Gaps, Flows, and Networks: Social Space and the Cultural Work of Communication Theory in Social Science, Sci-Fi, and Political Movements, 1937 -1980 Open Access
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This dissertation examines the disparate theories of mass communication produced and circulated by social scientists, through films and the popular press, and political activist movements between the late 1930s and the end of the 1970s. It analyzes communication theory as a cultural practice, not limited to academic scholarship, that helps imagine and create different kinds of social spaces to support state and oppositional politics.I basically argue that the theoretical concern with media effects rested on visions of the social spaces audiences inhabited. This construction of different models of this social space was a cultural practice that accompanied propaganda politics, media reform discourse, and the strategies of political movements and thus extended beyond academic institutions into popular culture, the media professions, and movement politics. Communication theories were mobilized to interpret particular social groups (the national populace, African American activists, second wave feminists) and their relationship to the mass media of the United States. I outline the imaginative mappings of social spaces that were at the center of communication research in the 1940s and 1950s about the impact of commercial media. This work relied on ideas about the passage of mass communication through space in order to negotiate between the worries about propaganda and the hope of preserving democratic discourse. The dissertation then traces the construction of a global communication space in early Cold War science fiction films; and it shows that these films engaged concerns about communication technologies amd propaganda and that the cinematic interpretations resonated strongly with academic theories. In the second part, the dissertation juxtaposes these official theories with the theories articulated within political movements, namely the Black Arts movement of the late 1960s and second wave feminism in the 1970s as the liberal mainstream magazine Ms. represented it. In their critiques of commercial media, the Black Arts activists and the feminists of Ms. analyzed media hegemony and mapped social spaces that functioned as sites for oppositional media practices. Their takes on the underlying problem of a functioning public sphere provided the ferment for the turn in media scholarship toward Cultural Studies and Marxism in the 1980s.