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The Inclusive Vision

Essays in Honor of Larry Gross

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Edited By Paul Messaris and David W. Park

Larry Gross is one of the most influential figures in the history of media studies. In this collection of original essays, his former students reflect on his groundbreaking contributions to three major developments: the emergence of visual studies as a distinct field of media theory and research; the analysis of media fiction as a symbol of power structures and a perpetuator of social inequalities; and the growing scholarly attention to the relationships between mass media and sexual minorities.

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11. The Tacit Dimension of Communication: Symbolic Competence and Symbolic Power (David W. Park)

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11. The Tacit Dimension of Communication: Symbolic Competence and Symbolic Power

DAVID W. PARK

The field of communication has made numerous important contributions to understanding the context around culture. Critical political economists of communication have amply demonstrated how the features of media systems can shape content. Scholarship concerning media reception has instructed us about the extent to which audience response cannot be explained entirely through reference to message characteristics. Marshall McLuhan and the other so-called medium level theorists have addressed how the introduction of a medium provides the impetus for cultural change. Media effects researchers have given us countless valuable insights into how different messages can affect audience members’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. In almost all of this work one finds scholars drawn to the idea that that intelligibility reigns and that, for the most part, messages are meaningful. There is a tacit centering of the academic project—within and beyond the field of communication—on the idea that messages are intelligible, that our responses to them stem from our being able to understand them to some extent, and that this is an important part of how the media come to matter. After all, why would we care about messages if they were not meaningful?

Larry Gross gave us a most compelling argument for understanding how intelligibility should not always be taken for granted. By so doing, he explained one of the most important means by which...

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