like Richard Johnson and Stuart Hall drew attention to the linkages among production, texts, and audiences, a great deal of research – especially student research – tends to center on texts. But texts are meaningless until they are interpreted by audiences; and, increasingly, audiences are producing texts for mediated distribution, which adds a new twist to our conceptualization of “the audience.” In this chapter I address the crucial issues that are to be raised in teaching audience research to graduate students – from access to ethics and power in the field, to data collection, to writing media ethnographies – and I discuss how these issues play out in the classroom and in supervised research contexts. I also tackle the problems of negotiating institutional support for long-term ethnographic work. All this material is illustrated through examples of ethnographic fieldwork conducted by graduate students, and I focus particularly on studies that raise sensitive methodological and theoretical questions.
Audience research is not for the faint of heart. The study of media audiences calls for energy, courage, determination, patience, flexibility, ...