Media literacy, Economic Rationales, and the Humanities: The Making of a Movement

Document Type



Published by Common Ground Publishing in International Journal of the Humanities Volume 2, Issue 3.

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Media Literacy;Media Studies;Media Education;Mass Communication;Critical Theory;Neo-Marxist Theory;Humanities


Common Ground Publishing

Publication Source

International Journal of the Humanities


The development of a strong media literacy movement in the U.S. is hampered by the struggle between traditional humanists and those wedded to economic rationalism. The former camp, taking a text-based approach, sees media literacy as improving people's understanding of media texts by teaching them about the techniques used in the production of those texts. They view media education as aiding in the reading of texts. The latter, taking a contextual approach, calls not for the development of more sophisticated media consumers, but for more sophisticated citizens. Both perspectives equate media literacy with traditional notions of literacy. The contextual approach, however, emphasizes issues of power and control inherent in a profit-driven, industrial media system. This economic-based perspectives rests firmly in critical and neo-Marxist theories, making it unpalatable to many otherwise enthusiastic proponents of media literacy. This presentation will explore the state of the media literacy movement in the U.S., how other nations have attempted to resolve this debate, and its implications for research and teaching in the humanities. Contemporary examples, such as media coverage of terrorism, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the American electoral process, will inform this discussion.

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