Reconceptualising ‘the unconscious’ in qualitative audience research
Award Holder: Dr Matt Hills
Researcher: Dr Jamie Sexton
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB)
Based at: Cardiff School of Journalism, Media & Cultural Studies (JOMEC)
This one year project, carried out under the AHRB ‘Innovation Awards Scheme’, aimed to investigate media audiences’ emotional dispositions and attachments to media texts.
Work in media & cultural studies has, with notable exceptions, treated audiences as rational ‘decoders’ of media texts. Dominant theoretical metaphors and models have therefore been highly cognitive, focusing on ‘reading’ or ‘coding’. However, important work carried out in (media) sociology has stressed the need for a theory of audience unconsciousness and emotional attachment. This call has, by and large, not been heeded in media and cultural studies.
This research project therefore aimed to bring together strands of work in sociology and psychoanalysis with a view to reconceptualising media audiences’ activities, self-understandings, and emotional dispositions. The project was based around in-depth interviews with respondents, with some 40 participants being interviewed across 200 separate interviews.
The key aim of the project was to analyse unconscious emotional patterns, and cultural-sociological contexts, which could be taken to characterise respondents’ media consumption. Audience activity was therefore analysed in relation to individuals’ repertoires of media consumption, rather than simply defining audiences in advance as fans of this or that specific text.
The end of project report to the AHRB was completed December 2003, and graded as ‘satisfactory’.
To date, two refereed journal articles – based on specific case studies of two participants – have been published which draw on the project’s data and findings. These are:
- Hills, Matt (2005a) ‘Patterns of Surprise: The “Aleatory Object” in Psychoanalytic Ethnography and Cyclical Fandom’ in American Behavioral Scientist Vol. 48, No. 7, special issue on fan studies
- Hills, Matt (2005b) ‘From “Get a Life” to “Everyone Has To Be a Fan of Something”: Returning to Hegemony Theory in Fan Studies’ in Spectator: The University of South California Journal of Film and TV, special issue on media fandom
Further journal articles based on more general findings are in development, and Dr Hills intends to use the considerable amount of data generated in a future book project on media audiences.