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Weber’s sociology of the press and journalism: continuities in contemporary sociologies of journalists and the media


Roger Dickinson

For Max Weber the goal of social science was to improve our knowledge of cultural problems. The newspaper industry at the turn of the 19th century was for him one of the ‘great cultural problems of the present’ (Weber 1998: 111). When he presented his plan for a sociological investigation of the press to the German Sociological Society in 1910, the newspaper industry in Europe was emerging from over a half-century of change that was at least as profound in its social and political implications as those resulting from the changes taking place in the global news industries of today. By 1910 the processes of rationalization were beginning to raise questions about journalistic practices and the role of the press in the formation and orchestration of public opinion. The importance of journalists and the news industry as research topics must have been as obvious to Weber and his colleagues at that time as it is to contemporary media scholars. This paper discusses Weber’s plan and the continuities that can be traced from it through media sociology’s various attempts to address the issue of public opinion and the practice of journalism.

Roger Dickinson 1

1 Roger Dickinson is Senior Lecturer and Academic Programme Director at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, United Kingdom. A sociologist by training, he is interested in the socially-situated nature of social action. In recent work he has studied the occupational sphere, focussing on journalists and their place in the news world. His most recent publications have centred on journalists in Pakistan and recent changes in journalistic practice in Europe. His co-edited collection on the Arab news media (with Barrie Gunter) and a co-edited special issue of the International Communication Gazette were both published in 2013.

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