chapter  30
8 Pages

Media and learning about the social world

ByJeanne Prinsloo

It is surprising that there has been a relative scarcity of research into the relationship between the media and children learning about the social world, given the amount of attention devoted to the potential ill effects of the media and the anxiety this gives rise to in popular debates. This concern is premised on the assumption that children learn from the media and so they impact on their ideas, attitudes, values, sets of behaviours, and even desires. At the heart of this is an anxiety about what precisely children are learning from the media as a consequence of the time and attention they devote to them. What is striking is that where studies have addressed learning about the social world,

they have tended to be confined to issues of gender and, by extension, violence (of boys) and sexualisation (of girls), at times linked to consumer culture. Much less frequently has research addressed the development of perceptions of other kinds of identities in children’s social worlds and how they come to develop ideas of the ‘Other’ along lines of race, ethnicity, class, nationality and age. This chapter presents a brief and consequently partial overview of different ways in which such social learning is studied and the kinds of knowledge that have been produced. While different research traditions have produced different kinds of knowledge on the topic,

they concur that the media play an important role in the way children come to understand the world. However, their understanding of this relationship differs both in relation to how childhood is conceived and in terms of the power attributed to the media. This can be roughly broken down into two research approaches. There is the idea of the vulnerable child who is researched within an effects tradition (primarily in the USA), and the construct of a more competent or active child informed by a cultural tradition. The former tradition tends to adopt a structuralist and the latter a poststructuralist approach that draws on structuralist understandings while allowing for complexity and ambiguities. Before looking more carefully at these two traditions, the issue of learning itself is introduced.

In the studies on the topic the underpinning ideas draw from social psychology and developmental theories, in particular from Piaget’s account of incremental learning. Certain aspects of his theory inform many of these studies as they address the process of acquiring ideas or knowledge about the social world, and their incremental development or subsequent rejection (Lemish, 2007).