Media as Inhabited Institutions

One thing that is particularly striking about compiling interview transcripts, blog entries, trade publications, and scholarly research of and among media professionals (in advertising, journalism, film, TV, and video games), is how the creative industries these people work in/for are not the monolithic or isomorphic institutions we sometimes make them out to be.

Following the work of IU colleague Tim Hallett among others, my data suggests that media (as employers, as companies with a corporate culture, as industries and as social institutions) are institutions that are 'inhabited' by people doing things together - interacting, engaging in discussion and conflict, constantly shaping, redefining, articulating but also challenging the status quo, the boundaries, and the ways in which these media work. Quoting Hallett and Marc Ventresca:
"On the one hand, institutions provide the raw materials and guidelines for social interactions (“construct interactions”), and on the other hand, the meanings of institutions are constructed and propelled forward by social interactions."
This approach - which reminds me of Giddens' structuration theory - is useful for a study of media work, in that it takes issue with the so-called 'institutional isomorphism' point of view, which focuses on how work in an instutional context must be seen in an overarching context of imposed rationality (by professions, management, owners, the state) and constraint (for example: workplace socialization, hierarchy and seniority), inevitably leading to homogeneity of structure.

My work on the ways of doing things in converging newsrooms, among teams in advertising agencies and game studios, and the projectization of work in broadcasting and the movie industry suggests a couple of reasons why media as institutions not only cannot be solely seen as linear, rational and singular, but indeed are becoming more complex, heterarchic and fluid - in one word: liquid - all the time under the influence of new 'flexible production' management practices, the hyperfragmentation of markets and industries, glocalization and new (networked, wireless and portable) technologies.

My book-in-progress, Media Work, is all about preparing media students (and scholars) for a future in a world like that, building a 'liquid workstyle' if you will. The main problem, however, remains the Foucauldian warning that it is impossible to change power relationships and contraints within institutions if one keeps using the discourse through which these institions are constituted - because that will inevitably contribute to reproducing the very institutional features and ways of doing things that one may want to change.