Denis McQuail

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Denis McQuail (12 April 1935, London – 25 June 2017)[1][2] was a British communication theorist, Emeritus Professor at the University of Amsterdam, considered one of the most influential scholars in the field of mass communication studies.[3]


Born in London in 1935, McQuail obtained his BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford in 1958, and the next year his MA in Public and Social Administration. He obtained his PhD in social studies from the University of Leeds in 1967 with the thesis, entitled Factors affecting public interest in television plays.[4]

McQuail started his academic career in the UK. On 1 August 1977 he was appointed Professor at the University of Amsterdam, where on 6 November 1978 he spoke the inaugural lecture, entitled "The historicity of a science of mass media: time, place, circumstances and the effects of mass communication."[1] After his early retirement in 1 January 1997 he was appointed Emeritus Professor. He was also Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Southampton.[5]

The Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) established the Denis McQuail Award in his honour which is awarded each year to the best article advancing communication theory since 2006.[6]



McQuail published extensively in the field of political communication and communication theory. Best known is his contribution to the education of the public, concerning communication theory. His work has centred on explaining communication theories and their applications. He is adamant about informing the public on the benefits and dangers of mass communication.

In the early 1980s he and Dr. Sven Windahl published a book Communication Models. The book details basic communication models (Lasswell model, Shannon and Weaver's model, Gerbner's model), theories of media, audience-centered models, and mass media systems in general. In textbook style, the book outlines each topic: it is a compilation of existing communication theories with the author's own thoughts.

McQuail's next book, Mass Communication Theory, discusses in greater detail the mass communication concept. Specifically, it talks about the significance of mass media and how it affects the individual and society rather than focusing on the definitions of the models in general. "The three primary objectives: to update and take account of recent theory and research; enlargement, to reflect the continuing expansion of the field; clarification and improved presentation (pg. 13)". In Chapter 10, McQuail discusses the future of mass communication and states that it is either socially fragmenting or unifying. He makes several points on how the media needs to be socially responsible to be effective.

The sequel was Media Performance (1992). In it, previous theories are taken more for granted, and applied. He discusses at length the importance of an informed public. He states that the more aware a public is, the less likely it will be affected by media.

In 1993, communication scholars Denis McQuail and Sven Windahl referred to Lasswell's model as "perhaps the most famous single phrase in communication research." McQuail and Windahl also considered the model as a formula that would be transformed into a model once boxes were drawn around each element and arrows connected the elements. In 1995, Stanley Baran and Dennis Davis recognized it a verbal model of the communication process. In 2008, Greenberg and Salwen acknowledged that Lasswell's model of communication has been widely adopted, but expressed: "Although Lasswell's model draws attention to several key elements in the mass communication process, it does no more than describe general areas of study. It does not link elements together with any specificity, and there is no notion of an active process.

Freedom versus control[edit]

Denis McQuail believes the relations between media and society both have political and social-cultural aspects. Vital to the political aspect is the question of freedom and control.

The use and reception of media[edit]

McQuail makes special mention in Mass Communication Theory of the difficulty that surrounds identifying specific uses of media, as well as the difficulty of understanding the reception that any specific medium may have. McQuail uses the medium of the television as an example and notes that despite the many changes and extensions that the occurred, the television is still primarily seen as a medium of family entertainment.

Selected publications[edit]

  • McQuail, Denis (2010), McQuail's Mass Communication Theory (sixth edition)
  • McQuail, Denis (ed.) (2002), McQuail's reader in mass communication theory Sage, London.
  • McQuail, Denis and Karen Siune for the Euromedia Research Group (eds.) (1998), Media policy: convergence, concentration and commerce. Sage, London.
  • McQuail, Denis 1992, Media performance: Mass communication and the public interest. Sage, London.


  1. ^ a b "Prof. dr. D. McQuail, 1935 -," at Album Academicum website, University of Amsterdam.
  2. ^ Janet Wasko, Denis McQuail profile,; accessed 1 July 2017.
  3. ^ Peter Golding (2011): Denis McQuail: A Tribute and a Thank You, in: Manuel Pinto & Helena Sousa, eds. Communication and Citizenship. Rethinking crisis and change. Coimbra: Grácio Editor, pp. 123–28.
  4. ^ Golding, Peter (2017). "Professor Denis McQuail" (PDF). The Pelican Record: 110–113. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  5. ^ "Biography Denis McQuail". Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2011.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  6. ^ ASCoR McQuail Award Archived 25 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 1 July 2017.

External links[edit]