"How Would an Anthropologist..."

"How would an anthropologist study the tribe of people brought together around the television set?" Charles Corder-Bolz, my project director at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory asked me this during a year of research into the effects of television on educational capabilities of children and on American family life, contracted to the National Institute of Education. (1) In this dissertation, two studies


are presented which, in a sense, are answers to this question. They illustrate four years of theorizing, model building and field investigation into television as an anthropological problem.

The original research was conducted at the Southwest Lab's Learning and Media Research Project. LMRP represented a then mainstream approach to mass communications research as a problem in social psychology. Dr. Corder-Bolz, a specialist in psychological measurement and evaluation, conducted experiments and surveys into the effects of television in terms of conceptualizations and methodologies which are familiar to readers of any of the major academic communications journals in the mid 1970's. (2) But a contract to investigate television's effects on family life posed novel retrieval problems for which neither experiments nor self-reported behavior were considered valid. (3)

I joined the project as an ethnographer, to offer alternative techniques for observing and describing people in the intimate settings in which Americans typically watch TV. I soon discovered problems common in any interdisciplinary


collaboration. First, the literature, even the jargon of the prevailing psychological discourse was unfamiliar to me. My first six months were spent conducting a critical survey of the essential mass communications effects literature. Dr. Corder-Bo1z's question was posed at the end of this period, as a challenge to think in my own terms and to propose research designs for the project. But the way the question is worded -- "How would an anthropologist..." -- points to a second problem of interdisciplinary work.

It was assumed that as an ethnographer, I had been trained in techniques which would allow me to observe other peoples' lives in intimate settings while obeying the positivist's requirements for validity and reliability. (4) This meant first that I would be somehow invisible and, second, that I would measure events in terms of discrete behavioral scales. This would produce controlled, non-reactive studies. But the task was impossible, because as an anthropologist, ethnographic fieldwork implied not only something different from this methodologically, but involved a different theory about what human beings


essentially are and how they communicate.

The literature on television effects acknowledged a crucial lack of field research; as early as 1972, in the introduction to the massive Surgeon General's Report, George Comstock recognized that the bulk of evidence brought to bear in those volumes on the question of television violence's effects on children did not include any significant description of the usual settings in which kids watch TV. (5) The call for such studies was given top priority on the research agenda, but as of 1978 it had not been answered substantively. I believe that the reason is epistemological and related to conceptual limitation of psychological research. In the last few years, as field research is being developed for television's studies, articles which will be surveyed in Chapter 3 seem to confirm this belief. (6)

The preference of research psychologists is for the creation of artificial situations as research settings, and surveys by interview which standardize the retrieval interactions and the subjects' replies. The reliability of such studies is assured, but their validity is ultimately


unknown. (7) What field studies were available in 1979 when I reviewed the literature were limited in scope and still controversial in the profession. Remarkably, only three years later, such studies are proliferating, but they bring with them a sense that the whole area of communications studies is undergoing a massive "paradigm shift." (8) Alternative research traditions are proposed, including social interactionism, semiotic and symbolic models, participant observations and ritual models which are sometimes said to challenge, even repudiate the psychologistic formulations of mass communications theory and method. As a result, today there is certainly emerging a more diverse, fertile field of inquiry in which my own approaches fit rather comfortably. But when I began, I felt very isolated from any tradition; anthropologists did not study television, and mass communications researchers did not study anthropology. As a result, I believed I was inventing my approach ab nihilo, although subsequent events and publications dispute this. There are advantages in reconstructing some of the original sense of building from whole-cloth; as I


will indicate, some of the newer approaches may not prove adequate to resolve the very criticisms they raise.

The contrast of epistemologies between my project director's approach and my own provided the entry point for our collaboration. The difference between how I worked and how he did seemed related to specific differences between how an anthropologist and a psychologist conceive of people and the world they live in. While these perspectives can and should compliment each other for reasons I describe below, I believe they cannot be collapsed into a unitary approach, as some of the more democratic minded of our colleagues suggest. (9) Instead, I would agree with the claims of distinctiveness that emerge in the Hirsch/Gerbner correspondence (10) and are described perhaps earliest in this regard by Birdwhistell, (11) but have recently been discussed by Robinson and Straw, (12) and Fish, (13) and Atwood, (14) which combine to make clear the significance of this issue. Rather than reassemble this argument through a survey of the various research traditions, the reader is directed to the


above reviews. It will be sufficient to summarize the problem from one anthropologist's perspective.

The questions an anthropologist asks, indeed, the way he or she apprehends the world, are different and perhaps heretical to the behaviorist cannon which is at the core of traditional models of mass communications. Human interrelationships, shared behavior and meanings, rather than individual human subjects, are the unit of anthropological analysis. (15) Such relationships are analytically fragile, more subject to distortion by experimental isolation than individual behaviors themselves may be. (16) The psychological solution, to study the individuals and assemble their relationships by statistical aggregation imposes a social model (typically a normal curve) on the data. (17) Anthropologists are unwilling to make such statistical assumptions at the outset, and so they must develop research strategies to discover how the connections between people can be observed and described.

In a strict sense, then, the contrast between Dr. Corder-Bolz's approach and my own was indeed methodological, if we insist on the formal


definition of the term as designating "a theory of method," rather than a method itself. (18) Later in this introduction, some of the general requirements which will suit an anthropological investigation of television will be specified. But the point here is that the idea that research techniques can be exchanged between disciplines irrespective of theoretical traditions and underpinnings is a problem that arises typically when we attempt to override the fragmentation of contemporary social science. But it must be avoided; it generates false oppositions like qualitative/quantitative, ethnographic/experimental, and perverts the meaning of significant terms like empiricism, naturalism, field study, by elevating these to theoretical status. Jacques Ellul sees in this emphasis on technique detached from higher levels of meaning not only as a symptom of science's mailaise, but of modern industrial society's illness. (19)

Since the original study was conducted at LMRP (c.f. Chapter Two) to the present research, it has therefore become necessary to expunge Dr. Corder-Bolz's question of its methodological skew.


The question is not so much "How an anthropologist studies...," but what he studies. He studies not machines, or technologies, or even, in the strictest sense, individuals, but rather peoples. The question can be framed for descriptive purposes as "What is interesting about people's relationships around a TV set?" But to achieve scientific status, the question is framed as a test of propositions about humanness and human interrelationships e.g., "Do the relationships between people change with respect to television usage?" Or, as the folklorist Archie Green framed the question for me, "Does TV pull people apart or bring them together?"

Anthropological Definitions

The solution to a useful dialog between disciplines seems to begin with a definition of terms. But the requirements for definition in the present interdisciplinary context involve somewhat original approaches, and those presented here are tailored to the demands of media studies.


Four concepts are involved in the construction of the argument that follows: Culture, Natural History, Ethnography, and Communication/Information. As I will define them, culture is the philosophical construct (not to deny its ontological status) which defines the level of analysis for this dissertation; natural history is a philosophy of data retrieval; ethnography of data presentation; and communication/information is the "interdependent variable" in any consideration of television's relationship to culture. Each term bears definition at the outset.

Culture is an overbroadly defined and inconsistently used term designating everything from high expressive art to genetic distributions, and anyone who uses the term scietifically needs to pin it down at the beginning. But, paraphrasing Bateson, "We invented the term, and we should know what we put into it," (20) suggesting that the confusion about meanings of scientific terms represents a confusion of logical types between maps and territories. In fact, Edward Tylor was explicit in his definition of culture when he first entered it into scientific discourse in 1886:


"That complex whole, including values, beliefs, art, law, custom and any other thing learned by man as a member of society." (21) While contemporary anthropologists have "spilled a lot of ink" over the usefulness of this definition (Geertz, for example, considers it a "pot of feu" approach which obscures more than it reveals, (22) 1 believe the definition is remarkably serviceable, and see no reason to alter it. What Tylor means by culture can be illustrated by historical reference and by analogy to biology.

It is helpful to recall the Darwinian influences on late 19th Century thought that surround Tylor's work. (23) A general passion to define and classify humanness in all its varieties characterized Victorian scholarship. Darwin's contribution was to advance a classification of mutable biological forms based on morphological characterists assumed to be in some way inherited through the soma from parent to child. But there are additional regularities among human populations in particular which must be learned (since we are all of a single species) not inherited, and these can only be explained by some extra-somatic system


which transmits shared features. It was this extra-somatic system which Tylor called culture.

We should not be confused by too close an attention to the list of examples of these shared features (art, law, etc.), which is admittedly provisional, but turn to the rest of the definition. Three characterists of culture noted there continue to define anthropological inquiry. First, culture is a "complex whole." Its features are interrelated, as in a gestalt. They are isolated for observation therefore at some risk and the cultural system cannot be appreciated merely as a sum of its parts. This is the holistic dictum which authorizes a host of modeling and philosophizing by culturologists, and makes cultures amenable to systems research. (24) The second significant characteristic is that culture is learned, thereby identifying a transmission process and privileging socialization, acculturation, and finally communication itself in cultural studies. Third, a distinction between culture and society is imposed in the last phrase, a distinction which has proved problematic, especially for historical materialism, and which is


a contemporary issue of some import. (25) Tylor's distinction was to identify society as the context in which culture is learned, but as different from what is learned -- culture. (It may be useful, therefore, to also define society at this point as social structure and organization: the system of institutions, roles and rules which locate individuals in space and time, which brings them into or keeps them out of relationship to one another.)

An analogy between culture and biology has been proposed which is both heuristic and substantive. In the work of scholars such as Leslie White and Gregory Bateson, genetics provides a model for cultural systems where the difference between learning and breeding is explored to identify the difference between the two phenomena. For White, the analogy was most important to his assertion that culture, although extra-somatic, was not therefore merely an abstraction whose roots went no deeper than academia. (26) Bateson, however, specified that information was the unit of significance in both cultural and biological systems: "This identity between the unit of mind


and the unit of evolutionary survival is of very great importance, not only theoretical, but ethical." (27) Both, he claims, "are products of communicational and organizational structures" (28) which justify a description of both in terms of informational systems. (I dwell on Bateson's position because the questions which television raises are amenable to analysis in his terms.)

The extension of the analogy suggests that cultures have structural preconditions, referred to by Bateson as logics or ecologics, which are described more fully in the definition of information below. But the present point is that human individuals, from this perspective, are conceived of as carriers of culture. Because culture consists of ideas, complexes of information, it is the survival of cultural information rather than the survival of individuals which is at stake in the selective process. This admittedly extreme idealism represents a somewhat deviant stream in current anthropology, and is widely criticized (as is every alternative with which I am familiar). It disputes the


phenominological school on the one hand by proposing there is in fact a world out there, but disputes the materialists by its concern about our idea and conceptualization of this world. (29) Finally, I suppose the choice of ontological status of culture is just that, a choice. But the choice is not arbitrary, either morally or scientifically; how one conducts research will depend on it. My choice in the matter is due to the extent that White and Bateson (perhaps Sahlins as well) both stay closer to the original Tyloreon definition of culture, while generating models for its investigation in which media can occupy the central place that a study of television requires.

Natural History is a mode of observation associated with Darwin and the great 19th Century naturalists who observed animal behavior. Technically, it refers to a general relationship between subject and object profoundly different from experimentalism. A natural historical observation is the description of naturally occurring processes which have not been directly provoked by the presence of an observer. There are significant implications of this approach with


respect to the more familiar positivist-empirical experiments. Replicability is limited to the extent that one can step in the same stream twice. Controls are likewise limited to the choice of setting for observation. A trend in the philosophy of science suggests that natural history is a more appropriate and valid method than controlled experimentalism for the social sciences. (30) The argument is made that the procedure is more defendable for the case of lived human events where complex relationships exist not only between subjects, but between subject and object as a rule. Classical anthropology has privileged this mode of inquiry which is associated with participant observation. Bateson, for example, maintains there are only three types of data in cultural anthropology:

1) An identified individual in such-and-such a recorded context said such-and-such and was heard by the anthropologist.

2) An identified individual in such-and-such a recorded context was seen by the anthropologist to do so-and-so.

3) Artifacts (tools, works of art, books, clothes, boats, weapons,etc.) made and/or used by such-and-such individuals in such-and-such contexts. (31)


In essence, he describes natural history.

The analysis and applications of natural historical data are different from experimental data. One is not necessarily more valid than the other in absolute terms (the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which recognizes that the position of the observer alters the object of observation itself applies equally to both). But as they are drawn from profoundly different assumptions about the nature of events and the nature of observation, they, properly speaking, should remain segregated in their analysis and presentation. Data from natural histories ought not be evoked to test experimental hypotheses, or vice versa.

Ethnography is literally "people writing," people used here in the collective sense of a nation or race (e.g., peoples). It is the way natural historical data about cultures is presented. For example, ethnographies sometimes attempt to describe, narratively, the whole way of life of a peoples. Where the scope is more limited, the holistic dictum requires that individual events, institutions and so forth be admitted to


interrelate with other events or institutions. Unlike journalism, which ethnographies may resemble, the things described are judged by their capacity to elucidate the broadest possible context in social space and cultural time.

There is considerable confusion about the epistemological categorization of ethnogrpahy: does it refer to the method, the philosophy, or the presentation of the investigation? Anthropologists who have become self-reflexive about the problem have recognized that the ethnographic presentation is in fact a literary convention which has its roots in Victorian novels and adventure stories. (32) The demands of these conventions partly seem to determine what gets presented as ethnography, and how.

I believe it is safest and clearest to define ethnography solipsistically in terms of its end-product, the ethnographic account. In this sense, I dispute Geertz's idea that ethnography is something we "do" (33) and reserve it for something we write. What we do, from this perspective, is natural history. But in fact, the demands of the end product certainly do influence our field work


and color the kinds of observations we make, just as our theories of culture reach into our perception of on-going events and inform our selection of significa.

I believe this formalist set of definitions of anthropology -- cultural theory, natural historical data retrieval and ethnographic presentation -- may help to clarify precisely the kinds of confusions I encountered in my initial work with psychologists such as Dr. Corder-Bolz, and subsequent curiosity about what it is I did and thought as I involved myself in other interdisciplinary settings. The package, as a whole, is original and involves severely restricting definitions and applications. I believe it is justified, however, by the emergence of recent "ethnographic" fashions in communications, education and related social research. Occasionally, these have produced monographs which exploit the variability and vagueness of the terminology to produce records which are hard to decode, let alone compare, and to justify what ultimately may be considered personal indulgences. One clear purpose of the


anthropological and ethnographic conventions has been to make possible a comparability of results to assure accumulation of knowledge analogous to that described for the experimental sciences. Misuse of the terminology threatens this goal.

Communicated information is the substance of culture, but also the substance of any systematic phenomena, natural or mechanical. This is the position taken by systems theorists associated initially with von Bertalanffy who proposed that at high levels of abstraction, many of the sciences dealt with equivalent laws. The reason was that the phenomenological universe was in fact rule-governed. So he instituted an umbrella inquiry which would identify these regularities. (34) Included in the subsets of systems approaches are three of significance to my own conceptualization. As defined by Bertalanffy, they are:

1) Cybernetics, based on the principle of feedback or circular causal trains providing mechanisms for goal-seeking and self-controlling.

2) Information theory, introducing the concept of information as a quantity measurable by an expression isomorphic to negative entropy in physics, and developing the principles of its transmission.

3) General systems theory (GST) in the


narrower sense, trying to derive from a general definition of "system" as a complex of interacting components, concepts characteristic of organized wholes such as interaction, sum, mechanization,centralization, competition, equifinality, etc., and to apply them to concrete phenomena.(35)

The choice of a system theory orientation in this dissertation is based on my observation that both society (culture's context) and television message transmission are whole cybernetic systems in which information is exchanged between people, and it is the intersection of these two systems which I wish to explore.

Recent work in "applied systems theory" in mass communications has focussed mainly on institutions. (36) There is a danger in these studies of reverting to a simpler, and earlier structural functionalism, characteristic of classical anthropology and sociology. The problem with structural functional models, which propose interrelationships between social institutions, is that they are essentially static, and have difficulty handling change, as Jarvie pointed out when he declared their discrediting heralded a "Revolution in Anthropology." (37)


In fact, it is the central place of information in the cybernetic system which elevates systems theory from structural-functionalism. Information, as Bateson defines it, is not a thing, but a relationship between things; more precisely, "difference" between things. What is carried through a system as information is the news about any difference that makes a difference. (38) In a sense, systems theory moves change into the central position where structural-functionalism had either excluded it or treated it as aberration.

Birdwhistell maintains that communications is the dynamics of a social system. (39) Indeed, if culture is in some ways related to meaning and traditional wisdoms, and it is advanced by learning, then communication must occupy the central place in any understanding of the dynamics of culture as well. This is why I choose these formulations; because media, to the extent they affect society, may have cultural import. An approach which considers how information is communicated within a system seems most amenable to the present problem.


Organization and Subject Matter

Over the three year course of investigation reported in this dissertation, a number of successive but related research issues emerged and were treated. It will be helpful for the reader to keep in mind the sequence of investigation, which moves from induction to deduction, and back again, as Popper claims research actually does. (40) I have chosen to order the chapters in chronological sequence. This introductory chapter includes below a design for the conduct of exploratory field research to discover what questions communities raise about TV and its influences. This research design, therefore, does not, strictly speaking, test an hypothesis or even ask a research question, but is a protocol for discovering questions which might be productive direction for subsequent inquiry.

The second chapter reports on a field study based on this research design, and determines what questions were being raised in a given public forum. The setting of the study was a media protest/boycott organized by fundamentalist


Protestants in Amarillo, Texas in 1979. We found in that study a diversity of attitudes towards media; different people raise different questions, and part of the researcher's responsibility was to account for the variation in terms of the social structures of the community. The questions that were raised proved often more difficult than those that researchers usually work with: "What is sin?" "What is the nature of children and the responsibility of adults to them?" "Who should control the media?" But perhaps the most profound finding of this exploratory project was the remarkable variation of the assessments of media by different segments of the population. This finding required, for me, a reconceptualization of what mass media are, where their meanings arise, and how messages from media producers are evaluated and interpreted by media users so they may enter into social discourse.

The third chapter first considers how various models of television communication regard the relationship between producers, media and audiences, and finds in the study of expressive culture as performance a solution to a


conceptualization of television which can contain the findings of the exploratory study. The model which emerges of the social context of the television message system suggests that some significant aspects of television's meanings emerge in social life, where they may be observed. This suggested a return to Amarillo three years after the initial study, both to test predictions regarding the long-term course of the media protest and to discover if the relationship between personal viewing and social conduct predicted in this model could be observed and refined.

The fourth chapter reports on this follow-up study, and notes that the emphasis of the protest groups had shifted away from media to school prayer and textbook issues. The attempt to survey the population for the purpose of testing the television model, however, was only partially successful, and the results and their limitations are explained.

The concluding chapter serves a variety of purposes. First, it considers the relationship between the issues, and the diversity of data collected in the course of the study and suggests


an interpretation which explains what scholarly and public concerns seem to underlie these issues. It also assesses the relevance of the findings to a number of areas of traditional mass communications concerns, including international/intercultural, educational/developmental, in fact any study in which culture may prove to be a significant variable where a relationship is posited between a media message and a social activity. Finally, the question of media's effects on cultural history and development is addressed, although conclusions must be limited to suggestions for heuristic approaches; the situation, as revealed by the study, is seen as both complex and revolutionary.

This dissertation is therefore about many things: about cultural variability, theology and the church, ethnicity, community organization, television programming and viewing, socialization, and so on. This breadth of focus, as unwieldy as it may be, is necessitated both by the holistic perspective of anthropology, and by the failure of more narrow correlations in media studies to provide satisfactory answers to a public deeply concerned with how media enters their lives. I


therefore feel willing to sacrifice the clarity of the single hypothesis/testing/conclusion format which characterizes many media studies. However, the basic premise of the dissertation in fact may be glossed in hypothesis form:

Variation in television's influence and usage within any given population will be related to the diversity of social affiliation and cultural traditions which segment the community of viewers.

I found myself often explaining, over the phone, or to prospective informants, why I was in Amarillo. Paraphrasing those explanations of the research may also be helpful:

We came to Amarillo in 1979, when Mrs. X.... was leading the protest against KFDA's sponsors, because we felt people there had something important to say about TV, and we wanted to listen. What we found out was that people had very different attitudes about the media, and these attitudes seem to have a lot to do with what church you belong to. Now his may not surprise you, but it isn't something that academic researchers have paid much attention to. I'm writing my dissertation now for the University of Texas, and I'd like to come back to Amarillo to test the ideas we developed in 1979, to find out if people belonging to different religious groups really do look at television differently.

The logic of the chapters is therefore simply that the first task of an anthropological study of television is to develop a model of a real


community in which TV is aired. Then, it becomes necessary to develop a model of how television operates as a message system and, finally, to bring those two models together in a field situation to discover if the interaction between television and social life indeed produces the cultural meanings predicted by the incorporation of the two systems.

Conceptualization: Exploratory Project

A number of general points derived from the anthropological perspective described previously are worth restating with respect to media studies. The assumption is that we can discover a relationship between culture, socially organized, and messages, electronically transmitted. This may be phrased as cultural impact, or influence, or, if the holistic dictum is taken seriously, as an interrelationship without prejudging the causal direction. In any case, the following methodological constraints will apply, particularly at the exploratory phase of research:

1) The context of impact, the influence that matters, is proposed to be cultural. This means


that a cultural conceptualization must be built into the research at the outset, and a valid segmentation of the community under investigation must be established in cultural terms. To do this requires on-site ethnographic research, as well as an understanding of the social context in which the cultural segments transmit information. These are operationalized as the structures of social organization which bring together some people while isolating others in the community.

2) Naturalistic observations is to be the privileged mode of inquiry. For questions not yet well defined and settings not well understood, laboratory simulation would be premature. (Whether social life, the setting in which culture is transmitted, can be isolated in a laboratory in any case remains to be seen.) Natural historicism places two major constraints on the research: A) Events chosen for observation cannot be provoked by the researcher but must emerge naturally out of the community, and B) the researcher must remain cognizant of this own role in these events and cannot assume a priori non-reactivity. The research boundary expands to contain the object as


subject as well.

3) Because cultural structures are likely to be out of awareness, the self-reported behavior of individuals cannot automatically be elevated to evidence for cultural phenomena. Individuals' perceptions are in fact interpretations whose truth value cannot ultimately be assessed. No hypothesis which depends on their veracity may be tested by this method. Instead, the researcher interprets these interpretations, and seeks in them patterns of beliefs, values and perception, and it is on these a model is based. The truth or falsehood of the data is not at issue in cultural anthropology.

Research Design: Exploratory Study

The problem posed by the initial exploratory study was to discover prevailing popular attitudes towards media, who held them, and how these related to social and cultural values. The question was not whether these attitudes were valid or accurate, but rather to provide both a basis for bringing media research more in line with growing public concern and to identify variations in the public regarding attitudes towards television which might be significant in terms of


viewers' interpretations and, therefore, media effects.

These questions seemed to me to prohibit any kind of experimental survey or interviews where the conceptual categories were raised by the researcher, who then tested the public for conformity or deviation from such categories. Rather, the categories had to be raised by the public and the researcher's task was to identify them. The problem was therefore to find a community in which media problems were a lively topic, where issues were raised and categories negotiated in settings where it would not be inappropriate for the researcher to observe or even participate.

During the last decade in the United States a number of formal organizations have expressed concern about television's impact on particular areas of social life, and have brought these to public attention in varying ways. These include newsletters, public forums and workshops, organized by such groups as the PTA, CTW, NOW, etc. An even more interesting kind of public activity has been undertaken by theologically-based


organizations, especially those with limited constituencies. The National Federation for Decency, for example, seeks to bring attention to issues of morality in media by staging religious-based media events, and calling for various kinds of public protests over particular targeted programs or sponsors. In such cases, media issues may become lively and observable. The setting of the first project was chosen because a NFD protest in Amarillo, Texas, created a situation where a large community was actively debating the meanings and effects of television in the public sector.

There was little advance notice of these events, a problem typical for anyone conducting naturalistic observation; by the time a situation is brought to the researcher's attention, significant events have already passed. National wire-service reports of a pray-in at an Amarillo TV station alerted us to the situation, but very little advance work would be possible. A particular program scheduled for a month after the article was printed would be the focus of the protest.


In one sense, I designed the advance protocol with a journalistic sense to discover the who, what, and why of the protest. This would be contextualized by an ethnographic description of the community based on direct, general observation, bolstered by what would be available in the public record. But in terms of the psychological protocol through which this had to be justified, an exploratory design was formalized in terms of Selltiz's "Experience Survey." An experience survey is designed to retrieve information where little is known in advance about the phenomena and settings to be explored, and where a research design which imposes categories or analytic boundaries, predicts variables or tests hypotheses would be premature and likely to mask significant features. The technique is essentially a series of open-ended interviews regarding the subjects or activities under investigation with people most likely to have information or to be involved.(41)

An Experience Survey may provide some essential ethnographic data and is generally consistent with the informant technique used in anthropological field work. While interviews are


indeed intrusions, it seemed possible to design the interviews around the very questions which the community itself was raising, and additionally to pay attention to observed and publicly reported events that seemed pertinent. Finally, research would be conducted both in the field and through literature and record searches to attempt to develop a model of the social organization and cultural character of the community in which these events were occurring so that a holistic framework would be available in which to situate these events.

The 1979 interviews reported in the following chapters attempted to answer three questions which were of explicit concern to the community at that time: 1) What programs are considered offensive by which people and why? 2) What action is appropriate to take with respect to offending programs? 3) What are believed to be the effects of offensive programming on the general public? These questions were abstracted from newspaper reports and preliminary phone conversations with the principles of the controversy. They irrevocably tie the solution of


the general research problem to the particular community issue, so that the relationship between religious values and institutions and broadcast media become highlighted.

I was assisted in the field by two especially able interviewers, a psychologist and an anthropologist. Because both were female, Protestant Texans, rapport was possible with more respondents than I ever could have achieved by myself. We conducted structured, open-ended interviews with a small, snowballed sample of local householders. The rationale for so doing was not to generate a statistical base for correlation to the community as a whole, but to discover to what extent the principals in the controversy were speaking for their constituents, as they claimed. These interviews proved suggestive in their own right and provided impetus for some measures used in the second study.

Some of the details of the research design which follow did not precede the fieldwork itself, but emerged during it. Hence, the number of respondents, who they were, the kinds of questions asked, and the possibilities of analysis


were outgrowths of the study itself. They are presented here for illustrative purposes and should not be confused with research designs where non-reactive protocols prevent the interaction between the researcher, the subjects and the setting to vary the research design during the course of the study.

Those qualities of the design which were invariable have already been described in this section as the more general requirements for naturalistic field studies for ethnographic purposes.


Religious Leaders. Six respondents: Independent Evangelist, Rabbi, Baptist Minister, Latin American Baptist Minister, Black Baptist Minister, Spanish Catholic Priest.

Secular Leaders. Four respondents: PTA chairperson, television station manager, member of "pioneer" family, Human Services administrator.

Households. Twenty respondents; Nine Baptists, two Mormon, three Catholic (Chicano), two Unitarian, two Jewish, one Baptist (Black), one


Church of Christ.

Total Subjects. Thirty.


Naturalistic observation which has as its goal an ethnographic account of a community cannot impose the same controls that a laboratory study does. The ideal emperical situation, where one variable is maintained as a constant while other variables are observed to change in respect to the controlled variable, has little realization in the complexity of natural events. None the less, a social structure or a communication system includes features which are more stable than others. These stable features might be thought of as independent variables, while features that change might be regarded as dependent variables.

The stable features which interest us here are the community organizations. These organizations can be described as a combination of two features: ideology or value systems which are the basis for the beliefs they espouse, and the position of the organization within the political structure of the community. Individual families


may be regarded in terms of their relationship to the organizations of which they are members.

Dependent measures are topics surveyed in the questionnaire (Appendix I). These may be expressed as:

1) viewing habits

2) viewing attitudes

a) preferred programs

b) offensive programs

c) how realistic programs seemed

3) perception of effects of viewing

4) attitudes towards censorship

a) censorable programming

b) appropriate channels of influence or protest

5) attitudes about other media.

Interviews with community leaders surveyed the same dependent variables with the exception of personal viewing habits.

Note: While statistical correlations were sought between these variables, such correlations are not the goal of the present study. The study is more successful at generating hypotheses and identifying pertinent variables than testing them. Further studies may be based on these results if more refined quantification is




1. Sampling Procedures

A. Interviews (selective sampling)

1. Exploratory Interviews: community leaders (who provide respondents for):

2. Survey-form Interviews: individual families

B. Limitations

1. Sample limited to networks of involved community members and therefore excludes non-involved families

2. Sample has no statistical/demographic bases and cannot provide for demographic generalizability

C. Rationale

1. In assessing standards for a community, it may be defensible to exclude families not actively involved in community activities.

2. The determination of values and models for belief is fundamentally different from the frequency of behaviors, and the value system might not be abstractable from individual actions.

2. Interview Technique

A. Exploratory interviews

1. Free-form interview guided by 1) general research questions (i.e., what standards and who should determine them); 2) questions designed to reveal interactional system between community leaders and assess relative power and influence of each leader vis-a-vis both his constituency and the rest of the



2. Explanation of research, consideration of survey instrument, solicitation of suggestions for research particulars, solicitation of families within constituency for interviews, solicitation of other community leaders for interviews.

3. Interview technique: requires active participation of interviewer in dialogue, suggesting possible points of view, especially offering present interpretation of the community and soliciting corrections or additions to the model which the interviewer is developing as he progresses. Cross-checking of information from other informants and other sources.

2. Interview Technique

A. Community Leader Interviews

Interviews with community leaders sought essentially descriptive kinds of information. The leader was assumed to speak for his constituency (and the degree to which this could be said to be so was investigated) and the position of the organization in the community was plumbed.

Three questions formed the skeleton of the community leader interviews:

1. What do you think the proper role of this community organization should be in regulating broadcast media?

2. What topics or treatments would this organization find offensive or consider in violation of community standards?

3. What actions by what persons would this organization consider an appropriate response to objectionable programming?

Specific means of retrieving answers were tailored to the differences in organizations. In addition, topics of


particular or sometimes tangential interest were pursued. For example, traditional means of moral sanction exercised by the church might be discussed at length. Different opinions about different media might also be considered. These interviews were far more loosely structured and exploratory in purpose than the questionnaire survey. Where possible, they were tape recorded. Field notes were made during interview, and expanded immediately afterwards.

B. Survey-form Family Interviews

1. Structured interview with three stages:

a. Introduction and description of research goals;

b. Application of survey instrument, probing to discover whether additional data not covered in the instrument might be pursued (i.e., if interviewee has some particular or specific information about either subject matter or community structure);

c. Dialogic probing of any additional material revealed in application of instrument (modeled after exploratory interview).

3. Testing Setting

In naturalistic observation, choice of site and event is perhaps the most salient control the observer can exercise over the phenomenon. The rationale behind the choice of site/event includes the expectation that in a situation where a community is involved in dialogue over a particular subject (media messages and effects) due to whatever circumstantial provocation, data retrieval is facilitated. Additional requirements include at this stage a manageable sized population (presumably under 200,0000 and a


recognizably active community organization structure, which in this case turned out to be the churches).

Actual interview sites were left to the discretion of the subjects. We preferred to interview in homes, offices, or community halls. Where a choice was available, a male interviewer was matched with a male subject, and female interviewers interviewed females. The rationale for these and other field decisions was to provide the most comfortable setting for the interviewee, as well as to avail ourselves of information the setting itself might provide.

Data Analysis

1. Code questionnaire replies.

2. Transcribe relevant interview tapes.

3. Analyze coded questionnaires for the following variables: 1) perceived effects of TV; 2) topic/format preferences and prohibitions; 3) perception of realism; and 4) preferred responses to objectionable programming.

a. define apparent response pattern

b. refine by reference to original questionnaire answers and original audio tapes of interviews when necessary

c. analyze responses

d. compare with analysis of relevant community leader interview

e. compare with any additional data (i.e., publications) generated independently by individual or organization

f. refer to historical documents and commentaries on belief system of organization

g. develop model of belief system for class of respondents

h. predict additional responses.

4. Compare variables with respect to belief



5. Cross-check validation of coding and results with consultant.

6. Provide ethnographic narrative to describe social-structural context for events analyzed.




1 "The Effects of Television on Family Life" and "Basic Skills and TV." National Institute of Education grant awarded to Dr. Charles Corder-Bolz, Southwest Educational Laboratory, Austin, Texas, 1978.

2 The Journal of Communication, was Dr. Corder-Bolz' primary mass communications publishing outlet. More typically, his studies were published in educational psychology and educational measurement and evaluation journals. The scientistic bias towards the publication of experiments and surveys where significance is determined statistically has been noted for Human Communications Research, Journal of Broadcasting, and other mainstream journals during this period.

3 Marshall, Anne, "Position Paper on Comparative Methodologies for the Family Life Study." In-house communication, Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Learning and Media Research Project, 1979.

4 Kerlinger defines reliability as "dependability, stability, consistency, accuracy," (p.422) and applies this to the qualities of the researcher, rather than of the event. By contrast, validity is defined as a question about the "nature of reality," (p.446), that is, the ontological status of ones variables. (Kerlinger, F.N., Foundations of Behavioral Research, New York, 1973, 2nd ed.) I use the terms throughout in this sense.

5 Rubinstein, E. and G. Comstock. 1972 Television and Social Behavior. Vols. 1-5. NIMH, Rockville, MD. This is also stated, perhaps more clearly, in the Rand Report: Comstock, G. 1975 Television and Human Behavior, the Research Horizon, Past, Present, and Future. Rand Corporation Pub. R 1748-CF, Santa Monica.


6 Meyer, T.P., P.J. Traudt, & J.A. Anderson. 1980 "Non-traditional mass communication research: Observational case studies of media use in natural settings." Nimmo, D. (ed.) Communication Yearbook IV, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Books.

7 Atwood, Rita. Course notes. Research Design for Communications Studies, The University

of Texas at Austin, Fall, 1981.

8 The term is Kunh's (1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.), The University of Chicago.) and its application to communications research is currently debated, as in a special session of the Annual meetings of the International Communication Association, Boston, 1982.

9 Miller, G. 1975. "Humanistic and scientific approaches to speech communication inquiry: Rivalry, redundancy or rapproachement." Western Speech Communication, Fall, 1975, p.230-239.

10 See: Communication Research, Vol 7:4 (October 1980) and 8:1 (January 1981).

11 Birdwhistell, R.L. 1970. Kinesics and Context. Philadelphia, The University of Pennsylvania Press.

12 Robinson, G. and W. Straw, 1982. "Semiotics and communications studies: points of contact." In Vloight, M. (ed.) Progress in communications Sciences Vol. 4 (in preparation).

13 Fish, Marjorie, 1982. A Study of Mass Communication Research (working title: doctoral dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin).

14 Atwood, Rita, 1982. "An assessment of current conceptual and ideological debates among North American and Latin American communication scholars." I.C.A. annual meetings, Boston.

15 There are a variety of positions regarding what, precisely, is the unit of anthropological analysis. The problem is described


at greater length when I define terms later in this chapter.

16 "Clearly, any attempt to explain sociocultural phenomena in wholly psychological terms does not, at least for the present, seem feasible. Institutions are organized, they have a structure. And it is the purpose of anthropological explanation to account for the particular patterns of organization .... When investigators try to explain these structures in terms of the psychological attributes of individuals, they have invariably found it necessary to conceptualize individuals in terms of their social personality. And a critical aspect of the social personality is the variables of the very institutional structures they are trying to explain.' Kaplan, D. and Manners, R. 1972. Culture Theory, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, p. 131.

17 "The uncritical transfer of statistical techniques which are entirely appropriate in some epistemological fields, into fields in which they are quite inappropriate, has been the source of a great deal of scientific effort, especially in the social sciences. Statistical significance is by no means the same as epistemological significance. Boulding, K., 1980. Presidential address, AAAS, Science, 207:4443, p. 835.

18 Birdwhistell reminds us (1977. "Some discussion of ethnography, theory and method." In About Bateson, Brokman, J., ed., New York, Dutton.) that the term methodologist was originally reserved for quack medical practitioners who treated symptomatically with no recourse to theory.

19 Ellul, Jacques, 1964 The Technological Society. New York, Random House.

20 Bateson, G. 1979. Mind and Nature: a necessary unit. Toronto, Bantam.

21 Tylor, E.B. 1924 (1886) Primitive Culture, New York, Brentanos, 1924, p.6.

22 Geertz, C. 1973 The Interpretation of


Cultures. New York, Basic Books, p.4. In fact, the pottiness or feu-iness of the definition may have more to do with the overemphasis given to cultural components, and the de-emphasis given to the aspects of the definition I highlight here. Certainly, Kroeber and Kluckhohn's 1952 "Culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions," (Peabody Museum, Cambridge.) organized the field around the components highlighted by each scholar, and may therefore have authorized the conceptual limitations Geertz refers to. But White responded to precisely this failure of the 1952 inventory in "Definitions and concepts of culture," (available in DiRenzols 1967 Concepts, Theory and Explanation in the Behavioral Sciences), remarking that Kroeber and Kluckhohn have defined the field of anthropology out of existence.

23 Several good sources are available, including Gould, S.1977. Ever Since Darwin, New York, Norton; Irvine, W. 1963. Apes, Angels and Victorians, New York, Time; and The Impact of Darwinian Thought on American life and Culture, papers of the 4th Annual meetings of the American Studies Association of Texas, 1959. University of Texas Press, Austin.

24 " ... society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong in it." (Weiner, Norbert, 1968. "Cybernetics in history," in Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist. ed. Buckley, W. Chicago, Aldine, p.31.) Bateson takes this position to a more complex extreme by introducing the concept of mind into the sociocultural system.

25 Neo-marxists, notably Gramschi and Lukacs, grapple with the problematic of culture from a materialist viewpoint, and develop revisions like hegemony and cultural state apparatus to contain it. Marshall Sahlins, 1976. Culture and Practical Reason, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, zeros in on precisely this problem and its contradiction to anthropological theory, while critical research in international communications is now beginning to recognize the difficulty of treating cultural industries via solely economic


data, as Atwood, op.cit., notes. This point is expanded in Chapter Three.

26 White, L. 1975. The Concept of Cultural Systems, New York, Columbia University.

27 Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York, Ba11entine, p.459.

28 Bateson, Ibid. p.154. What Bateson means by mind is not brain, but more like social knowledge. The term does not imply a psychologism.

29 Implicitly, as White points out in the Kroeber and Kluckhohn review, but explicitly in more recent ethnomethodological studies which Geertz aptly notes(op.cit., P.11), ethnomethodology marries extreme subjectivism to extreme formalism. (But where Geertz notes that the ontological status of culture is not a question profitably pursued, I wonder if Bateson, Sahlins and even Tylor would agree.)

30 Thomas, D. 1980. Naturalism and Social Science:- a post-empiricist Philosophy of social science, Cambridge University Press, New York.

31 Bateson, G., 1956 "Sex and culture.", in Haring, D., ed. Personal Character and the Cultural Milieu. Syracuse University Press, 3rd ed.).

32 Marcus, G. 1982 "Rhetoric and the ethnographic genre in anthropological research." in, Ruby, J. ed. A Crack in the Mirror: Reflexive perspectives in anthropology. University of Pennsylvania Press.

33 Geertz, op.cit. , p. 5. Ray Rist, the educational researcher who pioneered ehtnogrpahy in the schools, takes a similar perspective, as I suspect most non-anthropologists seeking to borrow methods do.

34 Bertalanffy, L. von. 1969. General Systems Theory: foundations developments and applications,

G. Braziller, New York.


35 Bertalanffy, L. von, "General systems theory -- critical review." In Buckley, W. A Guide to Systems Theory for Behavioral Research Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. p.13.

36 See Bryant, Mark, 1979. Communication and Mass Communication: a systems approach to human information transactions, Thesis, University of Texas at Austin. Also, Ruben, D. and J. Kim (eds.) 1975. General Systems Theory and Human Communication, Hayden, Rochelle Park, New Jersey.

37. Jarvie, I.C. The Revolution in Anthropology. Chicago, Regnesy, 1969.

38 "I suddenly realized that of course the bridge between the map and the territory is difference. And it is only news of the difference that can get from the territory to the map... " Bateson, Gregory, 1977. "Afterword." In Brockman, J. ed. About Bateson, Dutton, New York. p.239. The simple identity between information and news of difference peppers Bateson's writing, usually to refute the notion of information as energy. Here, he sees in the formulation a central epistemological validation.

39 Birdwhistell, R.L., course notes, "Codes in Context," Annenberg School of Communication, The University of Pennsylvania, Summer, 1972.

40 Popper, K. 1969. Conjectures and Refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. Harper and Row, New York.

41 Selltzig, C., S. Cook, R. Hogrefe, 1970. "The experience survey: a step in program design for field research on unexplored problems." unpub., reported in Selltzig, C. Wrightman, Cook, 1970, Research Methods in Social Relations, 3rd ed.), Holt, Rinehart Winston, New York.

Proceed to Chapter 2