Skip to content

The OCR Glossary

Mediatizaton

Josef Pallas

The term mediatization refers to the importance of the media in the day-to-day activities of individuals, families, peer groups, and organizations. It implies changes in media technologies and how these changes transform possibilities for interactions and communication between humans, and thereby also other parts of society. Mediatization is a part of the conditions that shape the everyday life of individuals, society, and culture as a whole. But mediatization can also be understood as an institutional process that reflects and forms dominant value systems and preferences in a given social context, thereby influencing how individual as well as collective actors relate to and deal with each. It is with respect to the latter understanding that mediatization—both as a theoretical and as an analytical concept—is relevant for discussing organizational reputation as embedded in a set of relationships that are shaped by and channeled through media. Such a view of the relationship between media and reputation has the advantage of overcoming the limitations of traditional conceptualizations of organizations’ communication in that it includes media as a constituent of the regulative, normative, and cognitive processes on which organizations are dependent. Mediatization implies here that reputation can be conceptualized beyond the more traditional sender-receiver perspective on how the production and content of media coverage influence organizations.

This entry seeks to introduce the notion of mediatization by focusing on four current discussions: (1) mediatization as a key mechanism in the construction of cultural symbols and meanings; (2) mediatization as a set of norms, values, routines, and practices influencing the operations of other institutions such as politics or religion; (3) mediatization and media technologies as transforming the communication processes of social actors; and (4) mediatization as a multilevel and multidirectional institutional practice that is open to the interests of social actors.

Mediatization and Organizations

At an organizational level, mediatization refers to changes in how organizations within different fields (e.g., business, politics, law, sports, or culture) organize and perform a variety of their activities. The taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions about how media operate, what effects media coverage has on organizations, and consequently also how media issues should be addressed and related to are becoming a central aspect of the management of contemporary organizations. In such a perspective, researchers argue that the effects of mediatization on organizations can be identified and analyzed by looking at how and to what extent media values, preferences, and working routines are internalized in the structures, activities, and practices of organizations within these fields. Current studies show that organizations not only accommodate the media and their logic, but they are also able to strategically navigate to avoid, negotiate, and even resist mediatization pressures by way of reproducing and reshaping the underlying assumptions they have about the media. Thus, mediatization captures also the multidirectional and multilevel interplay that takes place between organizations and the media.

However, despite the fact that mediatization is highly interesting for studies of corporate reputation, it has its strongest foothold in media and cultural studies. In this entry, mediatization is presented from four different perspectives as they are presented in the existing literature. Such an overview will hopefully broaden and integrate previous understandings and analysis of the relationship between media and reputation.

Mediatization in Cultural and Media Studies

Mediatization has a relatively long history within communication and cultural studies. In its different forms, mediatization has become a widely used notion to capture the consequences of media in everyday life. Discussions on media influences on different aspects of social, political, cultural, and economic realities have been both rich and intense in recent decades. The main focus in these discussions has been on an increased understanding of the wide spread of media-generated content throughout all types of contexts, practices, and platforms. The extensive and growing literature on mediatization bears witness to a number of parallel and overlapping developments. The underlying interest of this literature has moved beyond analyzing the spread and effects of various types of media; more attention is now being paid to broader social changes and developments related to media.

As a theoretical concept, it is difficult to give mediatization a specific definition. Rather, mediatization has its strength as an analytical notion that is open to different theoretical values and perspectives. Social constructivism and theories building on symbolic interactionism represent one such perspective. Medium theory, socio-materiality, and structure/agency-based literature influence other streams.

The dominant writings in mediatization studies commonly recognize two different approaches that capture these different theoretical inspirations: (1) the cultural perspective and (2) the institutional approach. The cultural perspective is interested in studying mediatization as driving social change—that is, observing and understanding how mediated communication influences the construction of the social, cultural, and economic aspects of our lives. The institutional perspective finds its inspiration in the assumption that the media have become a semi-independent institution with their own set of norms, rules, and routines, that is, media logic, and that this logic is central to the transformation of other institutions (e.g., politics, market, religion) in society.

However, recent efforts have sought to further develop such a categorization by adding the material and agency-oriented perspectives. Both these perspectives can be regarded as natural extensions of the earlier theorizing about mediatization. The material perspective pays attention to the previously somewhat ignored material properties of the media as involved in the transformative processes in society. Agency-oriented literatures seek, on the other hand, to enrich the institutional perspective by examining the microdynamics of mediatization processes as based in the active and skillful responses of social actors. The remainder of this section explores the four approaches in chronological order.

Cultural Perspective

The cultural perspective—also referred to as a social constructivist tradition—has media-centered social theory as a point of departure. Here, mediatization is seen as parallel with other forms of social and cultural transformation. Mediatization is seen as interwoven with—and interdependent on—processes such as modernization, globalization, commodification, marketization, democratization, and individualization. Empirically, by studying, for example, face-to-face interactions, literacy and semiotics, and self-representations of public personas, the cultural perspective explores the historical interrelation between the changes in various types of mediated communication and the transformation of various social practices such as pop culture, education, and art. Mediatization is in these studies conceptualized as a process where mediated communication is constitutive of how social actors—individual as well as collective—relate to one another and thereby also make sense of different aspects of their worlds. Underlying this perspective is the understanding of communication—mainly through its role in the creation and circulation of symbolic means—as a key mechanism in social interactions, and thereby also for construction of social orders. Thus, the notion of mediatization seeks in this perspective to offer a media-oriented view on how to describe, understand, and explain social and cultural change.

Institutional Perspective

The institutional perspective on mediatization conceptualizes the (mass) media as a semiautonomous institution. Scholars within this tradition relate to mediatization from a position of creating a metatheory that would provide a common base for understanding the dynamics and processes through which the media influence politics, business, religion, culture, sports, and other social fields of human activity. A number of studies—mainly within media and communication research and political studies—have addressed mediatization as a dominant source of change in the behavior of politicians, scientists, public relations consultants, public servants, and others.

Inspired mainly by structuration theories and the institutional approach, this perspective focuses on how the working routines, values, and preferences of the media as well as the distinct rhythm, grammar, and format of news coverage influence the way actors in other fields organize and perform their activities. An important notion here is that mediatization itself unfolds in parallel with other social processes such as individualization, scientification, or moralization and is by no means immune to influences from these processes. As such, the effects of mediatization are difficult to isolate and/or describe in a linear, homogeneous, and unidirectional manner.

Material Perspective

Recent mediatization writings suggest that the cultural and institutional perspectives may not fully address and capture the transformative capabilities of the media and media technologies. The material perspective offers in such a context the possibility of examining media technologies as fundamentally influencing communication processes, and thereby also social change. Empirical concerns within this perspective include, for instance, studies on cultural and social change as driven by a variety of media tools and platforms in the context of interpersonal communication, and the analysis of technological affordance (e.g., digitalization of reading, memorizing, mobilizing, or education) as indispensable to the processes of the everyday life of people, organizations, and social movements.

However, despite the fact that the material perspective often relies on medium theory (which focuses on how the characteristics of the medium of communication affect its content) and theories of materiality and space to identify and analyze how historical shifts can be explained in relation to changes in the type, development, and utilization of media, the perspective should not be mistaken for having technological determinism as a dominant point of departure. Rather, it offers complementary arguments in cases where other perspectives lack sufficient descriptive and explanatory power.

Agency-Oriented Perspective

The fourth perspective within mediatization studies is represented by efforts that seek to more systematically capture and recognize the active role of actors subjected to mediatization pressures. The active, skillful, and resourceful responses to mediatization pressures are here studied to describe and understand the changes and dynamics of mediatization itself. How is mediatization understood and responded to by the actors being exposed to it? How are these responses involved in the enactment and transformation of the underlying forms and qualities of mediatization? These and similar questions guide the inquiry of the agency-oriented perspective.

Relying mainly on neo-institutional writings that discuss actors’ ability to actively shape their institutional contexts, mediatization is conceptualized as emerging and evolving from dynamic and multidirectional relations and interactions at the individual, organizational, field, and social levels. But mediatization is also (re)negotiated between these levels. This means that mediatization is both an effect and a result of field- and actor-level practices, models, and ideas—and that mediatization gets modified as it moves across different cultural, social, and economic contexts. Thus, central to this perspective is actors’ ability to skillfully respond to and actively change the very properties of mediatization—a quality referred to in this literature as mediability. Such an actor- and agency-oriented approach puts actors’ adaptation, innovation, collaborations, interactions, contradictions, and resistance to media pressures and media technologies at the center of analysis. Paying attention to the micro- and mesolevel specifics of interactions, relations, structures, motives, and activities related to the media provides possibilities to analyze more closely the ways in which individual as well as collective actors act when they conform to and/or confront mediatization’s behavioral scripts.

Mediatization—A Broad Umbrella Concept

The four perspectives just discussed differ in a number of important aspects and assumptions, making it difficult to grasp mediatization as a well-defined theoretical notion. However, the four perspectives also exhibit important similarities that make mediatization appear as a key process shaping contemporary societies. They jointly describe developments where the media to an increasing extent have become a part of—or even taken over—the functionalities of other institutions or actors. Scholars within these perspectives see the societies, cultures, and behaviors of individual actors as transformed under the influence of the media. Another common point of departure is that the transformation takes place at different levels, to a varying degree, and with different outcomes. The four perspectives—despite their different theoretical orientations—open up the possibility of a dialectic relationship between the media and other parts of society.

As an umbrella concept, mediatization can thus deal with complex and multifaceted interactions, relations, and practices. Taken together, the different perspectives offer a view on mediatization and its effects as being embedded in macrolevel social, cultural, political, and economic processes as well as within the contexts of organizational and interhuman activities. Such a broad conceptualization of media(tization) reminds us of the fact that social change (as it is related to the media) unfolds unevenly, inconsistently, and with varying effects and consequences. As such, mediatization can—in combination with other theoretical streams—offer a powerful analytical and even theoretical framework that can enable studies of both specific phenomena as well as general transformations of cultural, political, or economic fields without losing the possibility (and advantage) of moving between micro and macro explanations of media-related social change.

Fredriksson, M., Pallas, J., & Wehmeier, S. (2013). Public relations and neo-institutional theory. Public Relations Inquiry, 2(2), 183–203.

Hepp, A. (2013). Cultures of mediatization. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Hjarvard, S. (2013). The mediatization of culture and society. New York: Routledge.

Kriesi, H., Bochsler, D., Matthes, J., Lavenex, S., Bühlmann, M., & Esser, F. (2013). Democracy in the age of globalization and mediatization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lundby, K. (2014). Handbooks of communication science: Mediatization of communication. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter.

Pallas, J., Jonsson, S., & Strannegård, L. (2014). Organizations and the media: Organizing in a mediatized world. London: Routledge.

Schillemans, T. (2012). Mediatization of public services: How organizations adapt to news media. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang.

See Also

Advertising; Brand Journalism; Business Journalism; Corporate History; Financial Intermediaries; Information Intermediaries; Institutional Theory; Media; Media Dependency Theory; Media Effects Theory; Media Law; Media Relations; Media Reputation; Message Integrity; News Media; Public Relations; Social Media; Stakeholder Media; Use of Social Media in Crisis Situations

See Also

Please select listing to show.