Television Studies: An Overview (Discussion)

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Mass-comm methods vs. television-studies methods

Mass Communication Research's Presumptions (Social Science): This class will not be using MC methods to understand TV, but it's helpful to know the presumptions behind this approach.

  1. Knowledge about an object of study—a particular phenomenon—exists within that object itself; the researcher “uncovers” it through experimentation and informed observation.
  2. As a corollary to presumption #1, the researcher is objective; he or she does not fabricate data, or take a biased attitude toward them, but, rather, merely finds them in the object under study.
  3. Experiments should be replicable.
  4. An object of study will be understood if enough facts about it can be gathered or its fundamental essence discerned.
  5. Research results should be quantifiable; that is, they should be measured and expressed in numbers and formulas (this is true of much, but not all, empirical research).
  6. Theory is used to generate hypotheses or speculate about facts generated through empirical research. Also, facts or data may themselves inspire theoretical developments.

Television Studies' Presumptions (Humanities): To understand the "television studies" critical methods, we need to look at its basic principles and presumptions. Each group should be prepared to explain in your own words one of the television-studies presumptions. Can you connect these principles with other traditions in the humanities that you have studied in you Blount classes?

  1. Group 1: Knowledge about an object of study—its meaning—is not solely within it, waiting to be discovered. Rather, meaning is generated through the researchers’ interpretive interaction with phenomena. Provide a hypothetical example.
  2. Group 2: Critical researchers do not lay claims to objectivity. Do you think this is a problem?
  3. Group 2: Since critical approaches rely upon opinion, they are not replicable.
  4. Group 3: Critical researchers do not collect facts for their own sake. Facts are only useful to the extent that they advance interpretation. Provide an example of how knowing a fact can provide an incomplete understanding of a phenomenon.
  5. Group 4: Critical research results are messy, ephemeral, and occasionally contradictory. Consequently, they do not lend themselves to being expressed in (reduced to) numbers. Do you think this is a problem?
  6. Theory is used to speculate about the object of study and provides the basis for the evaluation of the critical work by other scholars. In a sense, the act of criticism is the process of putting theory to work, of applied theory.

Criteria for evaluating critical work

All groups will discuss Vande Berg, Wenner and Gronbeck's criteria for evaluating critical work--looking at one specific criterion. Read Kristen Warner, "'Who Gon Check Me Boo': Reality TV as a Haven For Black Women’s Affect," Flow (August 18, 2011). (Available online in its original or on Blackboard as a PDF.) Apply your criterion to it. How well does this essay fit your criterion?

Group 1

  1. Explain what Vande Berg, Wenner and Gronbeck mean by internal consistency.

Group 2

  1. Explain what Vande Berg, Wenner and Gronbeck mean by evidence.

Group 3

  1. Explain what Vande Berg, Wenner and Gronbeck mean by cultural, critical, theoretical and practical significance.

Group 4

  1. Explain what Vande Berg, Wenner and Gronbeck mean by reasonableness for a critical interpretation.

Design your own research project

All Groups: Design a research project based on a TV-studies approach. Use South Park, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones as the subject of your analysis (other shows might work; check with Dr. Butler). How would you approach the program? What sort of research questions might you ask? What would be the point of your analysis?


  1. Butler, Jeremy G. Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture. NY: Routledge, 2018.