The contributions of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim to the formation of sociology are rather sufficient, as the scientist has studied the ways in which societies could maintain their integrity and coherence in the present days. The integrity and the coherence of the societies in the modern era were considered without the religious and ethnic background. Instead, Durkheim studied the society in terms of its parts and the functions these parts had in keeping the society healthy and balanced. Moreover, the scientist claimed that society was more than the sum of its parts. According to Durkheim, only the study of social facts could give way to understanding the society.
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The Durkheim approach can be applied to various phenomena. For example, the study of communication conducted by James Carey in his Cultural Approach to Communication and by Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz in their Television Ceremonial Events approaches communication from the Durkheim’s theory.
In the first article the author examines two conceptions of communication that exist in American culture, namely, these are a transmission view of communication and a ritual view on communication.
According to the first view, communication is the process which takes place only when “the messages are transmitted and distributed in space for the control of distance and people” (Carey, p. 15). The second view, on the contrary, regards communication not as an extension of messages in space but as the maintenance of society in time; communication is “not the act of imparting communication, but the representation of shared belief” (Carey, p. 18).
By example of newspaper the author explains both of these concepts. When one treats the newspaper from the point of view of the transmission view of communication, he or she sees it as a medium for spreading news and knowledge. The transmission argument is accompanied by the study of effects of the news and knowledge on the audience and the functions that they have in society.
Examining the newspaper from the ritual approach to communication, one would be interested in another range of problems. The supporters of this view claim that newspaper and other media are not the transmitters of the information but the portrayals of the particular views of the world and confirmers of these views. The author does not deny any of these approaches and insists on understanding society through all of them. As there is no society without communication, there is no society without a symbolic system in which reality is “produced, maintained, repaired and transformed” (Carey 23). To study society as a form of communication one needs to study this system, otherwise no comprehensive analysis will be presented.
The interdependence of culture and society are also examined in Dayan and Katz’s work. By the examples of television ceremonial events the authors argue that ritual events are endorsed by a state apparatus and offered as symbols.
Such media events like England’s royal wedding, the moon landing, the pope’s trip to Poland, Anwar El. Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, the funerals of John Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Lord Mountbatten and the Olympic games allow their spectators to follow them from within, to become an integral part of them. Witnessing the event, the spectator becomes an object of political propaganda or of ideological seduction. These events serve as the state’s self-presentation; they are portrayal of the norms existing in the state and the embodiments of these norms. The main principles according to which this or that state lives are exemplified by means of these events thus establishing the communication with other societies.
If considering cinematography without which the modern television does not seem possible, the cult movies were started as fictional texts, but were adjusted to the laws of performance and were also turned into ceremonies.
To influence the audience in the suitable way each performance is accompanied by the narration. This is not a mere description of the action that takes place, it must enhance the participation of the audience, either direct or implied, in the event. Therefore, the main requirement to the narration is that it should be unobtrusive and self-affecting.
Both verbal and non-verbal aspects of media events are intended as acts of communication (Dayan and Katz, p. 64). The authors of the work under consideration foresee that with existing media policy media events will become the only means of communication soon. Media objects form groups around them and these groups turn into sponges that absorb the information presented and transmit it to other groups.
The establishment of the social group via the media objects is impossible without knowing the demands of the public. The latter are closely examined and various ceremonial award choices are presented to the public. The ceremonials develop cultural phenomenon typical for this or that society. For example, MTV Kid’s Choice Award is a cultural phenomenon for children. This ceremony is reflective of the public. The ceremonies of this type help to study the influence of the marketing techniques on the public thus multiplying the revenues produced. Not only material pleasure is got from the MTV Kid’s Choice Award, but the moral one as well. Children are being given voices and have a say – this contributes to the study of cultural phenomenon and its development in itself.
- Dayan, D., & Katz, E. (1985). Television ceremonial events. Society, 22, 60-66.
- Carey, James W. “A Cultural Approach to Communication.” Communications as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Ed. New Ed. Routledge, 1988. 13-36.