Thomas, S. 1994. “Artifactual Study in the Analysis of a Culture: A Defense of Content Analysis in a Postmodern Age.”

Thomas, Sari. 1994. “Artifactual Study in the Analysis of Culture: A Defense of Content Analysis in a
Postmodern Age.” Communication Research 21 (6): 683-697.

There is worth in doing content/artifactual analysis in a post-modern age, particularly in study of mass-culture artifacts (shows, movies, books, etc.) AS has been opposed by many postmodern, poststructuralist (Derridean desconstruction, cultural studies), as they argue that artifacts (or text) becomes a site of indeterminable meaning where cultural explications cannot emerge, even accusing it of mysticism. Also, AS has been railed against by structuralists as well (does not describe).
Margaret Mead (1953)*** noted that AS must be implemented when societies become inaccessible (through war, or because it no longer exists) – the study of “culture at a distance” (Mead 3). Thomas says that these artifacts are more than just a “substitution” – “…The study of the artifact is not a substitute for the study of practiced behavior. […] However […] the study of practiced behavior is not a substitute for the study of the artifact.” There are no real research tools or techniques that provide direct insight to an individual’s meaning-making and how they apply these meanings into real life – one my only interpret as a reflection in behavioral processes. Laboratory experiences are but a tableau of real life and meaning making.

Artifacts are important because they are cultural products that reflect norms through their mere existence. If they weren’t important, why were they created in the first place? Artifacts embody issues and ideas, and help contribute to social continuity (with the expectation that the things that are made will last) – yet, artifacts must be evaluate over time, appearance, placement to uncover longitudinal evolution of artifactual meaning. It is not assumed that the “meaning” of the artifact goes uncontested, even by individuals or groups. While sociology has a tendency to study abnormal or anomalous, patterned behavior or products becomes indicative of regular human experience and narrative. We must put primacy on broad cultural readings than individual readings – this is not to say society is an “additive cumulation of individual postures” (688). “Cultural meaning is the socially structured relationship of functions served by the artifacts in question” (688) – structured relationship of ideas that support each other to maintain social order. Anomalies are not point of rebellion, but simultaneous tension that help to define and support social order (kx- is this always true?) Advocates manifest and latent function as point of content analysis (not in terms of Merton, Parsons), but as a mode to discern meaning in repetition of context – only descriptive of what can be known. Content analysis DOES type phenomenon, advocates legitimacy of quantitative study as equally valuable in postmodern contexts to qualitative, as no more positivistic. Advocates counts as a points of demonstrating frequency, frequency as significance. “In constructing an instrument, the content analyst interprets how elements of a structure are embodies, what constitutes membership in a class of such elements, what elements should be tested for relationship, and most important, what the presence or absence of such relationships might mean” (694).

Mead, M. 1953. “The Study of Culture at a Distance.” In M. Mead and R. Metraux (eds.), The Study of Culture at a Distance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pgs. 3-58.


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