The devaluation of history in media studies

Authored by: Michael Pickering

The Routledge Companion to British Media History

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415537186
eBook ISBN: 9781315756202
Adobe ISBN: 9781317629474


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In the early 1980s, I reviewed a book by Peter Golding and Sue Middleton (1982) entitled Images of Welfare, recommending it for its general historical range and praising its use of historical evidence in showing that the ‘scroungerphobia’ moral panic of the late 1970s was an extension of a long tradition of public hostility to the poor in English society. 1 By developing a historical perspective, Golding and Middleton clearly established the resilience of particular assumptions, myths and stereotypes about poverty and welfare. These, as they put it, have “lengthy pedigrees in popular consciousness” (1982: 48). I start with this example not only because of its relevance to the issue of welfare in contemporary British politics, particularly around the cynically labelled ‘something for nothing’ culture, but also because it is a historical perspective of this kind that is lacking in much of the media studies work of the past 30 years. 2 The devaluation of history in the field is an entrenched problem that has been identified and remarked upon at various times, and the periodic complaints that have been made of it clearly demonstrate that it is a recurrent characteristic, if not endemic, then certainly persistent within the field. James Curran, for example, has called history the “neglected grandparent of media studies”; John Corner has referred to the “frantically contemporary agenda” of media studies; and Nick Garnham has described the bulk of media studies as “enraptured by the new and the ephemeral”, exhibiting “an almost willed amnesia that amounts to what one might call a nostalgia for the future” (Curran, 1991: 27; Corner, 1999: 126; Garnham, 2000: 24). Despite such criticism, little has changed across or since the various times it has been made.

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