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Television studies: Creating a critical discourse

Hartley, John (1990) Television studies: Creating a critical discourse. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The point of departure for this thesis is the approach to television studies first developed in Reading Television (co-authored with John Fiske), and Understanding News, two books which were estab­lishing the. study of television from a cultural and textual perspective. Television was not an obvious or ready-made object of study when the work represented here began in the mid 1970s. Thus the first aim of the thesis is to contribute to the creation of a critical discourse by means of which it can be better understood.

The initial strategy is to take popular television seriously as a social and aesthetic medium, and to account for its meanings, textual forms and social significance within the general realms of popular culture and democratic politics. To this end it elaborates a flexible, interdisciplin­ary theoretical apparatus which can encompass television's formal/aesthetic (semiotic) properties as well as its social/political (cultural) signific­ance. Working from this basis it undertakes extensive textual analysis of a wide range of television programming from three continents. In addition, it mounts arguments of a more polemical nature to justify the study of the medium, especially in opposition to the climate of negative evaluation which still attaches to television both within and beyond the academy.

The thesis responds to changes over time and contributes to develop­ments in the fast-growing fields of Cultural and Communication Studies. In particular, it evolves a more complex critical stance, moving beyond the formalism of early semiotics. It shows that cultural and historical dimensions required for the analysis of television texts, setting them into a discursive and social context, .and takin account of the relations that are or might be established between TV institutions and popular audiences in various contexts.

Attention to the question of how audiences are known and constituted results in an argument that television audiences are themselves produced and circulated discursively. (Industrial, political and critical institu­tions all create differing images of the audience which then play a major part in shaping the organisation and content of television programming).

The thesis includes not only research and analysis but also repres­ents an innovative strategy for teaching and writing about both television and the theoretical apparatus upon which its study is founded. Thus, it is an attempt to popularise critical approaches to television, remaining in touch with theoretical developments and yet able to address non-specialist and non-academic communities. Television criticism, it is argued, can intervene in public debate about media policy, stimulate critical audiences, and thus inform both media and audience practices.

The thesis is organised into two parts: Television Theory and Television and Australian Culture. The publications upon which it is based span more than a decade (1978-90), during which time they have played a significant and original role in establishing both television theory and the study of television and popular culture worldwide.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hawkes, Terence and Hodge, Bob
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