In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Economy

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Definitions
  • Characteristics
  • Foundational Theory
  • Contemporary Theory
  • Commodification
  • Spatialization
  • Structuration
  • Cultural Studies
  • New Research Directions

Communication Political Economy
Vincent Mosco
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0086


The communication scholar interested in the political economy approach starts by studying different ways to define it, then identifies its fundamental characteristics and major schools of thought. From here, it is important to consider how communication scholars have drawn on political economy theory to carry out research on communication media and information technologies. To do this, it is necessary to understand the key processes that make up the primary starting points for a political economy of communication: Commodification, Spatialization, and Structuration. It is also important to explore how the political economy of communication responds to challenges from disciplines on its borders, specifically from Cultural Studies, especially by examining efforts to build bridges across theoretical divides.


There are two types of textbooks that are essential for an understanding of the political economy approach to communication studies. The first type, exemplified by Stillwell 2012 and Heilbroner 1999, comprises books about political economic theory that cover the range of approaches, typically beginning with the contribution of the 18th-century theorist Adam Smith. The second type consists of texts that describe how communication scholars have drawn from political economic theory to establish the political economy of communication. Among these, Mosco 2009 offers an explicitly theoretical orientation, while Hardy 2014 provides a distinctly empirical focus.

  • Hardy, Jonathan. 2014. Critical political economy of the media: An introduction. London: Routledge.

    Hardy’s text focuses on empirical problems of the field including media ownership concentration, technological convergence, globalization of the media, and the challenges of social media.

  • Heilbroner, Robert L. 1999. The worldly philosophers: The lives, times, and ideas of the great economic thinkers. 7th ed. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    This, the best-written book on political economy, began as a series of articles for the New Yorker magazine and mushroomed into a best-selling book that profiles leading figures in the history of political economy approaches. In a field marked by deep political divisions, Heilbroner’s work stands out for its generous approach to all leading figures.

  • Mosco, Vincent. 2009. The political economy of communication. 2d ed. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446279946

    This book maps the political economy approach and examines the history and present state of how communication scholars have used it. In addition to updating the original 1996 book, this edition contains a chapter on new developments in the field.

  • Stillwell, Frank. 2012. Political economy: The contest of economic ideas. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Stillwell provides a broad overview of the major perspectives and makes explicit the connections between economic ideas and their social roots, as well as the social problems created by economic policies.

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