Political Economic Theory and Communication Research



This paper provides an overview of the political economy approach to communication studies. The paper begins by defining the approach, identifies its fundamental characteristics, and maps major schools of thought. From here, it proceeds to examine how communication scholars have drawn on the theoretical framework to carry out research on the mass media and information technologies. The paper then describes the process of rethinking the political economy of communication by proposing the means to address its philosophical assumptions. Specifically, it calls for an approach to knowing that accepts the reality of both concepts and observations and rejects the view, prominent in some theories, that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Rethinking political economy also emphasizes social change, social processes and social relations over the traditional tendency in political economy to start from social structures and institutions. Putting this agenda into practice, the paper identifies three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with, mainly, mass media and communication technologies. Structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender and race. The paper concludes by describing how this renewed political economy of communication responds to challenges on its borders from the disciplines of cultural studies and policy science.