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Challenges for Popular Communication Research Today

From steamy Hong Kong I've now travelled to humid Singapore, where the 2010 conference of the International Communication Association is about to get underway. This Tuesday we're starting with a pre-conference on methodological questions in popular communication reearch. Pre-conference organiser Cornel Sandvoss begins by highlighting the significant intertextuality of media texts - and there is a quantitative increase in media content and use. Additionally, narratives are increasingly moving transmedia, and lines between the producers and users of content are blurring.

So, Cornel suggests, there is an erosion of producer-defined textual boundaries - readers, users, now are just as active in constructing the boundaries of the texts they encounter (though there are differences of degree between different textual forms, of course). Texts are polysemic, but all texts are; how polysemic are they, though? Cornel suggests that their signification value depends on the number of readings they receive.

And that shift of meaning-making towards the audience means that media audiences are now commonly studied in isolation from the text - we now focus much more on audiences as such, and 'media studies 2.0' is increasingly connecting with sociology in this way.

Instead, Cornel suggests, media studies should develop more methodological tools to study the interaction between texts and readers - such methods should not simply focus on the quantitative,or the meso level (small groups of readers), should explore digital recording techniques to track audience activities, should develop new methods of data analysis, and should take account of the ephemerality and mobility of textual use.

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