Cultural Studies | Reception Studies: National and Transnational
C701 | 29369 | Klinger

Tu, 1:00 PM-3:30 PM, C2 272
Required film screening: M, 7:15 PM-10:15 PM, SE 105

Meets with CMCL-C 662 and AMST-G 620
Open to Graduates Only!

Reception studies, a field of inquiry developed in film and media
studies in the 1980s, has gradually become an umbrella term for
scholarship on audiences. Today, comprised of multiple
methodologies, it defines research focused on exploring the
connections between media texts and the meaning-making agendas of
viewers. This course will introduce students to two major
contemporary schools of thought on the audience—historical reception
studies and ethnographic/empirical approaches—as they have had and
continue to have substantial influence on this area of research in
film, television, and new media studies. Historical reception
studies, initially theorized by British Cultural Studies scholar,
Tony Bennett, argues that any theory of reading or viewing should
take into account how the material, social, and historical context
in which the encounter between text and reader takes place affects
meaning and interpretation. Empirical/ethnographic approaches,
partly inspired by the work of another British Cultural Studies
scholar, Stuart Hall, places emphasis on how everyday forces acting
on individual spectators help to determine how they will decode
media messages. While historical reception studies tend to engage
the “textual surround” for evidence (that is, materials surrounding
the event of viewing, including advertisements, reviews, and star
discourse), media ethnographers turn to specific audiences,
conducting interviews and other forms of research as a means of
theorizing response. Despite differences, each methodology conceives
of the viewer as existing within a concrete social and historical
context, shaped by considerations of class, gender, sexuality,
ethnicity, race, and/or national identity, and at times exhibiting
resistance to mainstream ideologies. Reception and audience studies
today cut across significant and diverse areas of inquiry in the
field, from questions of value, aesthetics, and interpretation to
analyses of the film and media industry, film exhibition,
authorship, stardom, and new media; from gender and critical race
studies to theories of nationalism, globalization, transnationalism,
and the diaspora; from memory studies to fan studies.

In conjunction with weekly screenings, we will read the work of
major theorists involved in developing and continuing to contribute
to reception and audience studies, while entertaining the strengths
and weaknesses of each methodology. We will read scholars such as
Janet Staiger, Jane Gaines, Robert Stam and Ella Shohat, Marie
Gillespie, Hamid Naficy, Annette Kuhn, Henry Jenkins, and Lynn
Spigel, to name just a few. Students will periodically be asked to
lead discussion, write a number of take-home papers, and do a final