Media Blog #6 – Audience Ethnographies

Hermes (2009) states that the study of media audiences has always had ethnographic research as its ideal even though the actual methods used often fall short. How ethnographic was your own research project? What did you learn about the practices of contemporary audiences?

When Hermes speaks to this ethnographic ideal he’s asking us to analyse audiences on their own terms. Ethnography is in essence a becoming – in order to analyse audiences on their own terms, we must understand them on their own terms – we must become the object of study. We must destroy our critical distance, only to reconstruct it in the image of our subject.

My research project was to some degree ethnographic, given my personal involvement with my friend Matt. A truly ethnographic research project would involve my going to Matt’s house, spending a lot of time with Matt and his girlfriend, Meg, and watching a lot of TV. Given our geographic separation, this was untenable. Instead I opted for a strategy of in-depth interview via Facebook chat, taking into account my personal knowledge of Matt’s circumstances. Hermes’ statement in regards to “distance and engagement: critique and appreciation” encapsulates my approach to studying Matt’s domestic TV usage. Although I did not consider myself a fan of Walking Dead, New Girl or Scrubs, I could appreciate what these shows meant to him and how they facilitated his domestic relations.

My study on “domestic television” made a point of distinguishing between television content and the TV set, because I believe the convergence of media on the TV set and the divergence of television content have rendered them separate media. My study found that the TV set is, for the most part, used as it always has been – as a means of communal entertainment. Examination of the long-form interviews and the diary has led me to conclude that the TV set functions as the primary mediator of domestic relations, as described in my first blog post. Conversely, television content has become more personalised – contemporary audiences are more likely to seek content online in their own time if they really want it. And really, this all makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? We only ever watched TV if we wanted to chill out, or if there was something on. It’s just those functions have diverged.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog!

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