Monday, August 21, 2006


I'd like to follow up on the call (from the International Journal of Communication) to identify five under-noticed books in communication. In a sense, this is not a very flattering category for these books. There is the danger of making it seem as if publishers had not done enough to promote the books, or as if authors had not done enough to make their ideas clearly relevant to the field of communication. That said, when I consider the neglect involved in these books' shared status as 'under-noticed,' I point the finger of blame not at publishers or authors, but at that ever-convenient bete noir: my field of study. 'Blaming the field' is a way to blame the victim and the perpetrator at the same time. So, I feel good and bad about it.

Without further ado, here is my list of five under-noticed books from the last decade (except for one from 1990). As with my top 5 books in communication in the last ten years, these are in no particular order.

1) Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field (Polity, 2005), ed. by Rodney Benson & Erik Neveu. I am an ardent believer in the proposition that Pierre Bourdieu's should be integrated more fully into media studies. It is gratifying to see an edited volume that picks up on this idea and runs with it. I think edited volumes are too often neglected when we try to identify important works in the field's past. And this one's a corker. Great chapters from French and American authors, including Patrick Champagne, Julien Duval, Dan Hallin, and Michael Schudson (who plays the familiar role of 'he who is not quite sure about all this hubbub' without being a stick in the mud). Journalism studies could use more theoretical armature (i.e. kill me before I have to read another straight-up public sphere article in journalism studies).

2) Redeeming Modernity (Sage, 1990), by Joli Jensen. An approachable and readable introduction to mass communication theory that serves double-duty as a subtly subversive reimagination of the field. Were Jensen less creative, she might have called this "What We Talk About When We Talk About the Media". It's from more than 10 years ago--thus outside of the 'last decade' stipulation--but still worth more attention.

3) The Digital Sublime (MIT, 2004), by Vincent Mosco. Solid new media theory, dealing critically and directly with how myths of cyberspace have quickly become installed as common sense. Much of this is meta-theory, but Mosco is too good a polemicist to allow himself to slip into navel-gazing. Fantastic.

4) CODE: Collaborate Ownership and the Digital Economy (MIT, 2005), edited by Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. Perhaps a chaser of (relative) optimism after Mosco's critical perspective? This isn't all sunshine and happiness, but the authors here, at their best, capture some of what makes new media novel. The book covers a very broad swath: creativity, mechanisms for collaboration, and intellectual property are the big ideas. There's some real mind-bending stuff on how creativity operates in this volume. Admittedly, it's not that much of a 'communication' book (I don't think any of the authors are communication professors or grad students), but so what? The field can stand to learn from other disciplines.

5) The Audible Past (Duke, 2004), by Jonathan Sterne. This is the definitive cultural history of sound reproduction. It's a rich narrative here (perhaps in need of more trimming), with an abiding concern for what we construct as 'sound' and 'not sound'. I found it unsettling to realize how much history is embedded in my own near-constant experience of sound reproduction.

That's it for now. I don't think these five books have found the audience they deserve, yet. I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot.


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