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Media, Culture and New Technologies

The study of media and culture, and of the social, cultural and political impact of new information and communication technologies, is one of the core research strengths of Cambridge Sociology. We have many research students working on aspects of culture and media and we welcome applications from prospective PhD and MPhil students wishing to work in this area. There are numerous strands of our research in this area including the following:

  • Manuel Castells, a Director of Research in the Department, is one of the world's leading scholars of the information revolution and of the profound social changes brought about by the emerging technologies of communication and information processing associated with computing, microelectronics and the internet. His great trilogy, The Information Age (1996, 1997, 1998), and his subsequent works including The Internet Galaxy (2001) and Communication Power (2009), offer a comprehensive theory of the new kind of global, information-based network society that is being created by these technologies. His current research in this area is focused on the use of mobile and networked technologies to facilitate the mobilization of protest by new social movements in a wide range of contexts, from the Arab uprisings to the ongoing protests against austerity and against established political parties and institutions in many parts of Europe.
  • John Thompson has been working on the theory of the media and on the changing structures of the book publishing industry since the early 1990s. Most recently he has carried out in-depth studies of the transformation of academic publishing in Britain and the US (Books in the Digital Age (2005)) and the transformation of mainstream trade publishing and the making of bestsellers (Merchants of Culture (2010; 2nd ed. 2012)). His current research is focused on the ways in which the book publishing industry is being transformed by the digital revolution. He is studying how established players and new start-ups respond to the challenges of digitization and seek to innovate in a rapidly changing information environment, exploring the implications of these developments in terms of the role of new technologies in the creative industries and the future of the book as a form of cultural transmission. This research has been funded by two grants from the ESRC and one grant from the Mellon Foundation.
  • Peter Webb works on the changing character of the music industry and its relation to popular culture. Building on his theoretical account of 'musical milieu', he is currently writing a book on the Anarchist Punk milieu. This is partially a history but more importantly an assessment of the impact of a musical and political subculture on the continuing lives and work of those closely involved. He is also working with an interdisciplinary network of Academics in the Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change group who have edited two new collections on subcultures and organized a series of conferences and symposiums; he is leading a symposium and music, narrative and the riots of the 1980s and 2011. He is also working on a Cambridge Companion book called Music and Digital Culture with Professor Nicholas Cook and two others from the Music Department at Cambridge.
  • Jeffrey Alexander is Pitt Professor in Cambridge and is one of the world's leading cultural sociologists. His 'strong program' of cultural sociology has established a new paradigm for cultural sociology that is premised on the idea that every action, no matter how instrumental, reflexive or coerced, is embedded in a horizon of affect and meaning. It also implies that institutions, no matter how impersonal or technocratic, have an ideal foundation that fundamentally shapes their organization and goals. Alexander's current research in cultural sociology includes his work on Obama's election campaigns and victories in 2008 and 2012, where he shows that Obama's performative skills and his ability to use symbols and tell stories effectively were crucial to his success; his work on the Egyptian revolution, where he analyses the narrative of a revolution that was scripted by its organizers as both a moral drama and a political statement; and his continuing work on cultural trauma.
  • Patrick Baert's current work deals with the sociology of culture, in particular the sociology of intellectuals. One research project, funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, uses positioning theory to explain Sartre's sudden rise to public prominence in the mid-1940s in France. The second project, EU-funded and collaborative, explores the most significant developments in the social sciences and humanities in Europe since 1945. This project also studies the intellectual exchanges between Europe and other parts of the world during this period, and Baert is paying particular attention to China and South Africa. The third project deals with recent transformations in the public engagement of intellectuals, partly as a result of specialisation and professionalization within the academy, partly as a result of the rise of new social media.
  • David Lehmann's work has covered some of the most important structural and cultural changes in Latin America over the past fifty years, working in Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Brazil: agricultural transformation, religious transformation and the politics of recognition and affirmative action. Following Democracy and Development in Latin America (1990), which emphasized the struggles within Catholicism to confront modernity and injustice, he published Struggle for the Spirit (1996), which was among the first books to highlight the rise of Pentecostalism in the region, especially in Brazil. His work on charismatic and fundamentalist religion took him to Israel where he studied Shas, the Israeli Sephardi movement of ethnic and religious renewal, and in 2006 he published Remaking Israeli Judaism (with Batia Siebzehner). Since 2007 his research has focussed on multiculturalism and affirmative action in Mexico, Peru and Brazil funded by a major grant from the British Academy.
  • Ella McPherson's research focuses on symbolic struggles surrounding the media in times of transition, whether democratic or digital. Her current project, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leader grant and the Isaac Newton Trust, examines the potential of using social media by human rights NGOs to generate governmental accountability. This involves understanding the methodological and reputational implications of using social media and related networks as data sources and dissemination tools, as well as social media's effects on pluralism in human rights discourse. Her previous research, drawing on her media ethnography of human rights reporting at Mexican newspapers, identified the contest for public credibility between state, media, and human rights actors as a significant driver of human rights coverage.

Full details of the current research interests of individual members of staff can be found by following the links in the Members of the Department pages.

For information on other research groups in the Department, visit the Research page.