Surprised to see Dr. Seiter’s essay not getting a lot of traction on the blog. I’ll take that as my cue to dive in. I think the strength of the essay is its quick and modest admission of the flaws of a field with a severe inferiority complex desperate to be taken seriously. Throughout the piece, Seiter strongly makes the case for media researchers to rely on qualitative analysis, rather than quantitative or effect studies. This may seem ineffectual, but quantitative analysis is the simplest way to be taken seriously by other fields. After all, hard sciences like physics and chemistry are nearly all numbers, so other fields should be like them too. However, Seiter emphatically makes the case that research she is about to present is rooted in all sorts of ideologies, not bound to the scientific method, and is certainly not very generalizable (463-464), but that this is okay.
Yet, I think the essay does a great job highlighting the limitations of other methods adopted by communication scholars, such as the process of encoding and decoding with the example “experiment” regarding race relations and The Cosby Show. Ultimately, Seiter asserts, “The danger in such a design is that television is used as a mere pretext for conversation and insufficient attention is given to the complexities of television form. Thus the television programme may be reduced to a series of 'messages' (as in the traditional effects paradigms) and themes - aspects of programming that arc clearly only a small part of the experience of television viewing and could easily be ignored or rejected by viewers” (467).
The essay does not stop at the denigrating quantitative analysis for media studies. Seiter also takes shots at faulty methodologies of qualitative analysis, such as the presence of an interviewer who may not be the same race, gender, class, etc. of the interviewee, and how this factor can influence the responses of subjects (477), as well the problem of self-selecting samples that can lead to a homogeneity of subjects (477).
Overall, I think this essay is an important reminder at how difficult it is to properly conduct an experiment and the pitfalls humanities scholars face by making sweeping statements based on more or less anecdotal evidence without any sense of internal or external validity.