Media and Communication, theory and practice: where are we now?

What is the state of the art in Media and Communication studies?

Professor Natalie Fenton (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Professor Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Professor Helen Wood (Lancaster University)

We see in the classroom, our students are concerned not with the BBC or newspapers, but with Instagram, Pinterest and other forms of networked digital media.  This raises questions about the ways in which media theory is responsive to new technological developments: are traditional media theories sufficient to explain changes in technology, society and audiences?  The central aim of this conference is to explore the extent to which existing theories of media and communication are adequate for the analysis of our contemporary media landscape.

The conference is underpinned by a concern with what we see in the classroom; changes in technology and society; and the role of theory.   Centrally, we ask do new technologies require new theories? And if so, where are new theoretical interventions required? We are keen to reflect on the problematization of an increasingly automated environment, where algorithms collect data about us, and make choices about what we consume.  What does this automation mean for notions of autonomy and agency; or for the structuring of identity? Do these technologies challenge or embed existing power structures, particularly in areas around gender, race and class? A further aim of this conference is also to reflect on where media studies is, and where it is going: how does media studies remain ‘relevant’ and ‘state of the art’ in light of a rapidly changing media landscape?

While we are raising questions about how we theorise in media studies, we are also asking questions about how we teach. In an era of diverse media content and ways of consumption among our students, how do we find common ground to engage with our students?  With changes in the nature of advertising, and the proliferation and impact of influencers, we might also want to consider the extent to which we are consumers of a narrative or active agents in this media environment and whether and how this differs between generations.  

There is the potential that media theory could get stuck in “receiver mode” (Fuller), basing its understanding of media & communication on various developments of the Shannon-Weaver model, analysing texts, audiences and discourses, and at the same time reducing technology to socially or culturally determined affordances.   A key contention here is that we need to engage more comprehensively with a media environment that isn’t limited to the transmission and reception of messages, but also pays attention to the formation of psychic and collective environments.

The driving questions of this conference are:

1.     Do we need new theories of media to address social and technological change?

2.  What are the key pedagogical issues in teaching contemporary students of media and communications?

And papers are invited around (but not limited to) the following topics:

  1. Do we need new theories of media technology?     
  2. Do the ways in which young people engage with social media represent a fundamental shift in the ways in which society operates?
  3. Do we need to engage in media ‘forms’ rather than media ‘messages’?
  4. If current media environments are currently being mapped, algorithmically modelled and fed back to us, what does this tell us about our capacity for individual and collective action?
  5. What do technological changes suggest for gender, raced and classed power relations?
  6. Are existing theories adequate for teaching our students?
  7. How do we theorise database cultures?
  8. Are new methodologies necessary in the contemporary media environment?
  9. What do these technologies tell us about the ontology of the social?

The Media Communications Research Centre at De Montfort University invites abstracts that address the current state of the discipline of Media & Communication in the light of new technologies, changes in ownership and engagement, which address the wider question do we need new theories, methodologies and ways of conceptualising power?

Abstracts of 250 words and author bio to be submitted to by 12 April.

Conference fee: £50.  The conference fee is only charged to cover the cost of lunch, teas and coffees, conference dinner and to provide taxis home for any woman who would like one after the evening event.

Postgraduate Students: Free

Conference date: 27th – 28th June

Conference venue: De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Where to stay: