Audience theory

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Audience theory is an element of thinking that developed within academic literary theory and cultural studies.

With a specific focus on rhetoric, some, such as Walter Ong, have suggested that the audience is a construct made up by the rhetoric and the rhetorical situation the text is addressing. Others, such as Ruth Mitchell and Mary Taylor, have said writers and speakers actually can target their communication to address a real audience. Some others, such as Ede and Lunsford, try to mingle these two approaches and create situations where audience is "fictionalized", as Ong would say, but in recognition of some real attributes of the actual audience.

There is also a wide range of media studies and communication studies theories about the audience's role in any kind of mediated communication. A sub-culturally focussed and Marxism-inflected take on the subject arose as the "new audience theory" or "active audience theory" from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies during the 1980s.

Effects models[edit]

The hypodermic needle model
The intended message is directly received and wholly accepted by the receiver.[1]
Two-step flow
The people with most access to media, and highest media literacy explain and diffuse the content to others. This is a modern version of the hypodermic needle model.[2]
Uses and gratifications
People are not helpless victims of mass media, but use the media to get specific gratifications.[3]
Reception theory
The meaning of a "text" is not inherent within the text itself, but the audience must elicit meaning based on their individual cultural background and life experiences[4]
Obstinate audience theory
This theory assumes that there is a transactional communication between the audience and the media. The audience actively selects what messages to pay attention to.[5] The Zimmerman-Bauer study found that the audience also participates in the communication by influencing the message.

Media effects[edit]

Early research into media audiences was dominated by the debate about "media effects", in particular the link between screen violence and real-life aggression. Several moral panics fuelled the claims, such as the incorrect presumptions that Rambo had influenced Michael Robert Ryan to commit the Hungerford massacre, and that Child's Play 3 had motivated the killers of James Bulger.

In the 1990s, David Gauntlett published critiques on media "effects", most notably the "Ten things wrong with the media effects model" article. Then, in the 2000s, he sought to develop new methods which would explore possible media influences using "creative" approaches, in which participants were asked to make things such as collage, video, drawings, and Lego models using metaphors.[6]

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies[edit]

From the 1970s, researchers from the CCCS produced empirical research about the relationship between texts and audiences. Amongst these was The Nationwide Project by David Morley and Charlotte Brunsdon.

Stuart Hall's encoding/decoding model can be seen as the beginning of research into how audiences are active consumers rather than passive recipients.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berger, A. A. (1995). Essentials of Mass Communication Theory. London: SAGE Publications.
  2. ^ Baran, Stanley. "Theories of Mass Communication". Introduction to Mass Communication. McGraw Hill. Retrieved July 2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ Katz, Elihu (1959). "Mass Communications Research and the Study of Popular Culture: An Editorial Note on a Possible Future for this Journal". Departmental Papers (ASC): 1–6. 
  4. ^ Jauss, H.R. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Trans. Timothy Bahti. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982.
  5. ^ Bauer, R. The Obstinate Audience: The Influence Process from the Point of View of Social Communication.
  6. ^ Gauntlett, David (2007), Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences, London: Routledge.


  • Gauntlett, David (2007), Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences, London: Routledge.
  • Moores, Shaun (1993) Interpreting Audiences: The Ethnography of Media consumption, London: Sage.