Text vs. Context in Media Literacy: A Continuing Debate

This article appeared originally in the Journal of Communication, vol 48, #1, Winter, 1998, p. 58-69. Posted with permission of the authors.

Can a media ‘text' be separated from its political context? The authors explore an important debate in the field.

The goal of media literacy is to help people become sophisticated citizens rather than sophisticated consumers. The authors argue against a purely "text-centered" approach in which media texts can be deconstructed and analyzed so we can choose among them. Instead, media literacy should integrate a textual analysis with questions of production and reception. An analysis of the structure of media institutions is particularly important if Americans are able to appreciate and argue for alternatives to a lightly regulated commercial media system. Media literacy is, therefore, a way of extending democracy to the place where democracy is increasingly scripted and defined.

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Author Bio: 

Justin Lewis (PhD, University of Sheffield, 1984) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts. His research interests include media audiences, cultural policy, and the politics of culture. Sut Jhally (PhD, Simon Fraser University, 1984) is a professor in the same department. His research interests include the commercialization of culture.