Book Reviews

In putting together the syllabus for my graduate Critical Methods course, I've been taking a closer look at book reviews because they so often and so directly articulate the constitution of a scholarly field. In the process I'm realizing how much I've tended to undervalue reviews. Not only do they provide introductions to new scholarship and pithy argument summaries, but they also can serve as part of an important conversation about the discipline – our theories and methods.

For instance, Charles Barr's review of Su Holmes' British TV and Film Culture (Screen 48.3) makes this observation:

[T]he strategy of studying press coverage mainly on the basis of files of cuttings collected by the BBC, while understandable, has its disadvantages. Picturegoer and some of the trade papers seem to have been consulted direct, but the others through clippings. This means that important sources are ignored, such as The New Statesman, Sight and Sound, and The Listener, all of which have lively and distinctive perspectives on TV, and on specific programmes, in this decade of intense development. It also means that all the journalism tends to be considered as interchangeable, without a consideration of the stance of a given paper. (408).

Now, some of his critique applies specifically to Holmes' book and object of study. But what a useful summation of the methodological issues in either primary historical documents or reception research. Those approaching reception from the vantage of Foucauldian discursive reading tend not to consider the social and institutional positionality of journalistic sources – the interchangeability of those evoking words, ideas, metaphors, or narrative tropes is almost the point. Sometimes I'm in that boat, but I have been mulling over the problem and have been trying to think of the tools best to think of the relationship between, say mass market journalistic film reviews and the overall journalistic field in the postwar years.

Mind you, it is a little nerve-wracking to read harsh reviews when you're trying to hone and articulate your own argument.


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