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Writing the child in media theory

Bignell, J. (2002) Writing the child in media theory. The Yearbook of English Studies, 32. pp. 127-139. ISSN 0306-2473

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To link to this item DOI: 10.2307/3509052

Abstract/Summary

Contemporary mass media are perceived by programme-makers, politicians, and the public to have a particularly crucial role in childhood culture, development, and behaviour. For each of these groups, and for children themselves, film, television, and video are often regarded as overlapping media. Each medium overlaps in both children's and parents' discourse about media effects and children's responses to media. While there are significant methodological issues that can be raised about the specificity of different media, this essay follows the contours of existing debate by focusing mainly on television, including film and video which is watched on television. The concern for how adults should respond to children's interactions with media is both quotidian and real, and can be addressed in two interrelated ways. Children's interaction with media is on one hand a question of discourse, which focuses on how the terms of the issue are posed and how it is addressed. Secondly, the relations between children and media are a matter of action, including the procedures for parents' control and prohibition of media use, legal regulation and censorship, and policy debate. But action takes place on the basis of discursive assumptions about both children and media, where the legitimacy of law, policy, and parental control rests on stated or unstated theories of childhood and media culture. Both discourse and action are conducted by adults, so that any discussion of children's interaction with media must first recognize a certain virtuality of the object it addresses. While the figure of the child is massively present in discourses around the mass media, the child as a subject who might participate in these discourses remains largely silent. Therefore, the primary task in discussing children and media is to determine the ways in which the figure of the child, and the functions, effects, and cultural meaning of the media, are posed as discursive objects. This focus on the forms taken by discourse needs to extend from relatively unelaborated theories of childhood and media, such as those evident in the discourses of concerned adults or the press, to discourses that claim expertise, such as those produced by broadcasters and media theorists.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:78454
Uncontrolled Keywords:Childhood, children, media, television, film, video, cinema, censorship, regulation
Publisher:Modern Humanities Research Association

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