Power To The People

hand with strings controlling newspaper that people are readingEver since studying communications became a thang, scholars have examined the influence of the media and the importance of who owns it. Now, we can moan about Murdoch, Perez Hilton and the changing nature of the media landscape until the cows come home…but all of this is rather useless without dunking it into a toasty, smooth cup of delectable theory. O.K, so I’m trying to appeal to your senses here but I get it, theory’s a bitch.

As sad as it sounds, I do have a favourite – political economy. Big wig Vincent Mosco explains…

“Political economy is the study of the social relations, particularly the power relations, that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources, including communication resources”

what gif

In simple terms, we’re talking about power here. And I don’t just mean the Julius Caesar, get way ahead of yourself and end up stabbed to death, kind. Political economists are interested in how power operates. Why does the big guy get everything he wants while the little guys are screaming in protest?

We can use the theory of political economy to examine media and communication –  “what it means to be a producer, distributor, or consumer” (cheers Vincent).

the internet Jen form IT Crowd

Today, many people think that new media will create world peace, gender equality and racial harmony. Yep well the same arguments were made for old technologies like the telegraph, telephone, radio and television. In fact the telephone was suppose to free women from exploitation by allowing them to run their household and participate in society!

c1950s telephone advertisement sexist

Most political economists are skeptical of new media’s ability to smash existing power structures. So I’ll be delving into topics such as citizen journalism, clicktivism and minority voices. Please share your opinions, ask questions and challenge the hell out of me because that’s what critical thinking is for.

Image Credits – first, second, third, fourth



6 responses to “Power To The People

  1. Hi Emmica. Ah, political economy – one of my faves too. A nice meaty topic! I discovered this clip on YouTube from the Onion – “The Power Of Selling Out: Your Customers As Political Capital’ http://youtu.be/w8c_m6U1f9o – which I thought you might enjoy. Now, obviously it’s satire (although reading the comments under the clip it’s apparent not everybody gets that!) but it points to some very real concerns about being ‘prosumers’. Sure, it all sounds sweet and lovely that we can all now make our own content and everything’s very interactive, democratic, etc, etc. But maybe, just maybe, the more we bind ourselves to the corporations that own these platform, through the content we share and digital footprints we create on them, the more power they have over us. Spooky …

    PS. I’ve added you blog to my blogroll, over here – https://slacktastico.wordpress.com/


    • Hey Mitch!!

      That’s an awesome clip, thanks for sharing : ) I totally agree, I’m very skeptical about new media being democratic/empowering. As long as we live in a hyper, capitalist society with existing power structures – how much can really be changed by a few FB posts and YouTube clips?! Will def check out your blog : )


  2. Cool topic Emmica, political economy is an interesting approach. What do you think about the criticisms raised in the lecture: that political economy erroneously characterises the masses as passive, manipulable and powerless and attributes too much coherence to the powerful? Personally, I think there is some validity to those criticisms, but even so it still has a lot to add to the discussion.

    One possible change in power structures between the time when political economy was fleshed out and today may be that the powerful media organisations did control the message to a large extent back in the day (often in concert with other powerful actors). However, now there are new media giants like Google, Facebook or Twitter who, though they own the platform, have very little input into the actual ‘content’ that it generates.

    Then again, they also control the data and that may be increasingly be a source of asymmetric power relations going forward. I wonder what political economy would have to say about new media giants?


    • Hey Ben, thanks for the comment you raise excellent points : )

      The criticisms are worthy but I think the notion that audiences are passive still holds truth. TV makes up for 40% of people’s media time (source below) and new media hasn’t found a way to replace this yet. Our viewing is definitely diversifying but the content is still controlled by old media giants.

      From a Western perspective, with regards to new media giants, whilst an individual may feel empowered, the masses are not powerful as a collective (nor as coherent at times) as the elites. Yes, online protest/backlash can work at times but usually when dealing with a smaller power, say a cab company, bar etc and mostly when people find advertising offensive, thus it’s in the interest of the organisation to change and retain consumers.

      Google, Facebook and Twitter are still businesses trying to make money and we may control the content to an extent (still owned by the platform/they dictate how we use it) but does that really matter? How are we really smashing power structures through new media? For example, as we spoke about in one of our classes – young people are politically active online but not in the offline world. To me that’s actually a negative impact driven my new media. It’s a super interesting discussion!

      Source – http://www.thinktv.com.au/media/tv_insights/tv_industry_report.pdf


  3. I feel power structures will remain pretty much intact as long as people are willing to camp out overnight in front of an Apple store for a ‘new’ gadget … I do think that one interesting change is that of crowd funding – artists, designers, inventors etc can circumvent regular grant schemes to get their ideas/work out into the world. Not sure how relevant that is to the discussion though!


    • Cheers for the comment Sue!

      Yes I agree that there is a certain level of hypocrisy involved when you want to smash the structures but still actively participate in capitalism. I hadn’t actually thought of crowd funding for artists etc as an alternative to grants – very interesting. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s