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Para-Industry: Researching Hollywood’s Blackwaters

From: Cinema Journal
Volume 52, Number 3, Spring 2013
pp. 157-165 | 10.1353/cj.2013.0014

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In its “Industry Studies” turn, Cinema and Media Studies (CMS) loses if it overestimates industry’s determining role, hardens or cleans up the boundaries of industry as a site for research, or imagines that industry is somehow more “real” or substantive than texts or culture as sites for analysis. One trap would be to construe the industry—typically researched through lenses of political economics and corporate organization—as a clean, self-evident sphere or as a bounded site for research that does not simultaneously involve the vagaries of human subjects and culture’s thick complexities. Even rudimentary contact with industry quickly shows how central socio-professional communities, craft self-theorization, and collective rituals are to the core economic activities of media corporations. How can research account for these messy aspects of industrial, corporate activity? Even as late capitalism struggles to rationalize production processes and markets, how can new industry research engage the irrational practices that make up the day-to-day cultural workings of production economies?

In the recent shift to industry studies it sometimes feels like the very things that CMS is most skilled at—critical race theory, cultural studies, feminist theory, postcolonialism, narratology, close textual analysis—have been unwisely discarded in favor of the ostensibly more commonsensical, empirical approach to “real world” institutions. This “correction” is terribly naive. All of these critical dynamics pervade media industries organizations as well. Ignoring this fact suggests willful intellectual blindness. This essay argues for a place at the industries research table for humanities-based critical studies scholars. Digging in without them guarantees that industry research will miss half the industry that it claims to study.

Ten simple propositions follow that underscore the need to keep culture and aesthetics as fundamentals in new media industries research. Several assumptions about the current medias cape guide these propositions. First, political economics and textual and cultural analysis are not mutually exclusive but rather are inseparable from each other. Creating a hierarchy of these approaches is an empty, myopic exercise. Second, the complex systems defining contemporary industries demand more holistic, flexible, and aggregate methodologies on the part of Cinema and Media Studies scholars. There are certain things that social science does not do well (i.e., it misses the centrality of industrial textual practice), and there are certain things that CMS does not do well (i.e., it glosses over the economic regimes in which texts are always embedded). Not every scholar needs to include ethnography, economic analysis, institutional research, fieldwork, and textual analysis in all research projects. But at least acknowledging the necessary connections between each of these registers is crucial, because it allows focused (deep-and-narrow) studies to fill in the missing pieces of a much larger picture. This, in turn, allows scholars to participate in an integrated, aggregating dialogue about industries that cuts across humanities and social sciences border policing. What follows sketches the disciplinary outlines of a bigger tent in CMS, and the need for a bigger methodological toolbox as well, which underscores why industry research is too important to leave solely to economists, political economists, and media social scientists.

1. Industry Is Cultural.

Each socio-professional community in film and television surrounds itself with marks of cultural capital. This broad-based, workaday cultural staging does not just help lubricate the many bureaucratic frictions of production or intensify the value of on-screen programming and niche marketing. Cultural staging is also used habitually to value below-the-line crafts workers and to leverage professional identities for organizational advantage in the above-the-line sectors. Above this micro-level, management professors require their media industry–bound MBA students to master the flexible managerial environments that fuel creativity, innovation, and profitable organizational cultures. This exposes the specter of competing disciplinary ships moving in opposite directions. That is, the “cultural turn” in economics and management theory has been under way for more than a decade (leading to the hybrid field of cultural economy), even as CMS has witnessed a general move in the other direction, away from culture as a master framework in its “industrial turn.” Jettisoning textual analysis as we move to industry research only means that we will miss much of what industry...

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