Citizens on the couch: the "us"people-potential of the television experience

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From the end of the 1990s the notion of cultural citizenship has been loaded with several meanings and definitions in Western-European media studies. From a perspective which is highly influenced by cultural studies, cultural citizenship has been described as a bottom up fulfillment or accomplishment of citizenship through popular culture. In particular the idea of feeling connected with the other(s), with a wider community, with other 'ordinary' people has been prominently linked up with the idea of cultural citizenship (cf. Barnhurst, 1998; Costera Meijer, 1998; Hermes, 1998: Hermes & Stello, 2000; van Zoonen, 1999). Many scholars agree that the mass media are playing a central role, and hence are contributing to the construction of a stretched fellowship, association and connectivity with humankind. In this context it has been pointed out that in a late modern world which is both more heterogeneous and global, humanity has become the major connection among people (Turner, 1994).

This paper discusses the im/possibility of television to enhance such feelings of community, solidarity and connectivity among 'ordinary' people. The paper is based on a critical review of theoretical thinking and empirical evidence on how TV enables and constrains the sense of belonging to 'a' humankind, from a public's perspective. The paper draws from our own research on the reception of documentary soap among Northern Belgian (Flemish) television viewers.

We focus on television for two reasons. First, we believe that television remains the most popular and cross-demographic and cross-cultural medium, intersecting and interconnecting people all over the world (Hartley, 1996). Television is what we share with other people also taking part of the television experience.
Second, more than other media, television represents 'a peopled world', a world lived and made by people. In particular through the expansion of reality television, such as real-life soaps featuring 'ordinary' people, what we see on television are by foremost other people.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • television
  • audience studies
  • citizenship
  • popular culture
  • community


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