MEDIA RESEARCH METHODS
Although humans have been thinking about and theorizing about media since antiquity, we have only recently within the past century begun to systematically, even scientifically, study the media. We now consider everything from the media’s role in society to its psychological “effects” on those who consume it; from the content of the messages it disseminates to the ideologies underlying its production and consumption. In this course we will look at the past, present, and future of media research: what do researchers think worthy of study, and what methods do they use to study it? We’ll ask ourselves similar questions: What, in our mediated environment, deserves study? What can and should we study, and why should anybody care? How can we match our own intellectual and creative interests to particular research subjects and methodologies? What does “research” mean in this digital age, this era of ubiquitous information? What tools can we use to study the media, and what kinds of information and knowledge can those tools yield? How do we determine the credibility of a source or generate our own data? Furthermore, how can we use the media themselves in the study of various social or psychological phenomena? And, conversely, how can we use research to help guide our media production? Our consideration of these questions throughout the semester will prepare us to create a grant proposal for either a media studies research project or a research-based media production project.
Who cares about grants?
Well, I should hope that you do! If you ever intend to embark a research or production project of your own -- one that won't be funded by your employer or some other commercial backer -- then you'll need to find your own sources of funding, which typically come in the form of grants. Grants are funding packages that are awarded by foundations, the government, cultural institutions, universities, and various other entities, to individuals or organizations (or to individuals who apply through an organization, which serves as a "fiscal sponsor") for a specific purpose conducting research, covering image rights acquisition costs for a publication, starting up a new study center at a university, or making a documentary, for instance over a specific period of time. Academics need to find grants to fund research for their publications. Videographers need to find funding for their research, materials, and travel. Not-for-profits need to find grants to support their operating costs. In fact, some individuals' and organizations' viability is completely dependent on grants.
You have to apply for this funding, there's a right and a wrong way to do it, and the competition is almost always stiff. So, it's a good idea to learn how to locate potential funders, write the proposal properly, and budget your time appropriately to increase your chances for success. If you’re new to the field, you may not be ready to submit your proposal at the end of the semester you might want to wait until you have a bit more experience, or until you can put together a team of collaborators but you’ll at least have had some valuable practice in grant-seeking and writing.
Reading. You will be asked to secure your own copies of the following texts. You may purchase them from Barnes & Noble, but you are also free to find used copies online, or borrow them from a local library.
Please note that although each week’s reading list is rather lengthy, the list is composed of short excerpts from a variety of texts; the total number of pages you are asked to read each week is reasonable for a graduate class (i.e., typically no more than 100 pp./week). And remember to approach these texts as reference material, as how-to guides, as overviews of the field, as meta-texts on how to do research, rather than as original research or theoretical work.
The readings have been selected to provide a variety of “directions of approach” to the history and practice of research. Jensen's Handbook is aptly named: it is just that -- a handbook -- and you should approach it as such. Look to Jensen's book to provide a compact history of media research, a succinct discussion of various methodologies (including their historical contexts, their underlying assumptions, their strengths and weaknesses, the research questions they're best equipped to answer, etc.) and their applications in real-world research. While Jensen's book is particularly useful in presenting the social scientific side of media research, Rose focuses more on media research methods that are derived from the humanities and art history. She pulls many of her examples from art history and the contemporary art world -- but I challenge you to determine how her approaches apply equally as well to the media. When, for instance, she applies compositional analysis to a painting, think about how you would apply the same method in analyzing a photograph or an advertisement. When she looks at the history and political economy of the art museum and art gallery, think about how you might apply her method of analysis to a study of the media industry or the commercial or art house movie theater. Finally, Collier & Collier look at media research from a completely different angle: instead of addressing research on the media, they look at research through the media -- specifically, how we can use media as research tools. These books will be supplemented with excerpts that have been drawn from approximately 15 other texts and compiled into a course reader, available in the File Sharing section of our course's portal site.
Some of these readings may appeal to you, and some may not. At the very least, skim those readings that seem to repeat what you already know or what you’ve already read; they may add some new tool to your research toolbox. Read purposefully; make the texts work for you. Practice a mixture of "interpreting" and "using" these texts (see Jensen, pp. 167; or see Eco's criticism of Rorty here [search for "rorty"]).
Participation: 20%. I'm looking for a mixture of quality and quantity.
In lieu of a class meeting, we will be “meeting” albeit rarely, if ever, simultaneously on NSOU throughout the course session. Although there are no set meeting times, a new lesson will begin each Friday morning which means that you are to have completed each week’s reading and written assignments by each Thursday at midnight. Why begin the week on Friday? Because I know that many of you have full weekday schedules, and that you have more time to attend to your coursework on the weekends. So, by giving you the weekend to dig into each new lesson and submit your first post of the week, we’ll hopefully have sufficient time to foster a lively discussion throughout the week and we can avoid that Sunday night, last-minute posting flurry that plagues many online courses.
I ask that each of you post to our NSOU site a minimum of two substantial comments each week (i.e., before the Thursday midnight deadline). By “substantial,” I mean synthetic (i.e., in that it reflects an attempt on your part to think “collectively” about all the texts assigned for each session), critical, analytic, and reasonably lengthy (i.e., at least 150 words). Please read or, at the very least, skim all of the other posts, and, if you choose, respond to others’ comments in your post. All discussion threads will be frozen at the close of each lesson, which makes late posting impossible.
Finally, the fact that our discussion interface looks a lot like an email or instant messenger interface does not entitle you to treat it as you would an email message box or an IM text box. In other words, please use complete sentences, correct grammar and punctuation, transitions between sentences and paragraphs and, above all, critical reasoning. Failure to fulfill your posting requirement for more than one week will adversely affect your grade (by one letter grade for each missed week), and failure to post for three weeks may compromise your ability to pass the class.
All assignments in this course are designed to move you incrementally toward the final submission a complete grant proposal. Giving your full attention to each assignment, and then, when each is returned, taking my recommended revisions under consideration, will make your work at the end of the semester a whole lot easier. This is not to say that the final grant proposal is simply a compilation of previous work, however; i.e., you can’t simply paste together Parts 1 through 5 to constitute Part 6. You will need to prune each section, expand on points that require further development, and work on transitions between sections so that the proposal works as a coherent “argument” for your project.
Submit all assignments to me via email at MatternS@newschool.edu. I prefer to use Word's "track changes" function to insert my comments directly into the body of your text, so, if you’re using .pdfs or some other format that won’t allow me to insert comments, please also be sure to send the text of your document as a Word/WordPerfect/TextEdit file.
Part 1: Intellectual Autobiography: 10%. Before you commit yourself to a research project, it’s a good idea to reflect on what brought you here, to graduate school, in order to better understand how your personal history shaped the paradigms and perspectives that you bring to media studies. At the same time, it is important to project yourself into the future, to ask yourself where you want to be five, ten, twenty years from now. In a three- to five-page double-spaced paper, consider the following questions: What are your intellectual and creative histories, and how have those intertwined histories led you to grad school? What intellectual or creative models have most profoundly impacted your development? Think about favorite authors, media creators, teachers, classes, schools of thought, etc. What are your intellectual and creative interests within the field? What media-related questions and problems excite you? What do you want to study, what would you like to learn, to enable you to follow those intellectual and creative interests? What theories, learning models, and modes of presentation (written, auditory, visual, etc.) do you feel most comfortable with? What contribution intellectual, political, creative, etc. do you want to make to the field?
Keep in mind that this is not a personal autobiography that is, it is not intended to be a cathartic exercise, or to provide an opportunity for you to reflect on your emotional development, past relationships, or other similar personal life events. Rather, an intellectual autobiography is the history of your brain, of yourself as a thinking, creative being; as a student of media studies. Please include a complete bibliography (in either MLA or APA style) if appropriate.
These "research questions" needn't be something you would pursue in a scholarly research project, although they can be. You could also address these questions through a research-based production project, like a video documentary, an educational website or educational software, a radio program, a curriculum development project, or an after-school media literacy program.
Please use a style guide (either MLA or APA) and provide a complete bibliography. See "Citing Sources" from Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth's "Sources: Their Use and Acknowledgement." Your choice of the MLA (Modern Language Association), APA (American Psychological Association), or Chicago style guide depends on the standards in your field, how you see yourself (in the humanities or the social sciences), what community you want to be a part of, where you'd like to be published and what style guide they prefer, etc. I have not asked that you purchase a style guide for this course because, well, you should already have one. There are plenty online sources that provide basic citation information -- but the hard copies of these style guides provide editorial tips and other content that you'll want to have handy.
A real or virtual trip to the Foundation Center (for those of you in New York, stop by 79 Fifth Avenue, 212.620.4230; for those of you outside New York, visit their website and purchase a one-month membership for $9.95) will hopefully yield a list of potential funding sources. We'll tour the Center's website in our lesson on funding.
In addition, a review of periodicals listings and online databases (See the New School Library’s electronic resources particularly Communication Abstracts and Communication and Mass Media Complete in the Periodical Databases) will enable you to develop a list of publications that may be interested in disseminating your research results. Or, if you’re doing a production project, a review of media screening venues or dissemination channels will tell you how to get your work “out there.” The number of appropriate funders, publications, or distributors will vary between projects, but you should attempt to identify at least three potential funding sources and three publications/venues; provide a summary of the funders’/publications’/venues’ criteria, list their contact info, and make note of any other information that would come in handy should you choose to submit proposals to these entities in the future.
Let's say you intend to use interviews, content analysis, and surveys for your project. You could write up one page for each of these three, explaining their advantages and disadvantages for your project, and a fourth page explaining how the three work well together, with each compensating for the others' deficiencies. Or, you might use each of your four pages to try out four different combinations of methods. Or, in the case that a particular methodology is inappropriate or insufficient, you can use this exercise to explain why it's inappropriate or insufficient. Why couldn't an experiment allow you to answer the questions you want to answer? Why wouldn't a survey yield the kind of responses you need? Why couldn't a content analysis provide the data you hope to collect? You can have fun with the assignment (Conducting a scientific experiment to assess paranoid schizophrenics' reactions to intolerably loud heavy metal music? Uh, can you say "ethics violation"?), but please be aware that the humor and absurdity of an inappropriate method can be conveyed only if you demonstrate a thorough understanding of both the methodology and your research topic and the reasons for their incongruity.
By this time in the semester I will have organized you into groups. I'd like for you to submit this assignment to me and to your group members for their feedback. I'll provide more information about groups later in the semester. Please provide a brief (just a few sentences) synopsis of your proposed project up front so those who aren't familiar with what you're up to will get a sense of what you're trying to accomplish with your proposed methods.
Or, if you're using the course to prepare a proposal for a specific grant, and that funder requires a different format, you're free to adhere to that funder's guidelines -- as long as you send me, along with your proposal, an email or document briefly outlining what the funder requires.
I am always willing to speak with students about their work in the class and other academic matters. You’re welcome to visit me or, for those of you who are not in New York, make a “phone appointment” during my office hours, call me at my office number (be aware that I check my messages only during my office hours), or email me. But please use email judiciously! I say this because the volume of student email I receive has become unmanageable.
Consider the following:
Phew. Enough with that.
I imagine that most of you enrolled in this online class because of the flexibility it allows. You may of course log on, complete the readings, and submit the assignments at any time of the day or night. Yet in order to make sure that we’re progressing at a reasonable pace throughout the semester, and in order to allow yourself plenty of time to complete each of the assignments, and to give me plenty of time to evaluate those assignments, I have identified due dates for each reading and written assignment. On the schedule below, the dates associated with each week’s “unit” indicate the latest possible date by which you are to have read the assigned readings. Then, throughout the course of the week, we'll address those readings. I'll post weekly "lectures" and discussion prompts, and you'll need to visit the site at least two times during the week to (1) review the material I've posted and (2) participate in the discussion.
We'll begin the course with some historical context: we'll look at the history of media research to give you a sense of what topics have captured people's attention in the past, and what methods they've used in their research. Then we'll move on to more practical issues: helping you to identify your own interests and to begin the literature review and funding search that will build the foundation and define the boundaries of your project. And while you're figuring out what you want to investigate, we'll look at methods that may prove useful in that investigation. We'll begin with political economic analyses of the culture industries and historical research (which will introduce us to the use of archival sources), then move on to various critical approaches and the theories -- semiotics, rhetoric, discourse, genre, narrative, etc. -- that inform them. After that, we switch to methods that are commonly associated with the social sciences: qualitative methods including interviews, focus groups, case studies, and participant observation. Ethnography, which makes use of a variety of these methods, often involves the use of photography and video as research tools -- so, later in the course we turn our attention to research with or through the media. We close out the course by examining various quantitative methodologies, including surveys, content analysis, and experiments, and the statistics that inform quantitative data analysis. We've saved the quantitative methods until last not because they are any less important, less appropriate, or less frequently used than the critical approaches or qualitative methods -- but because these methods often require resources and skills that are beyond the scope of Masters-level work and would require that you seek resources outside the Department. Because you are much more likely to use the critical approaches and qualitative methods in your own projects (although you are not discouraged from using quantitative methods), I thought it best that we cover these methods earlier in the course, to give you plenty of time to work with them as you prepare your proposals.
WEEK OF JANUARY 26
What Is Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and in the Hybrid Fields of Communication and Media Studies?
Graham Murdock, “Media, Culture and Modern Times: Social Science Investigations” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 40-61.
Klaus Bruhn Jensen, “Media Effects: Quantitative Traditions” and “Media Reception : Qualitative Traditions” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 138-70.
These same methods are applied outside the academy, too:
Klaus Bruhn Jensen, “Sectors of Research” and "Politics Versus Policy" In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 281-285.
Buffy Shutt, “Research and the Movies” In Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 293-300.
Identifying Your Interests
Thomas R. Lindlof and Bryan C. Taylor, “Beginnings: Searching for a Research Idea,” “The Qualitative Research Process: An Overview,” “Sources of Research Ideas,” “Questioning Ourselves,” “Questioning the Scene” In Qualitative Communication Research Methods, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002): 63-85.
Colin Robson, “Ethical Considerations” In Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner Researchers, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1993): 65-76.
BJ Fogg, “Conceptual Designs: The Fastest Way to Capture and Share Your Idea” In Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 201-211.
See also: "Proposing a Topic" by Daniel Chandler
Intellectual Autobiographies Due 2/10 at Noon EST or 2/11 at 5pm EST
Begin with What’s Already There: The Literature Search
Cornell's Olin & Uris Libraries, "The Seven Steps of the Research Process"
Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, “The ABC of Technique” and “Finding the Facts” In The Modern Researcher, 6th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thompson, 2004/1957): 15-66.
Axelrod & Cooper, “Online Research: How to Tell if Internet Resources Are Reliable” In A Writer’s Guidebook
“Evaluating Information Found on the Internet,“ Johns Hopkins University Libraries
“Evaluating Web Pages,” UC Berkeley
WEEK OF FEBURARY 17
Who’ll Pay for All This?: Finding Funding
No assigned reading for this week. You're responsible only for reviewing the posted lesson.
Please download these readings now, and review them as time allows over the next several weeks. These texts address the proposal writing process and are intended to serve as reference materials to assist you as you write your proposals; use them as appropriate.
Colin Robson, “Writing a Project Proposal” In Real World Research: A Resource for Social Scientists and Practitioner Researchers, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1993): 526-533.
Thomas R. Lindlof and Bryan C. Taylor, “The Research Proposal” Qualitative Communication Research Methods (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002): 85-90.
Thomas R. Lindlof and Bryan C. Taylor, “Authoring and Writing” Qualitative Communication Research Methods (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002): 279-312.
Topic Proposals Due 2/24 at Noon or 2/25 at 5pm
Researching Media Production, Institutions, and the Culture Industries
Horace Newcomb and Amanda Lotz, “The Production of Media Fiction” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 62-77.
Gaye Tuchman, “The Production of News” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 78-90.
Stig Hjarvard, “The Study of International News” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 91-7.
WEEK OF MARCH 3
Paddy Scannell, “History, Media and Communication” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 191-205.
Peter Larsen, “Mediated Fiction” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 117-37. (Disregard the section titled “Quantitative Content Analysis”).
Gillian Rose, “’The Good Eye’: Looking at Pictures Using Compositional Interpretation” and “Semiology: Laying Bare the Prejudices Beneath the Smooth Surface of the Beautiful” In Visual Methodologies (London: Sage, 2001): 3353, 69-99.
WEEK OF MARCH 17
No Class: Spring Break!
WEEK OF MARCH 24
No Lesson This Week
WEEK OF MARCH 31
Lit Rev/Funding/Distrib/Venue List Due 3/31 at Noon or 4/1 at 5pm
Gillian Rose, “Discourse Analysis I: Text, Intertextuality and Context” and “Discourse Analysis II: Institutions and Ways of Seeing” In Visual Methodologies (London: Sage, 2001): 135-86.
Qualitative Methods: Case Studies, Participant Observation, Interviews, and…Games?
Klaus Bruhn Jensen, “The Qualitative Research Process” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 235-253.
Eric Zimmerman, “Play as Research: The Iterative Design Process” In Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 176-184.
Media as Research Instruments
Media aren’t only research subjects; they’re also research tools. For the next two sessions, we’ll look at how media can be used as tools in conducting research in a variety of disciplines.
John Collier, Malcolm Collier & Edward T. Hall, Visual Anthropology: Photography As a Research Method (University of New Mexico Press, 1986). Chapter 19 optional.
More Media as Research Instruments
Sarah Pink, brief excerpt from “The Visual in Ethnography: Photography, Video, Cultures and Individuals” and “Video in Ethnographic Research” In Doing Visual Ethnography: Images, Media and Representation in Research (London: Sage, 2001): 17-19, 77-93.
Tim Plowman, “Ethnography and Critical Design Practice” In Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 30-8.
Rachel Strickland, “Spontaneous Cinema as Design Practice” In Brenda Laurel, Ed., Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003): 118-128.
Methodological Explorations Due 4/28 at Noon (No Second Deadline!)
This week we’ll be having a virtual workshop. Exchange your methods assignment with your group members via email (by 4/28 at noon), and then, throughout the week, offer constructive criticism on one another's proposals. You could communicate your recommended revisions through Word’s “track changes” format, through an email message that summarizes the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses, in an IM session by whatever means works best for you. Please be sure to send me a transcript (compiled as a single document), before 5/4 @ 5pm, of your comments on your group members’ proposals. Then, in the next couple weeks, you can revise your methods plan in accordance with the recommended revisions.
WEEK OF MAY 5
Quantitative Methods: Content Analysis, Surveys, Experiments
Barrie Gunter, “The Quantitative Research Process” In Jensen, Ed., A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies (New York: Routledge, 2002): 209-34.
Gillian Rose, “Content Analysis: Counting What You (Think You) See” In Visual Methodologies (London: Sage, 2001): 54-68.
Christopher Heffner, Statistics Primer
McGraw Hill Higher Education, Statistics Primer for Sociology
MAY 12 Proposal Due Today at NOON (No Second Deadline!)
Please email your proposal to me as an attachment by NOON on Friday, 5/12. If you’re using .pdfs or some other format that won’t allow me to insert comments, please also be sure to send the text of your document as a Word/WordPerfect/TextEdit file so that I can type my comments directly into the document. Late work will not be accepted. Really. No kidding.