In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mass Communication

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Future

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Communication Mass Communication
Hans-Bernd Brosius, Veronika Karnowski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 February 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0022


Mass communication can be best described by its counterparts. With regard to the number of people involved, mass communication has many participants, whereas interpersonal communication has few. With regard to visibility, mass communication is highly visible and public; private communication is hidden from others. Mass-communication messages are mostly provided by media professionals who collect, process, structure, and distribute information. It is a one-to-many communication with little feedback possibilities. In mass societies, mass communication is probably the most effective way of finding, discussing, and resolving issues that are relevant for the existence of a given society. Accordingly, research in mass communication is mainly concerned with its effects. Scholars have developed many theories—such as agenda setting—that are focusing on the beneficial and detrimental effects of the mass media. Many other topics are indirectly related to the effects of mass communication, such as freedom of the press, journalism, or media systems, but also entertainment. The internet and its diverse communication modes serve as a challenge to this role of mass communication. Mass communication is often framed within a normative point of view: Mass media, particularly radio, television, and other instances of audiovisual communication, enable a mass society to exchange views effectively on important problems and issues, thus helping democracies to come to the right decisions. In terms of usage, however, audiovisual mass media mostly carry entertainment content. Entertainment, however, might not be without political and societal consequences (e.g., cultivation theory). Although mass-communication content includes many genres and modalities and appears across all media, this entry focuses more on processes and intellectual arcs that transcend any single type of content.


There are only a few textbooks explicitly dedicated to mass communication; most of them address communication science in general or special topics in mass communication such as mass-communication effects. McQuail 2010 and Baran 2008 are probably the most prominent exceptions to this. Easy to read but rather old is the “milestones” project, Lowery and DeFleur 1995. Besides these textbooks addressing undergraduate students, there are readers such as McQuail 2002 and Katz, et al. 2002 assembling texts by different authors in various topics in mass communication. Additionally, some books on communication science in general are considered textbooks as they are relevant to the smaller field of mass communication. These include Berger, et al. 2010 and Schulz 2010, which give excellent overviews of various topics in mass communication.

  • Baran, Stanley J. 2008. Mass communication theory: Foundations, ferment, and future. 5th ed. Boston: Wadsworth.

    This volume is a timely and highly accessible review of research and theory in mass communication. An essential reading for undergraduate students in mass communication.

  • Berger, Charles R., Michael E. Roloff, and David R. Roskos-Ewoldsen, eds. 2010. The handbook of communication science. 2d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Despite being devoted to the more general field of communication science, the second edition of this handbook is also helpful to advanced students and academics seeking overviews on mass-communication-related themes.

  • Katz, Elihu, John Durham Peters, Tamar Liebes, and Avril Orloff, eds. 2002. Canonic texts in media research: Are there any? Should there be? How about these? Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    This edited volume is a first attempt to establish canonic texts in the field. Despite being heavily criticized for this undertaking, the editors produced a book equally valuable to advanced students and academics in the field.

  • Lowery, Shearon A., and Melvin L. DeFleur, 1995. Milestones in mass communication research: Media effects. 3d ed. White Plains, NY: Longman.

    Dedicated to seminal work in the field of media effects. In short articles, the authors explain circumstances, theoretical background, methods, results, and effects of the most prominent academic work in media effects.

  • McQuail, Denis. 2010. McQuail’s mass communication theory. 6th ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Denis McQuail’s textbook on mass communication theory can already be considered a classic. Highly accessible, it is especially useful to undergraduate students in the field.

  • McQuail, Denis, ed. 2002. McQuail’s reader in mass communication research. London: SAGE.

    This reader offers a selection of original articles on various topics in mass communication. It therefore presents a good choice of primary literature for undergraduate students.

  • Schulz, Peter J., ed. 2010. Communication theory. 4 vols. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book provides a broad range of essays on all kinds of topics in communication studies. This timely summary of the field is a key reading both for students and academics in the field.

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