The American Sociologist

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 352–368 | Cite as

How Not to Establish a Subfield: Media Sociology in the United States

  • Matthias ReversEmail author
  • Casey Brienza


US-American sociology has largely failed to examine the transformation of mediated communication of the past 20 years. If sociology is to be conceived as a general social science concerned with analyzing and critically scrutinizing past, present, and future conditions of collective human existence, this failure, and the ignorance it engenders, is detrimental. This ignorance, we argue, may be traced back to the weak self-identity, institutionalization and position of media sociology in the discipline. Our argument here is threefold: 1) There was an opportunity structure for specialization, that is, a venerable research tradition in media sociology since the first half of the twentieth century. This tradition links back to classics in sociology and peaked at a time (1970s and 1980s) when the discipline differentiated institutionally and many new sections emerged in the American Sociological Association. 2) Despite this tradition, media sociology has not become established in sociology in the United States until recently. 3) Lastly, we locate reasons for non-establishment on three distinct but interconnected levels: the history of ideas in media sociology, institutional/disciplinary history, and disciplinary politics.


Sociology of media Sociology of news Sociology of mass communication History of sociology Specialization 



We would like to thank Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Christian Daye, Shai Dromi, Jon Fernquest, Paul Jones, Andrew Lindner, Brian McKernan, Michael Schudson and Katharina Scherke for comments on previous drafts of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthias Revers, Goethe-University, Frankfurt, Department of Sociology, Campus Westend, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6, PEG, Office 3.G 149, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of FrankfurtFrankfurtGermany
  2. 2.City, University of LondonLondonUK

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