Sleeping with the enemy: Audience studies and critical literacy.

Audience studies is not the vibrant field it was in its 1980s and early 1990s heyday. Cultural studies today has a more balanced interest in production, audiences and texts. A renewed focus in audience studies on everyday meaning production, identity and relations of power could benefit from recent developments. Theorization of power especially has benefited from recent work on governmentality. In accord with recent work on ‘affect’, there is an opportunity for renewed vitality and urgency. Was audience studies damaged beyond repair by the charge that it is a populist field that celebrates rather than interrogates everyday media culture? Could a concept such as cultural literacy provide a bridge to help re-establish the critical credibility of audience studies or would it burden this field with its implied notions of standards, distinction and cultural exclusion? The article discusses recent work with youth audiences to inquire into the possibilities of ‘critical literacy’. It proposes taking up questions and insights raised by affect theory, to merge appreciation, criticism and understanding of the forces that drive (the possibility of) change, and to embed critical literacy in cultural studies’ ongoing interest in the construction of (cultural) citizenship.

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