Sociological Perspectives on the Role of the Media

Limited-effects theory

The limited-effects theory argues that because people “generally choose what to watch or read based on what they already believe, media exerts a negligible influence”. This theory originated in the 1940s and 1950s and was tested when studies that examined the ability of media to influence voting found that well-informed people relied more on personal experience, prior knowledge, and their own reasoning. This goes to show that perhaps media “experts” most likely swated the votes of those who were less informed. A critic of this theory would point to two problems with this perspective. One opposed to this sociological theory might argue that this theory is not applicable to today’s society, as it came into existence when the dominance and availability of the media was far less widespread than the way it is today.

Class-dominant theory

The class-dominant theory argues that the media “reflects and projects the view of a minority elite, which controls it”. This correlates with the idea that the elite compose the 1% of the population, as opposed to reflecting a majority. Advocates of this theory believe that massive media organizations limit competition by putting big businesses at the “reins” of the media.When ownership media organizations is restricted, they have the ability to manipulate what people can see or hear through the media. For example, owners can easily avoid or silence stories that expose unethical behavior within corporations, and can manipulate what is and is not showcased, in order to influence viewers to succumb to certain attitudes or viewpoints, especially when sponsorship, in terms of advertising, plays a huge role in this problem.

Culturalist theory

The culturalist theory, developed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, combines the other two sociological theories and claims that people interact with media to “create their own meanings out of the images and messages they receive”. People view and assess the material in which they view, based on their own knowledge and experience. Thus, when researchers ask different groups to explain the meaning of a particular song or video, the groups produce widely differing interpretations based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, and religious background. Therefore, culturalist theorists claim that, while a few elite in large corporations may “exert significant control over what information media produces and distributes”, personal perspective, experience, and attitudes plays a more powerful role in how audiences interpret the messages showcased in the media.

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