Teaching & Learning Guide for: Social Psychology and Media: Critical Consideration

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  • Teaching & Learning Guide for: Social Psychologyand Media: Critical Consideration

    Darrin Hodgetts1 and Kerry Chamberlain21 University of Waikato2 Massey University

    This guide accompanies the following article: Darrin Hodgetts and Kerry Chamberlain, Social Psychology and Media: Critical Con-

    sideration, Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2 (2008): 11091125, doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00102.x

    Authors Introduction

    We wrote this paper because we felt there was a need for a more critical examination ofthe ways that media were considered within social psychology. The article was written toprovide an overview of social psychological research on media and to propose new linesof enquiry, particularly into the social practices within which media technologies areembedded. In particular our arguments focus on the ways in which media permeate sociallife and relationships, and why we should give more attention to the study of mediawithin the practices of everyday living. Media are pervasive in society today. Media arefoundational to the symbolic landscape within which people make sense of the world andtheir place in it. Media also comprise material objects, such as televisions and computersthat dominate many domestic realms, as well as more portable devices, such as mobilephones and MP3 players that people take with them when moving through everyday life.Human relations with and through media are complex and evolving, and provide a corefocus for social psychology. In the living room of any modern home there are likely tobe comfortable chairs, family memorabilia and a range of media technologies rangingfrom telephones, radios, books and magazines to a television, a DVD player, a digitalrecorder, iPod, and perhaps a networked computer. These devices are often mobile, andcan be moved or relocated around the house, shifting from communal to more personaldevices as family members seek privacy to consume their media products or react to dif-ferent tastes in movie, musical or gaming content. Such practices open up a range ofsocial psychological issues regarding human relations, identity, time and space. The pres-ence of media devices in daily life has invoked concerns about the possible negativeeffects of exposure to media violence and broader issues around reduced civic participa-tion, as well as more positively focused issues such as the use of media to build and main-tain social ties.

    Many social psychologists have been preoccupied with issues of media effects, oftenviewed as negative, sometimes as pro-social. Others have worked to generate understand-ings of peoples use of media in everyday life. This reveals a tension in the discipline aroundwhat the media does to individuals, and what people do with media. The emphasis in thisteaching resource is on considering relationships and social practices surrounding media usein everyday life. This is not to deny that media use may have negative consequences in someinstances. Rather, we want to temper the dominance of the traditional focus in psychologyon negative media effects with a perspective that involves a broader consideration of social

    Social and Personality Psychology Compass 3/5 (2009): 842849, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00199.x

    2009 The AuthorsJournal Compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

  • practices associated with media use in daily life. We consider some of the ways in whichpeople engage with media and each other using communication technologies, and therebypromote a social psychology of media that attends to media-based practices as and wherethey occur.

    Author Recommends

    We have recommended readings from media and communications as well as from socialpsychology for this teaching resource, because a great deal of good theory and researchrelevant for social psychology is being conducted in the media and communications fieldas well as within social psychology.

    1. Silverstone, R. (1999). Why Study the Media? Sage: London.

    This book provides an accessible introduction to why it is important to study the media.Emphasis is placed on exploring the pervasive nature of media in everyday life and howmedia can captivate our attention in a variety of ways, as well as go virtually unnoticed.In emphasising the importance of media in this regard, Silverstone points to the need toavoid media-centricity asserting media as an overdetermining influence on our under-standings of social life and practices. Social psychologists need to consider how people usemedia to maintain interpersonal relations and to cope with tragic life events. Socialpsychologists also need to consider how powerful interests in society can also use mediain an attempt to distract the public from the harsh political realities and social injustices.

    2. Giles, D. (2003). Media Psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This book provides an extensive engagement with the field of media psychology, issuesaround defining media and the extension of social psychological theories through mediaresearch. Giles opens up a space for beginning to consider how media are increasinglyinterlinked, and how content developed for television, newspapers, radio and magazinesare increasingly mobilised for digital devices and computer networks. We can now watchour favourite soaps on the move and in fact re-edit television programmes for our ownamusement. The concept of media convergence denotes the processes by which variousmedia forms, such as computers, can now screen television programmes and films andcan be used to download music. One can also read comic books online and downloadtexts onto a mobile phone. Convergence also relates to media cross-fertilisation whereby acomic book character such as the hulk now appears in a movie, video game and hisgrowl can be used as the ring tone on ones mobile phone.

    3. Couldry, N. (2004). Theorising media as practice. Social Semiotics, 14, 115132.

    In recent years, media research has begun to build on the theoretical work of Nick Coul-dry and other media theorists to consider media as social practice. This involves a focuson how people integrate media technologies into their daily lives, rather than approach-ing media simply as an external influence. This turns attention to what is happening inpublic places and domestic settings as people engage in a range of social activities andrelationships involving media technologies. Couldry notes that media does not simplyenter everyday life, our homes, workplaces and social environments, but are created there.The meaning and role of the television set in the corner depends on what we do with itand the practices and relationships with which we surround it.

    Social and Personality Psychology Compass: Teaching & Learning Guide 843

    2009 The Authors Social and Personality Psychology Compass 3/5 (2009): 842849, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00199.xJournal Compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

  • 4. Garca-Montes, J., Caballero-Munoz, D., & Perez-Alvarez, M. (2006). Changes in theself resulting from the use of mobile phones. Media, Culture & Society, 28, 6782.

    Garca-Montes, Caballero-Munoz and Perez-Alvarez provide an example of social psy-chological research into media practices surrounding the use of mobile phones. The useof these mobile communication devices has contributed to dissolving the separationbetween public and private spaces (receiving personal calls at work, or work calls duringdinner in a restaurant). The use of phones requires users to negotiate the intersection orfusion of these spaces skilfully and also demands new forms of identity work. The mobilephone has consequences for how we live in time as well as space, and these researcherssuggest that this technology has consequences for how we construct selves, with mobilephone use causing fragmentation (loss of the past as a context for current behaviour) andirresponsibility (loss of the future as a consequence for actions).

    5. Livingstone, S. (2007). On the material and the symbolic: Silverstones double articula-tion of research traditions in new media studies. New Media & Society, 9, 1624.

    Media devices are seldom used in isolation. Livingstone provides a useful overview ofyouth engagements with a range of media in domestic settings. These media range fromlandline and mobile phones, games, DVDs, to networked computers and social network-ing sights such as Facebook and Bebo. This article illustrates how media forms are notseparable from one another, how these can saturate daily living and how media practicesproduce complex influences within everyday life. Livingstone shows the variety of socialuses of media forms within domestic spaces watching a DVD together or cohabitatingin silence while plugged into iPods, and so on. A core issue is that media retexturedomestic worlds to render spaces as simultaneously public and private, individual andshared. The complex use of media in domestic spaces should be of central interest tosocial psychologists because they provide insights into everyday environments and thesocial relations of everyday living.

    6. Silverstone, R. (2007) Media and Morality: On the Rise of the Mediapolis. Polity: Cam-bridge.

    This book explores how media provides shared spaces for engaging in collective practicesthrough which identities can be nurtured and developed, belonging and participation canbe fostered, supportive networks can be maintained and a sense of trust and belongingcan be cultivated. Issues of symbolic power and whose versions of reality come to shapepublic discourse through media technologies are central to the book. Silverstone intro-duces the concept of the mediapolis to explain the presence of media in public life today.This involves an extension of the ancient Greek polis, the shared civic space where politi-cal communication occurred. The mediapolis extends this to the shared spaces providedby media technologies today.

    7. Hodgetts, D., Stolte, O., Chamberlain, K., Radley, A., Nikora, L., Nabalarua, E., &Groot, S. (2008). A trip to the library: Homelessness and social inclusion. Social and Cul-tural Geography, 9, 933953.

    Continuing with the themes of civic engagement, the mediapolis, and the function of mediain texturing physical space, Hodgetts and colleagues provide an example of how psycholo-gists worked with journalists to ensure equitable access to public spaces for homeless people.This study explores a case involving negative news media representations of homeless men

    844 Social and Personality Psychology Compass: Teaching & Learning Guide

    2009 The Authors Social and Personality Psychology Compass 3/5 (2009): 842849, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00199.xJournal Compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

  • as a threat to others in a public library. The researchers worked directly with a journalist,providing access to alternative sources of information (the directors of major service agenciesand homeless men), and on framing a feature article to provide a more positive view of theissue. This article discusses the capacity of news media journalists to pause and reflect on theways in which events have been covered and people characterised, and to work differently,to provide a more civic-oriented journalism.

    Online Materials

    1. Media Advocacy

    Any social psychology of the media needs to consider how research be used to promotepublic good. There are several web resources useful in this regard. Adbusters (http://www.adbusters.org) is a global network of media advocates who promote media educa-tion through the dissemination of satirical works designed to deconstruct and bring intoquestion the norms of consumer and advertising culture. Further resources for informa-tion on media advocacy and useful resources include:

    http://www.marininstitute.org/action_packs/media_advocacy.htm andhttp://www.who.int/tobacco/policy/media_advocacy/en/

    2. Media Psychology (Division 46 of the American Psychological Association)

    This APA division, founded in 1985, collects together psychologists with an interest inmedia. It encompasses a diverse array of activity, including translating psychologicalresearch into assessable materials for public consumption, consulting with media producerson the production of educational materials (e.g. childrens TV), hosting TV and radioshows, developing new communication technology and researching the effects of mediaon vulnerable members of society. Students may like to visit the divisions website:http://www.apa.org/divisions/div46, and explore the range of work being done by divi-sion members working with the media.

    3. PEW Internet Project

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project is one of seven projects in the PewResearch Center (http://www.pewinternet.org/About-Us/About-the-Pew-Research-Center.aspx). This centre is a non-partisan fact tank that seeks to provide informationon issues, attitudes and trends shaping the United States of America and the world. Itconducts public opinion polling and social science research, reports and analyses newscoverage, and holds forums and briefings on a range of topics, but avoids taking positionson policy issues. Their reports, presentations and data sets, dating back to 2000, are allavailable for free. The Pew Internet Project investigates the social impact of the internet(see http://www.pewinternet.org) and contains a number of media reports about youthand media use. These materials are discussed next in terms of a sample syllabus for teach-ing the social psychology of the media.

    Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, VideoGames, and Civics. Washington, DC: PEW Internet & American Life Project. Available at:http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Teens-Video-Games-and-Civics.aspx

    Social and Personality Psychology Compass: Teaching & Learning Guide 845

    2009 The Authors Social and Personality Psychology Compass 3/5 (2009): 842849, 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00199.xJournal Compilation 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

  • Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Macgill, A., & Smith, A. (2007). Teens and Social Media.Washington, DC: PEW Internet & American Life Project. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Teens-and-Social-Media.aspx

    Sample Syllabus

    The article, along with the associated resources, is proposed for use as the basis for oneor two lectures within an undergraduate course in social psychology, but could also beused as the basis for lectures and tutorials in courses on cultural or health psychology,providing a means to involve media in those areas. Rather than propose a whole socialpsychology syllabus, we suggest several lecture topics that could be developed around thisreading and associated resources.

    A Possible Lecture

    The reading can be used as a basic structure for a lecture making key points as follows:

    media are pervasive, complex and varied the focus on media effects in social psychology is important but needs to be re-

    conceptualised the limitations of existing approaches to media research in social psychology loosing (and regaining) the social context towards a...