The Political Economy of Communication Revisited
It is now 40 years since I started work in the broad field of research and policy debate and advocacy to which the name “political economy of communication” or “of the media” has been applied. I personally am unhappy with this title because it indicates a narrowing of the field’s focus upon either channels and processes of communication modeled on those of interpersonal communication, or upon the mass media, especially the press and broadcasting, in ways which block understanding of many of the crucial relationships and dynamics involved. I prefer to think of this research tradition as a historical materialist analysis of the cultural sphere – the production, circulation, and consumption of symbolic forms in all their variety – of which the study of communication channels and processes and of the mass media are subfields. This research tradition I will call “the political economy of culture” (PEC).
However, for reasons I hope the following analysis will make clear, this title is also now misleading. It has tended to focus analysis only on culture as goods and services consumed by people in their leisure time and paid for out of disposable household income. There is still a lingering tendency to see culture in this sense as separate from the rest of the economy rather than as a special case within a wider set of developments and problems. This has led to a disabling neglect of the dynamic effects of the immaterial producer ...