Researching Audiences

Edited by Kim Schrøder, Kristin Drotner, Stephen Kline, Catherine Murray.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 256 pp. ISBN 0340762748.

In Researching Audiences, Kim Schrøder, Kirsten Drotner, Stephen Kline, and Catherine Murray have written a text that critiques an orthodox approach to audience research. In the network society, empirical studies on audiences have become increasingly important in academic, policy, and commercial settings. Schrøder, Drotner, Kline, and Murray argue that instead of favouring an isolated approach researchers should blend the methodologies into "hybrid research designs" appropriate for specific purposes (p.13).

To accomplish this strategy the authors have deployed the term "discursive realism." Discursive realism is a sign for the methodological traditions that Schrøder et al. have drawn from, and a technical challenge for researchers to re-conceptualize the means by which knowledge is acquired on and through audiences. For the authors, epistemic outcomes are filtered through different methodological languages and interpreted as discursive theories of reality. However, from the empiricist tradition, these different "versions" should be tested for their generalizability, insight, and procedural soundness. In short the theories must undergo the negotiations of verification, to determine their proximity to realism (p. 46). The enabling metaphor is consequently a dialogue that seeks to integrate multiple research paradigms, such as qualitative and quantitative, to enrich and "thicken" the epistemic claims and descriptions of audiences.

The organization of Researching Audiences reinforces methodological pluralism by examining a series of approaches: from media ethnography, reception research, audience survey, and experimental audience studies. Schrøder et al. then proceed to look at each approach from the perspectives of a case study, historical development, and finally a pragmatic section with the tools necessary to execute such a study. This organized approach is efficient in selecting a few exemplary case studies to explain the strength and weaknesses of each research program. The authors propose that in recognizing inherent methodological constraint, a researcher can then triangulate whereby "multiple (quantitative and qualitative) methods are used on the same object of study, in order to compensate for each other's weaknesses and together provide 'a better insight into the phenomenon we are studying'" (p. 350).

The axiom in Researching Audiences is that interdisciplinary methodologies are desirable. An example can be seen in the ethnographic research of Thomas Tufte who examines the local spectatorship of The Rubbish Queen, a Brazilian telenovela. The analysis of Brazilian melodrama and its uptake in local cultures produces an interesting formulation that Tufte terms "hybrid spheres of signification" (p. 58). The spectators use the novela as politicized expressions to define their modernity and cultural citizenship. Central to this ethnographic study is a series of research techniques that are triangulated on the phenomena, such as: participant observation, structured interviews, surveys, genre analysis of the telenovela, and institutional production history of The Rubbish Queen. Methodological triangulation questions the reliance on only one form of data collection. For example, the validity of the structured interview, as fixed discursive claims, may fail if the research agenda is interested in finding out how media interacts with people as social communication over a span of time, as a longitudinal process. Ethnographic perspectives have been applied in many disciplines and institutional contexts. Schrøder et al.'s case study of media ethnography heuristically supports the principle that supplemental research techniques can balance inherent weaknesses in any one research paradigm. This advantage allows Tufte to embed his research in the cultural locale of his subjects and reflect the novela as complex practices of everyday life.

A compelling feature of Researching Audiences is the historical analysis of the different research methods. These sections are useful reviews of the current literature and theoretical debates. In the quantitative section, the authors orient the reader on the empiricist tradition and the philosophy of science. This contextual history allows uninitiated readers to appreciate the texture, complexity, and struggle immanent to empirical research itself. The dialogue between professional routines of quantitative science and the history of its emergence is populated by interesting theoretical positions. For example, the critiques of positivism by the Frankfurt School are balanced by Karl Popper's explanation on the value of statistics. Statistical procedures are not claims of absolute truth, but instead are used to refine and falsify improbable hypothesis (p. 178). The historical sections of Researching Audiences are coherent explanations as to the debates that surround a theoretical position on methodology. The concise and accessible intellectual history allows readers to evaluate the conditions of existence that produced the debates. Finally, there are elegant institutional historiographies such as the pragmatist movements and its impact on audience research. Schrøder et al. detail and trace the Chicago School of philosophers, social psychology, and sociology through the communication and media studies of World War II to the methodologies of Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss known as "grounded theory" (p. 67).

Finally, this text is a methodology book and has an extensive tool box section on the practical application of research techniques. The rigorous and organized approach to research will prepare any student on the necessary steps of the research process. Consequently, the problems specific to proposing a "testable" research question are covered in detail (p. 184). Similarly, the issues of validity and reliability are competently addressed in reference to the operationalization of variables (p. 211). The "toolbox" subsections are filled with examples and predictable problems that may be encountered by the researcher. The strong foundations of the tool box section mediate an easy transition across the different research paradigms.

The focal issue of Researching Audiences is not to advocate the superiority of qualitative or quantitative approaches. Instead, as researchers and subjects of media research can we use different models to adequately theorize our mediatized communities? In mediatized communities, it is the audience themselves who are becoming increasingly auratic, to borrow Walter Benjamin's term. Information on the audience is collected and inherently valuable. The privatization of research continuously documents various accounts of culture in everyday life. The technical challenge of discursive realism is two-fold: can we be reflexive as researchers to recognize the limits of our methodologies, and can we imaginatively apply different convergent models to verify or improve on a theory or hypothesis that is inadequate.

Reviewed by Hong Nguyen, University of Ottawa



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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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