Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Classic text on gratifications Approach: ‘Media Gratifications Research, Current Perspectives’

Book Review
Media Gratifications Research, Current Perspectives
Edited by: Karl Erik Rosengren
Lawrence A. Wenner
Philip Palmgreen
Publisher: Sage Publications
Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi
Published year: 1985
PP: 311
1. Introduction:
The Uses and gratifications approach was renewed in media researches in the period between1950s and early 70s. It was an alternative to the failure of effect studies prompted by the Magic Bullet Theory and other linear models of communication like Lasswell’s SMCR model, Learner & Schramm’s Diffusion of Innovations and Shannon & Weavers’ model of communication. Especially, 1960s saw shift from direct effect studies to the audience activity. However, the period of 1960s till early 70s is marked with the lack of theoretical assumptions of the position. In this period, many scholars including Lasswell’s four fold typology (surveillance, correlation, socialization and entertainment refined by Wright, 1960) and McQuail’s typology of media interactions which consists of varying form of perception, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance were seen. It is only after Blumler and Katz’s 1974 volume Uses of Mass Communications that this approach got the strongest theoretical foundation.
Most of the theories in media research are brought from the social science and sometimes even from the natural sciences. However, the Gratifications Approach is the one that ‘we can call our own’ (Lin, 2003:207). There is no doubt that the theory stemmed from media studies. Many contemporary scholars of second half of the 20th century have contribution in the development of this approach. But the problem with other theorists of social science is that they have criticized this theory as lacking strong theoretical foundation. The book under review Gratifications Research Current Perspectives is an effort to overcome this criticism.
To mark the ten years of the publication of Blumler and Katz’s volume The Uses of Mass Communication (1975), the editors Karl Erik Rosengren, Lawrence A. Wenner & Philip Palmgreen bring varieties of articles to further clarify the theoretical foundations and practical approaches of the gratifications research in yet another classic text on Uses and gratifications approach, Media is Gratifications Research, current perspectives. Of course, the gratifications approach has mostly been applied in the media researches in those ten years. The discourses and the use of the methodology were unprecedented, even beyond the imagination of the proponents of the theory (See Blumler et al., 1985). The book Media Gratifications Research: Current Perspectives is an effort to see the ten years of the gratifications approach in media research which has been well established and accepted among the scholars.
In this review, first I review the contents of the book. I have tried to look at the important theoretical stances from the critical point of view. As per the composition of the book this part is further divided into three subtopics to separately deal with the aspects of the book or eventually the theory i.e. the theoretical foundations and past ten years, the current status of the approach in terms of its use in the research and about the future of the gratifications. In the next part, I have dealt with some of the criticism about the book and also with the theory and in the last chapter; I shed light about the implications of the theory and far reaching implication of the book.
2. Summary of the contents:
2.1 Past ten years: Theories and typologies in gratifications research
The Book has been divided into four parts. The first part is the review of the ten years of the Uses and Gratifications Research. It has a chapter ‘Uses and Gratifications Research: The past ten years’ by the editors, Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren. In this chapter, the writers look back the ten years since the publication of Blumler and Katz’s volume The Uses of Mass Communications, in 1974. Blumler and Katz’s volume tried to give the theoretical, methodological and substantive base for the Uses and Gratifications that ‘saw renaissance in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren, 1985:7)’. Since, then unprecedented uses of the methodology and debates on the applicability of the approach in Media research are seen.
The editors in the first chapter look at different stages over history how the gratifications research has been modified and new paradigms are added. They see the pre and post World War II period as being overshadowed by the concern for effect studies. After Blumler and Katz’s 1974 volume, the gratifications research got the strongest theoretical foundation. They described that the uses and gratifications approach is concerned with:
‘(1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs, which generate (3) expectations of (4) the mass media or other sources which lead to (5) differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting in (6) need gratifications and (7) other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones (as quoted in Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren., 1985:14).
Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren (1985) further clarify the most important assumptions of the theory as:
(1) the audience is active, thus (2) much media use can be conceived as goal directed, and (3) competing with other sources of need satisfaction, so that when (4) substantial audience initiative links to media choice, (5) media consumption can fulfill a wide range of gratifications, although (6) media content alone can not be used to predict [patterns of gratifications accurately because (7) media characteristics structure the degree to which needs may be gratified at different times, and, further, because (8) gratifications obtained can have their origins in media content, in and of itself, and/or the social situation in which exposure place (p. 14).
After swiftly underlining the fundamental theoretical aspects, Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren (1985) propose a comprehensive model for the uses and gratifications theory. In the General Gratifications model below, they show the intrinsic relationships between the society, individuals’ needs and media use.
Figure 1: Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren’s General Media gratifications model (Palmgreen, Wenner & Rosengren, 1985: 17).
This model gives emphasis to the ‘social psychological origins of needs, values, and beliefs, which give rise to motives for behavior, which may in turn be guided by beliefs, values, and social circumstances into seeking various gratifications through media consumption and other non-media behaviors (p. 16)’. It has been praised by the scholars Blumler, Gurevitch & Katz (1985: 255):
Palmgreen, Wenner and Rosengren’s general gratifications model demonstrates how effectively the present crop of uses and gratifications researchers have (literally) got their act together.
The rest of the chapter is the scholars’ effort to describe the various aspects of this model. They also indicate that with the advent of new media and technologies, the theoretical assumptions may eventually change and open the door for further discourses in the future.
In the second part, the editors bring varieties of scholarly articles to clarify further theoretical assumptions. It includes chapters on the social origins of media gratifications, transactional models and expectancy-value approaches to uses and gratifications phenomena. The most important chapter is ‘The Social character of media gratifications’ by Jay G. Blumler. In this chapter, Blumler, one of the scholars credited for renewing the Uses and gratifications Research puts his counter argument against the criticisms that the Gratifications Theory overlooks Social aspects. He accepts that ‘the central question of uses and gratifications researchers do sound personal, individualistic, even utilitarian’ (p. 42). But according to him, it is the weakness of the researchers, not the theory. To support his argument, he quotes Katz et al.’s statement from their 1974 volume:
‘They (researchers) are concerned with 1) the social and psychological origins of 2) needs which generate 3) expectations of 4) the mass media or other sources….(cited in Blumler, 1985:43)’.
In the discussions further, Blumler, citing some examples of the research projects, establishes that while doing uses and gratifications research, personal attributes as well as social variables are equally important. At the end, Blumler comes up with the suggestions for ‘socializing uses and gratifications approach’ in the future:
  • First, Uses and gratifications researchers should return more often to the qualitative drawing board before settling on dimensions, items, and scales for quantitatively measuring media motivation.
  • Second, we should now be aiming to study more often those audience-content relations in which social identity concerns are most likely to be involved.
  • Thirdly, sampling strategies should be devised that are designed trace social identity needs in media consumption.
  • Fourth, there is probably more than one form of matrix interconnecting identities and interests, and their reasons for using related communications.
  • And, fifthly, it should be noted that all this presupposes a pluralistic organization of society, containing many subsidiary groups and cultures. (P. 52-56)
In the following chapter, Philip Palmgreen & J. D. Rayburn II propose an Expectancy Value Approach to Media Gratifications research. According to them, audiences are active; they have certain perceptions or expectations of the possible media use and evaluate the performance of the media which determines the future use. They say, hence, expectations and evaluations are intrinsically related with the media use which should be taken care of in gratifications research:
Behavior, behavioral intention, or attitudes (or all three) as a function of (1) expectancy (or belief that is, the perceived probability that an object possesses a particular attribute or that a behavior will have a particular consequence; and (2) evaluation that is, the degree of affect, positive or negative, toward an attribute or behavioral outcome. Expectancy value theory thus not only provides an explicit conceptualization of expectancy in terms of perceived probabilities that certain media behaviors will have certain outcomes, but also states that we must take into account the value that an audience member attaches to those outcome (Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1985: 63).
They propose a model for Gratifications Sought (GS) and Gratifications Obtained (GO):
Figure 2: Palmgreen and Rayburn’s Expectancy Value Model of GS and GO (Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1985, 64).
In this model, they postulate that gratifications sought from media experience are a function of both beliefs (expectations) that audience members hold about media sources and the affective evaluations they attach to media attributes. After Media consumption, the gratifications obtained becomes the belief which again determines the gratifications sought and the cycle continues.
Other chapters in this part are ‘Transaction and Media Gratifications Research’ by Lawrence A. Wenner, ‘Toward a Merger of Gratifications and Agenda Setting Research’ by Maxwell E. McCombs & David Weaver, ‘The Concept of Audience Activity’ by Mark R. Levy & Sven Wihdahl, ‘Structural factors in Gratifications Research’ by Lennart Weibull and ‘Gratifications Research and Media Theory: many models or one?’ by Dennis McQuail.
These scholars bring various aspects and approaches to gratifications research. Most notable is Wenner’s specified transaction model (Wenner, 1985a: 91) where the scholar further describes the constituents of a general transaction model – general background, general foreground, media reference background, media reference foreground and effects. This model very much helps to integrate gratifications with the study of media effects.
McCombs and Weaver (1985) relate the concept of gratifications with agenda setting effect of the media and also with Elisabeth Noelle Newman’s Spiral of Silence. McCombs is one of the proponents of the agenda setting in the early 1970s which is also an effort to study how media help people to further their discourses in social life. Hence, it is a fusion of studying the media effects and audience behaviors.
2.2 Current status of the Gratifications Research:
In part III, scholars look at how the gratifications approach can be applied in the study of different genres; notably news, entertainment and new communication technologies. This part includes articles on ‘The nature of news gratifications’ by Lawerence A. Wenner, ‘The Gratifications Through Life Cycle’ by Alan M. Rubin, ‘The Naturalistic Study of Media Use and Youth Culture’ by James Lull, ‘The Experimental Exploration of Gratifications From Media Entertainment’ by Dolf Zillman and ‘Gratifications associated with New Communication Technologies’ by Friedrick Williams, Amy Friedman Phillips and Patricia Lum.
Of all media contents, news is one of the most effective productions. However, there are questions how actually people use news? Wenner (1985b) has tried to answer this question and in doing so, he has developed a structure which may be applied to the study of media news gratifications.
Rubin has tried how media gratifications differ through life cycle of human beings- children, adolescents, adults and the old age people. The scholar establishes that the needs and expectations about the media differ according to the ages and that apparently affects the gratification obtained. Williams, Phillips & Lum (1985) postulate that there is larger possibility for interaction with the audience; new media are likely to have better gratifications.
One of the chapters in the fourth part of the book also deals with the current status of the gratifications research. In this chapter, while seeing the future of the gratifications research (dealt under separate sub-topic below), Blumler, Gurevitch and Katz also assess current status (in 1985) of the gratifications research. According to them, the current research scene is:
  • First, there is the growth of work on “reading” texts and the attendant of the meanings that are conveyed by and extracted from them.
  • Second, there is increasing interest in the mass media as propagators of ideological messages.
  • Third, there has been increasing concern with television as a potential carrier of a global culture, and
  • Fourth, there is a more holistic awareness of systematic influences on mass communication patterns. Increasing attention is consequently paid to: (1) links of media institutions with other social institutional orders in the environment economic, political, cultural), (2) the functions performed by media institutions in upholding or disrupting such orders and (3) national system characteristics that may shape and constrain communication contents and effects. (p. 257-8)
2.3 Future of the Gratifications Research:
After underlying the theoretical foundation of the approach, scholars in the Part IV mull over the future of the gratifications research. Looking at the future, the scholars, Blumler, Gurevitch and Katz say they ‘discern both a troubling danger and an exciting opportunity (p. 255)’. The two veteran scholars of uses and gratifications theory Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz along with another contemporary prominent communication scholar Michael Gurevich come together in finding the future of the approach in the chapter ‘Reaching out: A Future for Gratifications Research.’ The scholars are confident that the preceding ten years of the publication of Blumler and Katz’s volume The Uses of Mass Communications (1974) have been successful and the gratifications research has been unanimously endorsed in the media research:
‘(in those ten years), “Gratifying” progress is recorded – in theory, methodology, and findings. The uses and gratifications paradigm evidently stands confidently on its own feet, generating its characteristic questions, refining its guiding concepts, building its house of data cumulatively.(Blumler, Gurevitch & Katz, 1985, 255)
One of the criticisms of the gratifications approach is that it overlooks the media content or the text. Blumler et al. have also accepted it and call for integration of the texts in the gratifications research. They indicate the three shifts in the implementation of Gratifications Research (p. 262-4) in the future as:
  1. Texts may be part and parcel of the very process of media motivation – sources of sought gratifications, not jus objects of them.
  2. Motives may guide textual interpretations and
  3. The interaction between reader and text will differ according to crucial sources of variation on both sides of the equation (though we are far from knowing what those may be).
The scholars are also concerned with the use of uses and Gratifications approach in cross cultural studies. They are worried that, most of the researches done so far were ‘culturally blinkered, because it is confined to single societies (p. 267) and they recommend for cross cultural studies for the future: ‘In the next ten years we therefore urge the conduct of more cross-cultural studies of audience orientations (p. 268). At the end of their essay, they have proudly declared to be the ‘gratificationists’ and come up with 11 suggestions for future improvements which they say are the ‘extensions of the principles’.
3. Analysis and evaluation of the book
The book is, of course a very important and useful text in uses and gratifications research. It largely covers dimensions and developments in the gratifications research in the ten years after the publication of Blumler and Katz’s volume Uses of Mass Communications, 1974. The variety of essays the editors bring from the scholars and the variety of topics they include is worth praising. They have also opened the avenues for future discourses in the approach.
This book has been highly applauded by the scholars like McQuail (2005), Gunter (2000) and Wimmer & Dominick (2003). However, ‘the state-of-the-art review of gratifications research’ (Gunter, 2000: 16) is not without criticism. According to Gunter, ‘Until mid-1980s, ‘uses and gratifications’ tradition represented no deviation from the empirical methodology of social science paradigm’ and this book also ‘hardly offered any studies outside the framework of logical positivism’. He adds:
The definition of the ‘uses and gratification’ approach as strictly ‘behavioral’ has been questioned, however, since its main emphasis is on social origins of media gratifications and on the wider social functions of media, for instance in facilitating social contact and interaction or in reducing tension and anxiety (p. 16).
McQuail (cited in McQuail, 2005: 426) has criticized the theory as too behaviorist and functionalist and ‘It also failed to provide much successful prediction or casual explanation of media choice and use’.
Besides, despite the editors’ assertion that television is powerful medium, the volume has failed to cover the topic as it should have been. Actually, the gratifications research was postulated to study the effects of television. Except entertainment programs, varieties of programs including television news, soaps and current affairs based programs and even advertisements are used by the audiences for gratifications which the book fails to incorporate. And that the major concern I raised at the beginning that the theory lacks strong theoretical foundation is not effectively addressed. Scholars like Blumler (1985) and others have tried to answer this criticism but the question still remains unanswered. Even this has been criticized by McQuail in the same book when he raises concern about the one or many models.
In the final chapter ‘Growth of a Research tradition: Some Concluding Remarks’, one of the editors, Karl Erik Rosengren praises the growth of research tradition and also puts some suggestions for the future. In the concluding remarks, the Rosengren (1985) says, no theory is without criticism and the gratifications approach also ‘must accept, and is willing to accept, a fair amount of well-grounded criticism.
4. Conclusion:
There is no doubt that the book is ‘state-of-the-art review’ of Uses and Gratifications Approach in media research. This book surely enhances the understanding and helps expand the horizon of the theory which ‘we call our own’. The theoretical assumptions it clarifies are answers to most of the criticisms that were seen in the ten years of review period (1974-84). The book also gives insight about the future usage of Uses and Gratifications theory. It can be the comprehensive reference to anybody interested in knowing about the gratifications approach.
The publication year of the book was too early to deal anything about uses and gratifications related with the new media. Yet, article by Williams, Phillips and Lum (1985) also touches some of the emerging technologies of time including cable television, teleconferencing and electronic mail. In the recent years, gratifications approach has also been used to access the gratifications related with new media in the wake of the 21st century. According to Lin (2003:207), ‘these hybrids (internet, PC-TV, and TV-PC) create new challenges for understanding the uses and gratifications associated with each, but they also offer an opportunity to further the application venues and scientific values of this particular perspective’. In fact there are more chances for applying gratifications approach in studying the usage of new media which are being more and more interactive and purposive.
The authenticity of the book is enhanced by the articles from the proponents of the theory Blumler and Katz. Other scholars who contribute articles in this volume are the best among the contemporaries. Their articles give critical and creative insights about the different aspects of the theory. The book remains as one of the classic texts in gratifications approaches for the future.
The End
Blumler, J. G (1985) 'The social character of media gratifications’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Blumler J. G., Gurevitch, M. & Katz, E. (1985) ‘Reaching out: A future for gratifications research’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Gunter, B. (2000). Media Research Methods. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Lin, C. A. (2003) ‘Uses and gratifications’ In Stone, G., Singletary, M. & Richmond, V. P. Clarifying Communication theories, New Delhi: Surjeet Publications.
McQuail, D. (2005). McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory. 5th ed. New Delhi, Vistaar Publications.
Palmgreen, P. & Rayburn, J. D. (1985) 'An expectancy-value approach to media gratifications’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Palmgreen, P., Wenner, L. A., Rosengren, K. E. (1985) In 'Uses and Gratifications: the past ten years’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Wenner, L. A. (1985a) ‘Transaction and media gratifications research’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Wenner, L. A. (1985b) ‘The nature of news gratifications’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Williams, F., Phillips, A. F. & Lum, P. (1985) ‘Gratifications associated with new communications technology’ In Rosengren, K. E., Wenner, L. A. & Palmgreen, P. (eds.) Media Gratifications Research Current Perspectives. Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi, Sage Publications.
Wimmer R. D. & Dominick, J. R. (2003). Mass Media Research: an introduction. 7th edition. Singapore, Thomson Asia Pte. Ltd.

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