BCMCR Research Theme for 2022/23 – Audience

By Charlotte Stevens on September 21st, 2022

Audience is the next annual theme for the BCMCR, and activity will be led by Hazel Collie and Charlotte Stevens.

Our proposal, as presented to BCMCR members:

Audience is one of the pillars of our discipline, alongside industry and text. This theme differs from what we have worked with in the past: it is a core aspect of media and cultural studies, and it touches on all media industries. Also, it’s been ages since the publication of The Audience Studies Reader (Routledge, 2003), and the ‘Audience’ chapter in Michael Z. Newman’s new textbook The Media Studies Toolkit (2022) has a few recent case studies (2012-2015) but the theorisation is drawn from older canonical literature.

Therefore, for 2022/2023, let’s return to audience as a concept, to consider methods for studying and addressing audiences in our own research practice, and to how we train our students to think about and to study audiences at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. There are many questions we can ask about the state of audience today. For example, how do media literacy and misinformation, populism and democracy, short-form viral content, and different humanities ‘turns’ (archival, transnational, memory, etc.) reshape or confirm scholarly views of what an audience is? Is there still a ‘mass’ audience, in the UK or elsewhere?

Where and how do we locate audiences, as objects of study, as research participants, and as groups addressed by practice outputs? There are digital audiences of social media, TV audiences are quantifiable through ratings but obscured because streaming services seldom share data, music venues recently lost (and now are recovering) their audiences, not to mention audiences for academic work. What do audiences do, and how do we find out? How does audience function as a category distinct from user, fan, player, reader, viewer, etc.

How do we help students think of themselves as audience members and as practitioners addressing audiences? How do we think of audiences as gendered and raced, and how does this intersect with representation, accessibility, geography (local, national, international)? Are the methods we use for audience research actually fit for purpose, given the huge swathes of people who have, historically, been left out of audience research? What can we share across areas of media research to reinvigorate the methodological possibilities? Furthermore, who are our audiences: peers at BCU, academic community in and beyond our discipline(s), our students, project partners and stakeholders, widening participation and outreach groups, the wider non-academic public…

Our plans:

We will be trialling running the theme over two years, and we hope this will give us all a chance to grow new projects from within the theme, as well as using the theme as a lens to revisit or nuance work already in progress.

Initially, and since we’ll have a bit more time to spend on planning and discussion, we’d like to find out collectively where our baseline is as a Centre. We have presented a range of questions, but are very mindful that to ask “what even is an audience” will have a different answer for us, as television studies scholars, than it will for others in the Centre. We want this to be open and consultative, really very interested to learn from each other and set terms of engagement. We do hope this is something that everyone can feel a part of, especially as we’re asking for a return to core theoretical groundwork – to see what we can build on and what collaborations are possible.

There are a couple concrete aims beyond a more general intellectual curiosity: to work with clusters to address and work with the theme; to hold a conference at a midway point (June or September) and follow this up with a special issue in an open-access journal; to see a substantial output published in the BCMCR book series, and to feature undergraduate research in the BCMCR seminars, perhaps drawing from the Major Project students. 

Ultimately, our aim is to work towards thinking about new ways of understanding audience from a range of perspectives.


Alasuutari, P., ed. (1999) Rethinking the Media Audience: The New Agenda. London: SAGE.
Brooker, W. and D. Jermyn, eds. (2003) The Audience Studies Reader. London: Routledge.
Newman, M. Z. (2022) The Media Studies Toolkit. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Takahashi, T (2010) Audience Studies: A Japanese Perspective. New York: Routledge.