Television and New Media Audiences

Ellen Seiter,
Television and New Media Audiences.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
ISBN 0 19 871141 7
AU$55.00 (pb)

Uploaded 1 March 2000

Published as one of a series, the Oxford Television Studies edited by Charlotte Brunsdon and John Caughie, Ellen Seiter’s contribution constitutes a powerful argument for the value of qualitative methods in television audience research. In a useful and select overview chapter, Seiter describes the appropriation of ethnography in television audience research and discusses a number of studies which illuminate the strengths and weakness of the qualitative research methods employed. Her conclusion is significant: researchers have to move away from a realist treatment of language in interview situations and consider how what can be said to whom is conditioned by the limitations of specific social and cultural contexts. This point is nicely illustrated in the descriptions of Seiter’s own research which follow.

In the next three chapters, Seiter describes how different people talked about television in a number of different contexts. These include: a parents support group (of which she was a long-term member); interviews with pre-school teachers in a variety of situations, and interviews with fundamentalist Christians. In each case Seiter illustrates how the politics of gender, but especially class and education, impact on what can be said about television to someone who asks. And Seiter is nicely self-reflexive about her own position as a middle-class white woman with all the advantages of a tertiary education and a well paid job who can afford to like popular culture from her own postmodern and intellectual perspective. Seiter never condescends to those with whose position she may fundamentally disagree. However, one can sense just a touch of irritation with the middle class parents whose anxiety about their childrens’ media consumption and consumerism is alleviated by providing them with more expensive alternatives which they can afford and which are not available to the poorer communities in her study.

The penultimate chapter addresses the possibility of using ethnographic methods to look at the domestic consumption of new technologies, particularly computers. Again Seiter is interested in the ways in which gender and class may be enacted in the micro-politics of the home and the consequences of such politics for access and participation in education, work and other aspects of the public sphere. This kind of research is always hard to do well. As Seiter points out in her conclusion, ethnographic research is time-consuming, labour intensive and difficult to sustain. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Seiter is firmly of the opinion that ethnography is the only way researchers will get even close to what is happening as people adapt to the changing communications environment of the home. One can only agree.

Sue Turnbull