Watching with mother: a genealogy of the child television audience

Oswell, David (1995). Watching with mother: a genealogy of the child television audience. PhD thesis The Open University.



In this thesis I show how the child television audience is imagined and acted upon within an administrative regime of power/ knowledge. However, the imagining of this audience is not unified. Its history is marked with both discontinuities and continuities, just as the object of its disciplining is non-unitary and dispersed. Nevertheless, a definite genealogy can be traced. Particular sites emerge as distinct areas of problematisation (the family, domestic space/time, the public) and particular knowledges and institutions make specific claims for governing the audience within these areas.

A central theme within the thesis is concerned with the way in which media technologies (radio and television) become embedded within the spaces of the familiy and the domestic and with how the government of the use of these technologies has been, and still is, aligned with the government of the social and the public. For example, the child radio audience in the 1920s and 1930s was conceived and acted upon within a Reithian ethos of public service. However, instead of analysing this in terms of the paternalism of the early BBC, I show how Reith's conception of the ether (as providing a space in which government and governed, city and village, public and private could communicate with each other) lay the ground for the disciplining of proper listeners and good citizens and the regulated well-being of the communities of locality and nation. I show how these earlier discourses were, in part, surpassed with the emergence of a social scientific (primarily psychological) knowledge of the child audience and I look at how the reception of television in the home in the 1940s and 1950s was connected to a wider set of discourses about modernity, the visibilisation of the home and the formation of 'responsible' modes of parenting. This then sets the scene for an analysis of contemporary imaginings and management of the child audience within which we see an alignment of child-centred and neo-liberal modes of government.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions