ABSTRACT

Our curiosity about the audience is never innocent. Specific interests and orientations, material and intellectual, generally shape the perspective from which we come to define our object of study, and the kinds of knowledge—its form and content, its scope and substance—we pursue. There is now clearly a sense of crisis in the study of media audiences; indeed, the conference that gave rise to this volume called ambiguously for theoretical “comprehensiveness,” suggesting an awareness of a confusing lack thereof. The crisis is neither purely theoretical nor merely methodological (as misleadingly suggested in the oppositioning of quantitative and qualitative methods); rather, it is both deeply epistemological and thoroughly political. The current popularity of cultural studies approaches to the audience has not only produced considerable epistemological confusion over the status of the concept of “audience” as an analytical object, but has also reanimated the persistent critical preoccupation with the political standing of scholarship: What does it mean to do “audience research,” and why do it in the first place?