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 Book Review

In modern day society, cultural studies could be interpreted as the studies of many things: identity, politics, media, religion, history – the list is endless, as everything around us and that makes up our society is formed because of culture. As a course, Cultural Studies is a form of, and understanding of communication while diving into the interdisciplinary and anti-disciplinary of how we communicate throughout society. When considering cultural studies in the viewpoint of the present day, it is inevitable that the integration of digitalization and media will be embedded into every discussion and topic. John Hartley writes Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies to explore the cultural and media studies of digitalization, and its domination throughout the years. Hartley's attempt at justifying the need for a better understanding of technological advances that overthrow societal communication, such as archive, knowledge transfer, and citizenship, is wholesome, but essentially lacks a systematized thought process. The textbook is therefore difficult to understand as a reader and student of a Cultural Studies course and conveys a perplexing narrative, rather than aligning with the class discussions and coursework.

Author's Purpose

 In the perspective of the author, John Hartley, media and cultural studies need reform with the rise of technological shifts throughout the past few years. Given that the technological shifting of the two sectors include the removing of physical consumption, the practice and act of communication consumption are therefore threatened and almost extinct. Consider social media as an example – the domination of the technological form of communication has drastically altered society, and how we communicate as society entirely, whether noted for the better or for the worst. Hartley dissects into the sectors of digital and cultural studies in which technology has and is essentially overtaking, and that the author reiterates as a "consequence," rather than an aid to modes of communication. Prior to jumping head-on into the analysis of digitalization, Hartley highlights the current state of technological advances and communication. He states: "To take seriously the dialogic model of communication – where, you will note, ‘the consumer' disappears entirely. Instead, ‘meaningfulness,' ‘social networks,' and ‘relationships' surface as crucial components of the process” (Kindle Locations 188-191). Noting that “the consumer” has disappeared entirely due to the digitalization of media, Hartley emphasizes that the specific dialogic model of communication has shifted along with it. This is specifically in relations to the cultural studies aspect of the textbook and the course at Pace, because it sums up how concepts such as “meaningfulness” and “relationships” are what makes or breaks the successes and impact of the newly digitalized media, something of which was much easier to identify and embed into communication through media and culture beforehand.

When implementing Hartley's ideas and viewpoint on cultural studies with modern day technology, he notes that although we are tempted to project the general idea of media – that it essentially damages physical communication, as well as communication in society entirely, we should also give it the benefit of the doubt, since it will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Instead, Hartley stretches the importance of avoiding the railing of disempowerment, disengagement, passivity, etc. onto students, otherwise known as the generation that will be taking over the technological, media, entertainment industries, through this negative narrative. In order to “make the best of,” and look at the positive sides of the ever-growing, futuristic reality of communication, Hartley suggests: “Media studies need to teach both knowledges, including self-knowledge, and action, both critical and creative – together they constitute true digital literacy for an ‘active audience.'” (Kindle Locations 288-291). With the overtaking of digitalized media such as YouTube and the diminishing of physical consumption, the newly defined "consumers" of these digital products then become the "active audience." Active audiences are the receivers of the products but are also the ones that are creating the products. YouTube being the prime example and case study in Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies also serves as the best platform for the "active audience," as it was built and famed off of normal people uploading their own video contents in order to gain viewers that are also participants themselves. Hartley emphasizes on the importance of educating students on both concepts of knowledge – being self-knowledge as well as action, but to do so in both critical and creative ways in order to maximize our abilities to become the perfect “active audience” for this digital climate. That being the author's primary goal when developing this textbook for classrooms such as ours, Hartley dives into each and every aspect in which we should consider a part of our cultural studies through each chapter.

 Cultural Studies, Creative Industries, and Cultural Science

With the first chapter being the formal introduction of the author and his objectives for the course of the textbook for us readers, Chapter Two, “Cultural Studies, Creative Industries, and Cultural Science,” is where Hartley begins his dissection. Chapter Two lays out the changes and progression of the disciplinary sector of cultural studies, including what has been included in the study in the past, along with what direction and at what speed it is going in terms of economies. In the midst of his analysis of the current state of knowledge when it comes to technology and other factors that contribute to every form of communication, Hartley illustrates a summed-up history of the future of the path that media and cultural studies are on in Figure 2.1. The chart, being a "power-law curve" or "long tail," is a model of the growth of knowledge via technologies of speech/symbol, writing/math, print, broadcast media, and the internet (Kindle Location 1886). In the respective categories of speech/symbol, writing/math, print, broadcast media, and the internet, it is worth noting that this is a chronological order of the evolution of communication through evolving technologies. Though all are still implemented into today's means of transferring knowledge and communication, Figure 2.1 justifies societies' need to consider that the internet's means of communicating and obtaining knowledge is the most powerful. To the right of the graph is a list of "types of economy," which Hartley includes in order to measure out which technology worked alongside which type of economy including hunter-gatherer, agricultural economy, industrial economy, information economy, and lastly creative economy, which works hand-in-hand with the internet. Though we are already aware of how and why methods of communication such as writing/math worked alongside agriculture or film/broadcast alongside information, we must also consider that with time, these technologies provide more and more knowledge alongside its economy counterpart.

With the Internet, knowledge in terms of the creative economy has skyrocketed, thanks to platforms that provide the transferring of creative knowledge such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and Instagram. Though the Internet consists of many other successful and dominant platforms such as Google, the focal on platforms that allow its users to contribute creatively in order to inform, teach, and influence other users is what Hartley perceives as the embodiment of the state of the future of digitalization. In addition to defining the Internet as a model of communicating creative economy, Hartley also defines it as: “One of the main attractions of a population-wide cultural science approach is that it focuses on creativity among ‘users' as much as ‘producers,' thereby continuing the cultural-studies tradition of focusing on ordinary culture, the active audience, and ‘bottom-up' causation in meaning systems" (Kindle Location 1893). In this definition, Hartley describes the Internet as a population-wide cultural science that encourages the participation of users and individual users and producers of the content that they are essentially using. The idea of the active audience is what makes up our digital communication sphere as a whole, and what encourages the circulation of creativity and knowledge through cultural and media studies. As this chapter dissects the meaning of being both a user and producer for creative intentions, Chapters 3 and 4 dives into the distribution of public thought through two of the most dominant forms of creative economy, being journalism and popular culture, and how knowledge is distributed through these platforms with present-day technology.

 Public Thought Through Journalism and Popular Culture

Passionate about indulging on the subject of creative industries that the evolution of communication technologies has created, Hartley discusses the distribution of public thought on digital media through journalism, which he notes as the "factual-realist textual system of modernity" (Kindle Location 1987). Particularly within the concept of journalism, popular culture is considered both an object and subject of the modern, industrialized representation in journalism, though its definition and case studies range depending on specific cultures and societies. When we hear the term "popular culture," we think of celebrity culture, entertainment, fashion, politics, and many more, all of which comes with their own designated consumer market. Popular culture reigns through journalism particularly because of popular culture professionals' abilities to convey a narrative that portrays and is meant for "the people" (Kindle Location 2012) but is also allowing enough room for users to adjust what their perception of "the people" is, based on popularity. One present-day example that is best when visualizing the concept of "the people" and how it attracts users to popular culture would be the rise of digital influencers, such as bloggers, YouTubers, and models. Prior to the reign of digital media and social media, a vast majority of these now influencers with millions of followers would be considered just ordinary people, but because of the ability to become both a subject and object in journalism, it provides users with the ability to speak for themselves.

With where the Internet and its platform stands now comes with the distribution of public thought, which Hartley dissects as the “university.” University is simply another term for “public thought,” an established institution of knowledge production that essentially defines the way we communicate knowledge through digitalization. Hartley breaks down the university online, or public thought online with Table 4.1 (Kindle Location 1174). which visualizes the mirroring, growing, and extending of the university's function. The table is divided into two columns: inlearning (institutional) and outlearning (distributed), and is followed by a list with university institutions and its distribution channel, which is where the public thought and knowledge is given a platform to express itself. Hartley's visualization of institutions such as searchable, and its mirror being Google, along with many other examples that are utilized by students on a day-to-day basis provides us with a key connecting tool that is applicable to "real life," such as classroom discussions that often lead to real life scenarios. That being said, Hartley specifically succeeds at transitioning our attention to his next few chapters, which analyzes YouTube as an online source for user citizenship and as an everlasting archive for the public's benefit.


  YouTube:  Contemporary Citizenship and Archive

We are all familiar with, and users of YouTube. Whether we use the platform to follow our favorite vloggers, look up DIY tutorials, or simply to watch funny cat videos, YouTube is essential to modern day forms of entertainment, knowledge, and socialization. Aside from providing users with the ability to become active audience members, and physically upload our own content for other users to stream and determine worth for, YouTube and other online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu provide society at-large with accessibility, mode of production, and an overall different viewing experience. Hartley justifies the reign of online television and streaming by comparing it to its predecessor, being broadcast media, and how although it served society well, it did not represent the people as a whole. Hartley states: “So, everyone was represented – ordinary life and everyday choices were the real ‘platform' of mass media – but simultaneously no-one spoke for themselves. Everything was realist but nothing was real” (Kindle Location 2809-2812). Continuing from his illustration of types of economies in Figure 2.1, Hartley describes film and broadcast as a great communicator of information regarding all groups of people but lacks the incorporation of user citizenship. Stating that "everything was realist but nothing was real," Hartley is referring to broadcast journalism as a transfer of information of real-life situations, but in the perspectives of those that are not directly affected, such as news anchors, rather than victims and survivors themselves.

In order to further his analysis of the idea of citizenship when it comes to the digitalization of culture and media, Hartley dives into the specific niche that social platforms such as YouTube have created throughout the years in Chapter Six: Silly Citizenship. Reiterated throughout the book, Hartley intends to demonstrate all spheres that contribute to the idea of the active audience. In “Silly Citizenship,” the newly defined idea of contemporary citizenship is defined, which is how a various group express their citizenships in very different ways and has therefore broadened the content pool. With this new pool of content producers and receivers, platforms such as YouTube has drastically altered and enhanced our way of communicating from culture to culture. Hartley states:

The extent to which citizenship is a discursive practice, at the heart of which is the continually challenging problem of how to reconcile self and stranger in modern associated life, a problem that resolves itself into the question of what ordinary can and do use for the purposes of self-representation within technologically enabled social networks (Kindle Location 3127).

As noted earlier, YouTube is the perfect platform for communicating knowledge, creativity, and information, something of which broadcast and film media were unable to provide during their reign. With YouTube, an American can question something, be able to look it up on YouTube (also Google since acquiring YouTube), and generate an endless search filter of answers to that question made by a stranger from another country. As visualized in the documentary that we watched in class, YouTube is a platform where self-representation can be elevated into the topic of a large social community, regardless of what category it relates to.

With these ever-growing online communities, it is inevitable that there anyone can search and find just about anything on YouTube. Hartley discusses the probability archive of digital culture and media as a shifting from “essence” to “probability,” being that this online knowledge is on demand to anyone for anything in comparison to before. Hartley writes: “YouTube is organized around ‘found objects' (i.e. the results of search functions or tags) – the probability of finding a specimen of a certain class rather than the certainty or essence of individual identity aspired to by museums and broadcasting” (Kindle Location 3821-3823). Through search engine functions, tags, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the nature of the archive then shifts from essence to probably because of all of the relevant, active audience content is then filtered. With the technological progressions that online television and probability archive embodies, the process of message sending is also transformed, as message coincides with knowledge, and are therefore produced and transferrable together.

Though attempting to raise questions about each chapter and topic throughout the book in Chapter Eight, Hartley instead, dives into many realms within messaging, and how it is used to convey identity through the digitalization of media and culture. As a form of communication, online knowledge is now available to anyone anywhere, as so are the messages that are intended to be conveyed through digitalization. Widely recognized as a noun, “the message” that Hartley refers to in this chapter has evolved into a verb (thing to action), as we are more constituted by our messages than ever before, thanks to digitalization. Hartley states: “Now, at last, it is possible to imagine, although not yet to observe as a built structure or widespread practice, a communication system that is both population-wide and able to harness the creative and productive energies of every agent in the system” (Kindle Location 4471-4473). Embodying the identities of users of all backgrounds and interests, messages transferred through digital and social markets such as Instagram and YouTube are being conveyed in order to establish a population-wide following. Aside from videos, messages are also extensively conveyed through images and aesthetics (or themes) through social media platforms, specifically Instagram and Tumblr. Hartley concludes his analysis of messages as identities through the message of fashion, which is heavily utilized on social media in the form of contemporary citizenship, especially on the two platforms. Describing fashion as a “risk culture in action” where people display risks on their own bodies that associates with aesthetic choice (Kindle Locations 4534-4536), Hartley deems fashion as an art form that lures in everyone with access to social media, and something that can be communicated both physically and digitally.

  Textbook and Author Critiques

Reiterating his objective throughout each chapter, John Hartley does a tremendous job at

piling on information that justifies his perspective on the digitalization of media and cultural studies. Though providing readers with the visuals and modern-day case studies that align with his writing, Hartley fails at retaining his readers' attention and delivering a structured analysis of his topics throughout each chapter.

Though delivering the entire textbook in an extremely persuasive tone and narrative, Hartley's attempt to provide readers with justifications of technological advances and its contribution to societal communication becomes lost through unnecessary rambling. While note-taking each chapter throughout the semester, I found it extremely difficult to locate Hartley's most applicable points, as much of his sentences were run-on. In addition, his use of sarcasm and irrelevant metaphorical comparisons worsened my thought process while reading. For example: “Here is a new model of citizenship based on self-representation of, by, and for ‘ordinary' people, using ‘new' media to produce discursive associative relations, superseding the modernist ‘man with a gun.' Now, we need to change our bumper stickers” (Kindle Locations 3545-3548). Evident in throughout my book review, I was eventually able to develop my own perspective on Hartley's objectives and topics, but could have been better off without his inclusion of dry humor such as "now, we need to change our bumper stickers." His humor also got lost in his persuasive tone, thus leaving us readers with confusion as to whether or not Hartley truly sides for, or against digitalization. My understanding of what Hartley is attempting to convey throughout this textbook was eventually discovered but could have been delivered in a much different way.

While I spent a vast majority of the semester attempting to understand Hartley's writing and point of view on the subject of Cultural Studies, I did grasp onto the “real life” application of the textbook contents. Through informative and relatable documentaries and discussions in our Cultural Studies class, I was able to paint visualizations in my head when reading the following chapters and was then able to understand why this specific textbook was chosen for this course. Not to be mistaken as interchangeable, I was only able to understand the textbook because of class discussions and documentaries, which conveyed relevant and applicable case studies that relate back to the state of Communication and Media Studies.

 Personal Takeaways

Now at its preeminent due to technological advances, Communication and Media Studies is therefore much more intriguing to study, as it is easily applicable to our day-to-day sources of entertainment. Whether it is Netflix, Instagram, or the Internet, the digitalization of communication through media and cultural lenses has provided communication scholars with resources that did not exist in previous generations.

As a Communication Studies majoring entering my last semester of college in just a few weeks, I am personally determined to retain and apply my classroom learnings into my day-to-day regime. In the case of this course and textbook on Cultural Studies, I am especially eager to relate my learnings back to my day-to-day cultural practices, such as my fashion choices, texting language with friends, and others that embody my identity as an individual. In regards to takeaways from the book, I was most struck with Hartley's rather delayed analysis of fashion as a form of conveying messages as identity through digital and social media. Given that I have had exposure to, and aim to work in fashion marketing and public relations after graduating next May, I can definitely visualize myself incorporating what Hartley discusses into my future positions. Additionally, the sense of identity that is easily transferable through today's media is something that is essential to note when working under fashion companies, as the brand's identity is what determines its product designs, consumer market, and prospective sales-throughs. As a future marketer or publicist for fashion, recognizing the importance of and being able to utilize the resource of technological advances in communications and media is vital. Though I concluded the textbook with an unclear understanding of the author's views, I do agree with the fact that society as a whole should recognize digitalization as a resource and enhancement to communicating knowledge, rather than as a tool for “laziness.”


As a whole, the acquiring of creativity and knowledge is endless with technological innovations such as television online, social media, and the probability archive. With these innovations, the transferring and receiving of information that broadcasting and film once embodied are now available at our literal fingertips, thus enhancing the communication of all cultures and identities. Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies is John Hartley's method of conveying the progressions of cultural and media studies throughout the years, where digitalization is illustrated as a cultural phenomenon. As digital innovations are still critiqued by many, Hartley justifies the need for technological advances, and why critics should entrust in them by analyzing the aids that have essentially overthrown society's traditional means of communication. Whether it is an American teenager that is YouTubing makeup tutorials from a beauty influencer in Korea, or Justin Bieber who is responding to his Australian fans on Twitter, the digital future of cultural and media studies with continue to bring those of varying backgrounds and identities together as contemporary citizens.

  Work Cited

Hartley, John. Digital Futures For Cultural and Media Studies. West Sussex: John Wiley and

Sons, 2012. Kindle Edition.

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