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How television influences social institutions : the case of policing and criminal justice Doyle, Aaron

Abstract

Most research about television studies its impact on viewers. This thesis asks instead how TV influences what is in front of the camera. The dissertation investigates how TV reshapes other institutions as it broadcasts their activities, using four ethnographic studies of televised crime and policing. These studies examine: 1) the reality-TV show "Cops"; 2) the televising of surveillance footage and home video of crime and policing: 3) television and Vancouver's Stanley Cup riot; 4) the law-breaking television stunts of Greenpeace. The four studies provide empirical contexts to draw together and compare for the first time three diverse strands of sociological theorizing which can be used to analyze how TV influences other institutions. My data show the most powerful players, exemplified by the police, tend to dictate which situations are televised, and to produce the "authorized definitions" of these situations, and thus control their institutional consequences. Invoking the notion that "seeing is believing", TV is uniquely effective at warranting these "authorized definitions". Many understandings of television over-emphasize its visual aspect; often instead verbal interpretations of televised events by the most powerful players are more important. The meanings of these televised episodes are produced within a broader culture which tends to support the established order. Television and source institutions create new social roles for audiences in these situations. However, these roles tend to limit audiences to involvement which simply reproduces institutional power. The implications for the three theoretical perspectives being compared are as follows. Rather than having a democratizing effect in these situations as predicted by "medium theory", TV mostly has various influences which reinforce existing power relations. These criminal justice situations are reshaped by the cultural logic of television, fitting with the "media logic" perspective. Televised activities tend to become more institutionally important, tightly managed, dramatic, simplified, and are shaped to fit dominant values. However, powerful source institutions, particularly the police, tend to control television's influences, often harnessing them for their own legitimation and surveillance purposes, consistent with the "institutional" perspective. My data thus lead me to support key aspects of these latter two perspectives, and to produce a synthesis of these two.

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