British Cultural Studies, Active Audiences and the Status of Cultural Theory

Theory, Culture and Society 28 (4):124-144 (2011)

British cultural studies, represented perhaps chiefly by the so-called Birmingham School, is much marked by its strong orientation towards the application of grounded theory in the analysis of concrete cases, rather than the development of abstract Theory with a Capital T . As a leading figure of the Birmingham School and a key representative of the active audience model in television studies, or broadly, media studies, David Morley stands at a point where this trend was set, as is evidenced in this interview. Questioned by Huimin Jin, Morley puts his audience studies into the contexts of British cultural studies, postmodernism, Marxism, social movements, and so on; and in doing so, he shows the ambiguity, and subtlety of his concepts of how to best theorize the active audience. Only by this method, Jin believes, could Morley launch his version of audience studies, which aims not to invent a general theory of media effects, but to use an interdisciplinary range of theories to explore how people actually respond to a TV programme; and only by this approach to audience studies, furthermore, could Morley develop a theory of the audience’s activity, which is embedded in the course of their everyday life and that cannot be thoroughly colonized by discourses. Cultural studies, wherever it is conducted, therefore, Morley suggests, has to construct modes of analysis that are relevant to its own conditions of production in a particular place, at a particular time. This is the tradition, as we know it, but also the future, as Morley envisages, of cultural studies
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DOI 10.1177/0263276411398268
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