Political economy approaches examine the power relations that comprise the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark the political economy approach including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, Europe, and the less developed world. Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of both concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions. Political economy approaches tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film or a book to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe and companies use media technologies, now often comprised of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.
Casey Ryan Kelly
The historical construction of Indian in American popular culture poses serious challenges for conducting research about representations of indigenous culture, identity, and politics. Mass-mediated representation deserves specific attention, as popular entertainment has been one of the most significant historic battlegrounds over the status of indigenous identity in American culture. Representations of American Indians have been reworked and negotiated as they have circulated through a variety of mediums, including theatrical performances, silent films, Westerns, prime time television, independent films, advertising, sports culture, and so on. Beginning with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, introduced the at the 1893 Chicago Columbian World’s Exposition, American mass entertainment has been preoccupied with the drama of westward expansion and the noble savage of the American frontier. Later, the films of John Ford developed the Hollywood image of the screen savage. Film continued to address the topic of American Indians through the lens of the 1960’s and 1970’s counterculture, 1980’s imperial nostalgia, 1990s sympathy and revisionism, and, in the 21st century, through native filmmaker’s reclamation of indigenous visual sovereignty. Not all media are uniform in their portrayals. The televisual Indian evolved quite differently than her/his counterpart in film. At some points, television has been even more progressive in its portrayals of American Indian characters, more willing to feature native actors and storylines than mainstream Hollywood film. Besides film and television, sports and advertising have had the most influence on popular conceptions of American Indians. While commodified images of American Indians are ubiquitous in popular culture, sport culture (mascots) has become the most popular site where Indian imagery is used to generate a profit. Struggles over everything from the moving image to sports mascots demonstrate the importance of studying the power of the image, particularly in the context of American settler colonialism.