Subjectivity Experience and Method in Film and Television Viewing: A Psycho-Social Approach

Whitehouse-Hart, Joanne (2010). Subjectivity Experience and Method in Film and Television Viewing: A Psycho-Social Approach. PhD thesis The Open University.



This is an interview-based piece of psycho-social phenomenological audience research, based on eleven interviews and a series of letters with six working class participants using a psychoanalytically informed method: Free Association Narrative Interviewing. The research aimed to create an in-depth study of the emotional, affective and biographical relationships with 'favourite' film and television texts and also texts that have had an emotional 'impact' on the viewer. The research brings together and develops psychoanalytic film theory and sociological and cultural studies approaches to media audience research to explore this phenomenon.

Film theory has traditionally utilised textual analysis as a method and the audience has been figured in response to the text. Media and Cultural Studies research into audiences has utilised 'textual' approaches and analysed reading and interpretation of texts. Another strand of empirical audience research exists which relegates the text in favour of an approach concerned with understanding the practices and politics of viewing. Film theory has traditionally found psychoanalysis a useful analytic tool, whilst empirical audience research, interested in both reception and uses, has preferred sociological and cultural interpretive paradigms. These differences of approach and focus have often prevented dialogue between various disciplines -film, media and cultural studies - with regard to audiences.

This research attempts to bridge some of these divisions by focussing on both the reception of texts and also viewing practices. I argue for a method retaining textual analysis as part of a multi-layered method, which includes interviews, and sociohistorical analysis. The research utilises and evaluates psychoanalytic concepts and ideas and begins from the historically contextualised position that audiences now view in a post-cinematic era. I use this term not to signify the end of cinema, but to point to the developments in home viewing, which mean films are not always viewed in the cinema. Also such developments suggest that film theories that are based heavily on the cinematic viewing situation may need to be re-evaluated. Theoretically, the research does not reject what have been hegemonic poststructural models but seeks to enhance established approaches by also utilising perspectives from a range of psychoanalytic perspectives including object relations.

The sample of interviewees contains participants from across the age spectrum to explore the experience of technological and social change from different vantage points. The impact of developments such as time shift technology, video and DVD on the relationships with texts and the viewing practices of audiences are examined. Following this, a central research question concerns the ways in which personalising viewing technologies have their own subjective impact upon memory, identity and family relationships. Therefore the home, where most of this technology is located and used is explored as a unique viewing space.

The research data provides rich accounts of viewing experiences and the uses of texts and viewing practices in everyday life. New light is shed on established and important concepts in media and film such as identification. The research found examples of forms of identification that have not been explored in previous media and film research for instance intergenerational, sibling, biographical, idiomatic and 'emotional' identification with texts. Other findings included the use of texts to address personal trauma and anxiety resulting from the lived experience of social mobility in what Ulrich Beck has called 'new modernity'. These findings add to the understanding of the experience of viewing and the way media texts are made meaningful and used by audiences.

Alternative conceptual models are offered to enhance established approaches. Bion's work is used to understand how film and television visual 'moments' or moments from plot development are used in 'thought'. The work of Bollas and his concepts of idiom, and six forms of object 'use' help to explain the relationship between taste, trauma and the lived experience of social class. Repetition compulsion and afterwardsness explain the significance of memory and experience in viewing practices and favourite texts.

The research evaluates some established post-positivist critiques of method and knowledge production and argues that psycho-social methods are effective and workable. The combination of case study and Free Association Narrative Interview Method used demonstrates that it is a viable and effective approach to interviewing for media and film research. It is shown to be particularly effective for generating narratives with biographical and emotional significance. The method is also shown to be an appropriate method for psychoanalytically informed audience research when combined with other methods such as textual analysis.

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