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From: Cinema Journal
Volume 52, Number 3, Spring 2013
pp. 145-149 | 10.1353/cj.2013.0025

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Media industries are studied across a broad range of subject areas, including economics, law, business and management, and geography. While ostensibly dealing with the same object, much of the work which could be regarded as studies of media industries has not been brought under the umbrella of what in very recent years has been called Media Industries Studies (hereafter MIS). With the label “studies” increasingly overused to describe ever-smaller micro-clusters of thought, caution should be taken before claiming any new field of study; MIS is not a distinct area but rather a subfield of research and pedagogy in Cultural, Film, and Media Studies, borrowing from and traversing those broader subject fields while also extending them in new directions of inquiry by taking an explicit focus on industrial structures, processes, and practices.

As Cultural, Film, and Media Studies are already inter- or multi-disciplinary fields of study, there is no admission of lack of rigor in declaring that MIS is not a “discipline”; rather, MIS revels in disciplinary heterogeneity. Despite this apparent openness, however, MIS is a subfield with definite limits. MIS operates in the “über-fields” of the humanities and social sciences and to date has found no benefit in taking from the “hard” sciences, for example. Even within the academic fields to which it belongs, MIS is limited in its disciplinary borrowings: economics is clearly important to any study of media industries, but the impetus toward social and cultural criticism motivating much scholarship in MIS has seen the influence of political economy exerted, whereas neoclassical economics has been rejected. Consequently, proponents and practitioners of “media economics” and “cultural economics” operate outside MIS. Both outcomes of social research, political economy and what David Hesmondhalgh calls the “mainstream organizational sociology of culture,” have dealt with media industries, yet the latter focuses on organizational matters without the critical imperative that underpins a great deal of work in MIS. Therefore, MIS does not represent all studies of media industries but rather an intellectual subfield which has cherry-picked ideas, concepts, perspectives, and arguments from many—though highly circumscribed—directions.

Among signs of growth in this area of scholarship in recent years have been increases in the number of conference papers on industry topics presented at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference; the launch in 2011 of the SCMS Media Industries Scholarly Interest Group; and above all a boom in research publications on industry, many authored by members of the interest group. Whether all those speakers, members, or authors would choose to self-identify as working in MIS is highly unlikely. As this might suggest, “MIS” is a shorthand label of convenience applied retrospectively to categorize work on media industries emerging from Cultural, Film, and Media Studies.

Whether these developments can be described as an “industry turn” is debatable, for scholarship on the media industries has a history long preceding MIS, and many enclaves of Cultural, Film, and Media Studies retain widespread resistance to contemplating matters of industry. The latter point seems particularly important when writing in these very pages. As the journal of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Cinema Journal is sponsored by a professional association which grew out of the institutionalization of Film Studies. Despite the addition of “Media” to the society’s title in 2002, SCMS still demonstrates the founding legacy of Film Studies; after all, this journal still emphasizes Cinema in its title. Industry is fundamental to film, particularly the preferred object of most film studies: the narrative feature film. Yet paradoxically, a great deal of film scholarship has refused to acknowledge the industrial aspect of film. Commentators have charted the genealogy of MIS through the Frankfurt School and political economy (in its European, North American, and Global South incarnations). Yet it is debatable how foundational these influences were to the emergence of work on industry in Film Studies. From the 1950s onward, the political economy of communication directly addressed the industrial conditions of mass communication by developing a tradition of critique focused around the themes of ownership, concentration, media integration, and the international division of labor. Located in the social sciences, however, this tradition had little or no impact on the...

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