MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2000, 3(1), 3–37
Uses and Gratifications Theory
in the 21st Century
Thomas E. Ruggiero
University of Texas at El Paso
Some mass communications scholars have contended that uses and gratifications is not a rigorous social science theory. In this article, I argue just the opposite, and any attempt to speculate on the future direction of mass communication theory must seriously include the uses and gratifications approach. In this article, I assert that the emergence of computer-mediated communication has revived the significance of uses and gratifications. In fact, uses and gratifications has always provided a cutting-edge theoretical approach in the initial stages of each new mass communications medium: newspapers, radio and television, and now the Internet. Although scientists are likely to continue using traditional tools and typologies to answer questions about media use, we must also be prepared to expand our current theoretical models of uses and gratifications. Contemporary and future models must include concepts such as interactivity, demassification, hypertextuality, and asynchroneity. Researchers must also be willing to explore interpersonal and qualitative aspects of mediated communication in a more holistic methodology.
What mass communication scholars today refer to as the uses and gratifications (U&G) approach is generally recognized to be a subtradition of media effects research (McQuail, 1994). Early in the history of communications research, an approach was developed to study the gratifications that attract and hold audiences to the kinds of media and the types of content that satisfy their social and psychological needs (Cantril, 1942). Much early effects research adopted the experimental or quasi-experimental approach, in which communication conditions were manipulated in search of general lessons about how better to communicate, or about the unintended consequences of messages (Klapper, 1960). Requests for reprints should be sent to Tom Ruggiero, Print Journalism, 102–B Cotton Memorial Communication Department, University of Texas, El Paso, TX 79968. E-mail: truggier@miners. utep.edu
Other media effects research sought to discover motives and selection patterns of audiences for the new mass media. Examples include Cantril and Allport (1935) on the radio audience; Waples, Berelson, and Bradshaw (1940) on reading; Herzog (1940, 1944) on quiz programs and the gratifications from radio daytime serials; Suchman (1942) on the motives for listening to serious music; Wolfe and Fiske (1949) on children’s interest in comics; Berelson (1949) on the functions of newspaper reading; and Lazarsfeld and Stanton (1942, 1944, 1949) on different media genres. Each of these studies formulated a list of functions served either by some specific content or by the medium itself:
To match one’s wits against others, to get information and advice for daily living, to provide a framework for one’s day, to prepare oneself culturally for the demands of upward mobility, or to be reassured about the dignity and usefulness of one’s role. (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974, p. 20)
This latter focus of research, conducted in a social-psychological mode, and audience based, crystallized into the U&G approach (McQuail, 1994). Some mass communication scholars cited “moral panic” and the Payne Fund Studies as the progenitor of U&G theory. Undertaken by the U.S. Motion Picture Research Council, the Payne Fund Studies were carried out in the late 1920s. Leading sociologists and psychologists including Herbert Blumer, Philip Hauser, and L. L. Thurstone sought to understand how movie viewing was affecting the youth of America (Lowery & DeFleur, 1983). Rosengren, Johnsson-Smaragdi, and Sonesson (1994), however, argued that the Payne Fund Studies were primarily effects-oriented propaganda studies, as opposed to the U&G tradition, which focuses on research of...
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