Television as a Social Context

xhan's picture


Michelle Han

Literary Kinds-Genre Web-paper 2

April 23, 2010




            For my paper, I want to learn more about television, and how it functions as a social context. I also wanted to compare television with places that allow people to gather and/or share experiences such as novels, poems, blogs, and Literary Kinds. Anthropologist David Ley suggests that modern society has a void at the center-an absence of transcendent symbols which are universally and deeply accepted-and argues that this condition is reflected in modern culture and its meaningless landscapes. I would like to examine the role of television on our society and determine whether it serves as a "center of meaning".

            In order to compare television with blogging, it is important to define television as place". This refers to 1) a bounded system in which symbolic interact among persons occurs, and 2) a nucleus around which ideas, values, and shared experiences are constructed. These two conception of place are closely related: social life is founded upon shared meanings and meanings are created through social life; each constructs the other. Examples of television's role as a social context include its involvement in elections, celebrations, and competitions; tuning in to key events such as the Olympics is, among other things, a way of joining a crowd.

         According to anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, "media are really environments, will all the effects geographers and biologists associate with environments. We live inside our media." Meyrowitz argues that electronic media not only has the power to affect content, but changes the "situational geography" of social life. He believes that television affects society most powerfully through a "blurring of many distinct social roles" as television brings "many different types of people to do the same place". This implies that place is no longer defined by location, and that this is a result of the use of electronic communication media.

         Moreover, scholar Paul C. Adams argues that the human experience of place cannot exist without language. Linguistic thinking, the separation of object and context through generalization, makes society itself possible, and shapes the human-environment interaction in various ways. Language facilitates adaptation to environmental conditions, the exertion of control over people's actions and other phenomena, and the acquisition of knowledge.

         Yet the relationship between place and a linguistic structure, such as a story, poem, essay, or book is less clear. Virtually all linguistic structures can function as both social contexts and centers of meaning to employ the terminology adopted at the outset. People can discuss a book and, in some sense, "occupy" it as a social context. A book, play, poem, blog or story can also become a center of meaning, and even be experienced subjectively as "another world."

         Still, a linguistic structure is different from "a place" in several ways: first a linguistic structure is made up of abstract units-words-whereas a place is made up of actual, particular objects, forces and substances. In the first case, experience transforms the abstract into the concrete while in the second it transforms the concrete into the abstract. Second of all, a linguistic structure can be reproduced exactly, whereas a place cannot. Thirdly, a linguistic structure can be experienced at various rates, unaffected by interruptions; whereas a place can change over time.

         In the class Literary Kinds, students are motivated for self-learning, open to collaboration and collective research. Students have the autonomy to decide what and how they want to learn; self-reflexivity is encouraged, and no grades given.

students have the opportunity to devise learning situations a that escape rigidities and inadequacies. I would argue that our class serves as both a "linguistic structure' and as a "place". Our classroom provides the context for our discussions while our discussion of "abstract words" give our place meaning and coherence.



Works Cited:

King, Kenneth P. Educational Television: "Let's Explore Science". Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 227-246



Micha Razel. Complex Model of Television Viewing and Educational Achievement. The

Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 94, No. 6 (Jul. - Aug., 2001), pp. 371-379




Anne Dalke's picture

"Place is no longer defined by location"

I'm both hooked and lost. Hooked, first, by your identifying this as a paper about "place": I've done some teaching about place-based education--courses that explore both the advantages and limits of such a structure--so I'm quite intrigued by, and still trying hard to get my head around the series of really mind-bending ideas you offer here: that "place is no longer defined by location," for example; that "linguistic structures can function as social context"; that "people can 'occupy' a cultural artifact," "experiencing it as a world." What does "place" mean, if it is not a geographical location? What are its parameters, its dimensions?

These queries are of particular interest to me in the present context of our course on "Literary Kinds," especially in the context of Wai Chee Dimock's inviting us to think about a world literature "not segregated by periods or by nations," but "ramifying into numerous collateral species": "what then would the world map look like?" What happens to literature when it is not place-based? What organizing structure replaces place? Or (in the terms you offer here) does "place" come to indicate something else than its conventional meaning, that of geographical location?

So: I'm intrigued, led on....and then I get lost (given your operative metaphors here, this is surely the appropriate language to use!). Your title--reinforced by the claim, in your opening statement--is that you "want to learn more about how television functions as social context"--and then to compare that function-and-context to other cultural sites: novels, poems, blogs, this is way too big a topic! Then you give short summaries of the ideas of a series of anthropologists--David Ley, Edmund Carpenter, Paul Adams--without (as I said in response to your last paper) telling me wherefrom these reports come (citation of sources is really important, especially on the internet!). And you conclude with a characterization of our course, but by this point I'm feeling entirely compass-less, needing more direction and you want to provide these, in your final project for the semester?

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