Friday, February 3, 2012

The follies of content analysis

This weeks readings were about the basics of content analysis, and I think the readings did a good job of talking about the promises and pitfalls of this research method. However, I would like to expand on the problem of a lack of deeper meaning/the use of stereotypes.
            As Gill and Van Zoonen point out, content analysis depends on the researchers ability to classify media images according to stereotypes. I think this is problematic for three reasons. First, by using cultural stereotypes, such as the dumb blonde, to categorize media representations,the research does little to upset the stereotype. Additionally, because much of this analysis uses the theory that the media is--or should be--a reflection of society, the use of these stereotypes in research seems, at least to me, to be perpetuating the stereotypes.
            My second major issue with content analysis is that in using stereotypes, content analysis ignores the multiple meanings each media image could have in different contexts and focuses just on the simple, dominant meaning. This is similar to the example used in class of how a cartoon by The Onion is considerably less offensive when one knows it was created by a satirical newspaper. Using content analysis, one could conclude that some ironic media representations are “bad” when, in fact, due to their irony, they have may have been “good.”
            Finally, while I understand the desire to obtain hard, quantitative data, I believe that content analysis is not generally useful (in the sense that it gives us a deeper understanding of the text being analyzed) due to its tendency to see images as having only one meaning. If post-modernism has taught us anything, I think it is that meaning is not singular and fixed but multiple and fluid, and the fact that content analysis ignores this makes me doubt its validity and utility as a research method.

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