If one can drag oneself away from the Shakespearean dramas currently being enacted in real life (I am writing this in London), it is useful to remember that there are tools for textual analysis out there to help us make sense of things. Browsing Polity’s recent media, communication and cultural studies catalogue was balm, an antidote and a light at the end of a tunnel which seems to get smaller by the day.
Culture can be understood as a system of shared texts and practices used by people to make sense of the world, asserts Rein Raud in Culture in Action, and the media offers infinite possibilities for distraction which demands and absorbs all our attention. A new kind of selfhood is being synchronized, argues Dominic Pettman in Infinite Distraction – our experience of the world is increasingly mediated making us interchangeable with one another and dividing us into small groups that never meet or interact. In The Mediated Construction of Reality, Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp investigate the processes through which the everyday world is constructed and reconstructed through media and ask if the resulting social world created is perceived as stable and livable or unstable and unlivable.
Natalie Fenton (in Digital, Political, Radical) probes the social role of the media and its implications for progressive possibilities and asks what are the conditions to live together well? Through a range of examples of protest and political movements, she proposes relationships between the media and opportunities for counter-politics.
Inspired by Heidegger’s philosophy of being and time, in Television and the Meaning of Live, media scholar Paddy Scannell investigates the category of the ‘live’ and asserts that the meaning of ‘live’ has much to tell us about the meaning of life and the question of existence.
In Geert Lovink’s critique of social media, Networks without a Cause he challenges the nature of mediated networks and proposes the increasingly appropriate concepts of ‘deep presents’ and ‘near-miss’ futures. In The Closing of the Net, Monica Horten asks how political decisions influence the direction of internet communication, where powerful corporations have become more embedded whilst seeking exemption from liability. These same organisations manipulate policy, filter content and store personal data and the notion of a democratic internet is being eclipsed by a heavily monitored, market-led ecosystem.
Lest we forget that our world view is influenced by journalism and its role in determining which topics are at the centre of public attention, Adrienne Russell’s book Journalism and Activism reports on the realities of media power. Meaning in everyday life, she argues, is tied to the communication tools and platforms that we have access to, the architecture of digital space that we navigate and our ability to control our media environments. Similarly, Barbie Zelizer (What Journalism Could Be) highlights journalism’s intersection with culture, politics, emotion, collective memory and visuality whilst being deeply embedded in social, economic and political institutions and structures. She demonstrates the central role that journalism plays in shaping consciousness and asks readers to re-imagine the news by embracing alternative conceptual prisms.
Other eerily apposite titles ring out such as Networks of Outrage and Hope; States of Shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century; What Is to Be Done? and Symbolic Misery: The Catastrophe of the Sensible. Others focus on issues which have been glaringly brought to light by recent events such as the nature of democracy and personal agency; the rise of conservatism, selfishness, domination and inequality; data surveillance; civic rights; participatory culture; the realities of migration, mobility and citizenship and their relationship to mediated environments.
Whilst we are distracted by the maneuverings of a few, these titles are a timely reminder of a critical context through which to navigate an unprecedented and disturbing set of events.