Audiences in an Age of Datafication: Critical Questions for Media Research

Livingstone, Sonia
Television & New Media

This article critically examines how fears of audience gullibility, ignorance, and exploitation impede media studies’ response to the pressing challenges posed by the growing power of social media platforms and their innovative datafication practices. I revisit the history of audience research to show how empirical findings contested the pejorative conception of the audience problematically yet persistently imagined by theorists of media power during the twentieth century. As media studies joins other disciplines in responding to the growing datafication of society, I propose that the circuit of culture model can help theorize media (including platform and algorithmic) power by opening up the hermeneutic and action space between production and consumption. In this way, critical scholarship might more effectively analyze such metaprocesses as mediatization and datafication precisely by recognizing rather than erasing audiences’ relation to both the everyday lifeworld and the public world of citizen action, regulatory intervention, and the wider society.