What is media sociology

Media sociology. Handbook for Science and Studies edited by Dagmar Hoffmann and Rainer Winter | Review written by Andreas Schulz

"What we know about our society, yes about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media." (Luhmann 1996: 9) This much-quoted introductory sentence from Niklas Luhmanns The reality of the mass media represents one of the fundamental premises of media and communication studies. However, and this is what the editors of this anthology state, references to communication contexts in sociological introductions have only recently been made (9). They go further and argue that "[g] enerell [...] hardly any media-sociological studies are taken note of by social theorists" (ibid.). It is this starting point that prompted the media scientist and sociologist Dagmar Hoffmann (Siegen) and the cultural and media scientist Rainer Winter (Klagenfurt) to curate a handbook for the media sociology established in the German-speaking area in order to explore perspectives, topics, methods and results of the To illustrate the research field (11). It was important to them, and this illustrates the thematic diversity of the 29 contributions in the five structure-giving sub-chapters, (i) Central terms, (ii) Theory developments and perspectives, (iii) Research Approaches, (iv) Research fields as well as (v) methodological diversity to show. After a brief description of the content of selected contributions, the strengths and weaknesses of the volume will be discussed in more detail.


In the first thematic blog, central terms of media studies are explained in more detail and made fruitful for the sociological follow-up discussion. The pedagogue and sociologist Axel Schmidt (Basel / Mannheim) gives a lecture on in his two contributions Interaction and communication and Media and media communication and highlights the sociologically relevant references. In doing so, he manages to go beyond the dominant theoretical appropriations of Luhmann's system theory within the 'mainstream' communication sciences (cf. Wendelin 2008) and uses social science 'classics' such as Mead, Luckmann and Goffmann to work on the meanings of interaction and communication for a sociology of the media. His contribution is similar Media and media communication in front. Here, too, he explains the term 'media' from a genuinely media-sociological perspective and clarifies modes of use (39f.). In doing so, Schmidt manages to discuss the term comprehensively and, among other things, goes into various definitions and functional systematics of the media term. For example, he contrasts the definition of a 'broad' view, according to which media determine human perception, or a 'narrow' one, in which the media can be represented as dominant channels such as mass media (45ff.).

The communication scientist and sociologist Andreas Ziemann (Weimar) takes up the interactions Media and society a (57f.) and, based on the media definition, describes that these reactions are certain desired goals and solutions to social problems (58) and presents "social change" in the context of the hegemonic social form (s) and its specific key medium in the historical time sequence (60ff.). The sociological link between media and subject culture (s) - based on the Viadrin cultural sociologist Andreas Reckwitz (2006) (63ff.) - as well as the necessary reference to the concept of the Medialization. This means the "operational and structural penetration and infection of various socialization areas by the mass media as well as the substitution of social action by media action" (65).

Communication scientist Angela Keppler (Mannheim) will follow up on the contribution Media, living environment and everyday activities, with reference to Harald Garfinkel's ethno-methods, and clarified on the basis of the DFG project “Mediatized Conversations. Everyday communication today “the sustainability of everyday communication (82f.). The first chapter closes with the contribution of the communication scientist Friedrich Krotz (Bremen) to Mediatizationwhich he outlines in the interdisciplinary field of tension between sociology and communication science. Similar to Zieman, he deals with a social and everyday change. In addition to classic basic assumptions that are inherent in the term, such as a change in communicative action (89), he goes into paradigmatic controversies and current research approaches, based on early research by Anselm Strauss, through historical-reconstructive to critical research.

Theoretical approaches

The second content-related blog on theoretical approaches is based on the contribution of the sociologist Tilmann Sutter (Bielefeld) (Meta-) theories initiated. In this comprehensive overview article, he deals with systems and post-structuralist approaches as well as critical theory, action theory and cultural studies.

The sociologist Udo Göttlich (Zeppelin University) shows research-oriented theories and action-theoretical approaches. A special focus is placed on cultural and audience studies, which form the theoretical basis for more recent praxeological approaches such as the creativity-oriented perspective of media reception (131f.).

The sociologist Matthias Wieser (Klagenfurt) dedicates himself to the problematization of perspective Media as actor networks (ANT) (Bruno Latour / MichaelCallon). He emphasizes that empirical media research mostly focuses on "the triad" media industry, audience and media text, whereas ANT researchers analyze the "process of mediation in which industry, [audience] and text 'connect'" (140 ). The ANT therefore does not regard media as an object, "but as an assembly of different elements and merely 'temporarily' stabilized, socio-technical arrangements." (141)

The emeritus sociologist Stefan Müller-Doohm (Oldenburg) is based on the Frankfurt School and approaches of critical theory to the culture industry Media theory and public relations research a.

The thematic conclusion is the contribution of the social philosopher Douglas Kellners (UCLA) to Media spectacle and protest. Based on the French philosopher Guy Debord (1996), he understands a spectacle to be a combination of a large "variety of phenomena that appear" and is accordingly to be understood as an overarching concept for describing media and consumer society (162). On the basis of various (international) protests, such as the Occupy movement and the so-called Arabellion, but also specific scandals, such as the trial against O.J. Simpson or the Bill Clinton affair, he illustrates how media spectacles unfold, how they take on narrative forms and thereby develop into stories that help to construct the existing society (161, 165ff.). They are “an important arena for political disputes, where everyday interests and struggles are fought” (172).

Research Approaches

In the chapter Research Approaches become important media fields like Image / imagery (Daniel Suber, sociologist in Würzbug), Movie (Rainer Winter, sociologist in Klagenfurt), watch TV (Lothar Mikos, television scientist in Babelsberg), Computers and networks (Christian Stegbauer, sociologist in Frankfurt / Main), Hybrid media (Manfred Faßler, sociologist in Frankfurt / Main), Mobile media (Editor Dagmer Hoffmann) and Popular music (Andreas Gebesmair, sociologist in St. Pölten) and discussed their substantial importance for media sociology. This chapter highlights the interdisciplinary overlaps with the “classic” content of communication and media studies and science and technology studies as well as with the “hyphenated” sociologies such as television, film and image sociology.

Research fields

In the field of Research fields the editors collect a range of sociological topics such as Knowledge (Wolfgang Reissmann, communication and media scientist in Siegen), politics (Manfred Mai, political scientist in Duisburg-Essen), Gender (Kornelia Hahn, sociologist in Salzburg), body (Sabina Misoch, sociologist in St. Gallen), Sports (Moritz Böttcher and Robert Gugutzer, sports and social scientists in Frankfurt / Main), Celebrities (Graeme Turner, cultural scientist in Queensland), violence (Waldemar Vogelgesang, sociologist in Trier) and social inequalities (Nicole Zillien, sociologist in Trier). The contribution of communication scientist Jeffrey Wimmer (Augsburg) to Participation and (counter) public thematically follows on from the theoretical contributions by Müller-Doohm on public relations research and Göttlich's remarks on the creativity-oriented perspective of media reception (131). He differentiates the social science discourse on the new forms of media participation in digital publics and their meanings for democracy (251f.). The observed effect of a shift in power from the formerly privileged media access by the state and established parties to "horizontal social, spatial and temporal communication networks that are anchored in civil society" represents a basic sociological assumption of new media and counter-publics (249).


In the final chapter, the Historical development of media-sociological methods (Jäckel), as well as in particular Qualitative (Ayass) and Quantitative methods (Zillien / Pauli) discussed in more detail. The sociologist Michael Jäckel (Trier) summarizes the early beginnings of social science media studies, such as that of Paul Lazarsfeld on opinion research, time budget research and Michel Foucault's research on the diary, and clearly illustrates the methodological developments.

The Bielefeld sociologist Ruth Ayaß separates four qualitative methods that are used in media sociology; the questioning procedure, the observation procedure, the analysis of media products as well as the interaction analytical methods (326).

Nicole Zillien and the media and cultural sociologist Roman Pauli (Wuppertal) reflect on the first media-sociological research projects around Max Weber (1910) and the later emancipation of newspaper science from sociology (1920), referring to DGPuK and DGS, the interdisciplinary character and the methodological Outline the diversity of an open media sociology (335). Similar to Ayass, they come to the conclusion that media-sociological research can make use of a heterogeneous range of established methods (342) that are congruent with methods in other hyphenated sociologies, since "media have become commonplace and multiplied, are ubiquitous and in everyone Section of society have penetrated ”(326).


The well-structured structure enables students and interested people to systematically access media sociology. The comprehensive volume reflects an impressive range of basic media-sociological terms, theories and fields of research. In addition, the interfaces to political, cultural, communication and media studies and other social sciences are clearly illustrated. On the one hand, the volume calls for more interdisciplinarity and at the same time tries to constitute a genuine field of research with 'own' theories and methods. In addition, the recipients of this manual get insights into special theories, such as those of the media spectacle, approaches from hybrid media and computer studies or the research field of celebrity studies. Content redundancies or theoretical overlaps are unavoidable.

However, as Daniel Suber said in his contribution to the picture correctly noted, “the” sociology “maintains a clear distance to the visual as a whole” (177). All the more is the lack of engagement with the Visual sociology, to be highlighted as a thematic research contribution within media sociology in this volume. Starting from the inadequate interdisciplinary cooperation between application-related media-sociological studies and social theorists (9), which was problematized in the introduction, the de-thematization of visual sociology and its sociological implementation work for the theoretical connection of sociological, media and image-theoretical approaches in the fields of image and film (cf. Institute for Sociology Vienna) a noticeable weak point. The same applies to the lack of thematization of other haptic media such as books or other storage media, as well as their meanings for societies.

Finally, it should be emphasized that this manual is a comprehensive resource for students and those interested in the department. Thanks to the expertise of the authors, the contributions represent a balanced basis for research work. The useful literature recommendations at the end of the contributions simplify further study of the content. The easily understandable, well-structured and multifaceted plea for more implementations of media sociology in the sociology canon can be viewed as a standard work in the German-speaking area and, in terms of content, goes far beyond previous works such as Michael Jäckels (2005), Silvio Waisboards (2014) as well as Cora Benders and Martin Zillingers ( 2015) edited anthologies.


Bender, Cora / Zillinger Martin (Eds.) (2015): Handbuch der Medienethnographie. Berlin: Reimar.

Debord, guy (1996): The Society of the Spectacle. Berlin: Edition Tiamat.

Jackel, Michael(Ed.) (2005): Media Sociology. Basics and fields of research. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Institute for Sociology Vienna (2018): Visual Sociology. Available online at https://www.soz.univie.ac.at/forschung/visuelle-soziologie/ (last visited on May 9, 2018).

Luhmann, Niklas (1996): The Reality of the Mass Media. 2nd edition Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Reckwitz, Andreas (2006): The Hybrid Subject: A Theory of Subject Cultures from Bourgeois Modernism to Postmodernism. Weilerswist: Velbrück.

Waisbord, Silvio (Ed.) (2014): Media Sociology: A Reappraisal. New Jersey: Wiley.

Wendelin, Manuel (2008): Systems Theory as an Innovation in Communication Science. Content-related obstacles and institutional success factors in the dissusion process. In: Communicatio Socialis, Vol. 41 (4), pp. 341-359.

The book

Hoffmann, Dagmar / Winter, Rainer (Eds.) (2018): Mediensociology. Science and Study Guide. Baden Baden: Nomos, 356 pages. ISBN: 978-3-8329-7991-1

The author

Andreas Schulz, is currently studying cultural and social anthropology as well as journalism and communication studies in Vienna. In his theses, he addresses the issues of media representations of flight in a European context. His study interests include the areas of flight, media representation of migration, identity constructions and labor market integration. Its focus regions are Eastern Europe and Western Asia.