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An ecological psychology approach to the study of audiences
Unformatted Document Text:  ecological theory...10 influence on the sense-making activities in that culture. A good recent example is Jackson’s (2001) study of dominant romantic narratives that shape women’s accounts of abusive relationships with men. Many of these accounts featured constructions that would have been learned from childhood fairy stories, providing a culturally familiar interpretative gloss on the decidedly unromantic nature of their relationships. At this point I return again to the idea of the “interaction frame” which defines the parameters of audience-media encounters, such as the nature of the parasocial relationship. One way of understanding how interaction frames might work is through the idea of the frame providing a kind of “cultural script” 2 that influences the type of narrative that is permissible in the encounter. For example, a televised tennis match featuring Steffi Graf defines the parameters of the type of relationship possible with her (first order parasocial), and on the type of narratives that are permissible. In this instance, there are two levels of narrative: the first will be strictly dictated by the laws of tennis (in terms of the progress and outcome of the contest); the second will be supplied by the commentary, drawing on epic/heroic narratives surrounding professional sport, themselves derived largely from classical literature and military discourse, plus additional themes of nationalism, gender, and so on. Both layers of narrative are instrumental in building up the parasocial relationship between the viewer and the figure. Consistent with ecological theory, we must also consider here what the viewer brings to the encounter. Knowledge of tennis is a key factor here; if one fails to understand 2 My use of the word “script” here is not to be confused with cognitive “script theory” (Schank & Abelson, 1977). I am not suggesting (necessarily) that the media produce sets of mental instructions that individuals carry around in their heads; rather that certain narratives assume a dominant role, or mythic status, in a given culture (Sarbin, 1997).

Authors: Giles, David.
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ecological theory...10
influence on the sense-making activities in that culture. A good recent example is
Jackson’s (2001) study of dominant romantic narratives that shape women’s accounts
of abusive relationships with men. Many of these accounts featured constructions that
would have been learned from childhood fairy stories, providing a culturally familiar
interpretative gloss on the decidedly unromantic nature of their relationships.
At this point I return again to the idea of the “interaction frame” which defines the
parameters of audience-media encounters, such as the nature of the parasocial
relationship. One way of understanding how interaction frames might work is through
the idea of the frame providing a kind of “cultural script”
2
that influences the type of
narrative that is permissible in the encounter. For example, a televised tennis match
featuring Steffi Graf defines the parameters of the type of relationship possible with
her (first order parasocial), and on the type of narratives that are permissible. In this
instance, there are two levels of narrative: the first will be strictly dictated by the laws
of tennis (in terms of the progress and outcome of the contest); the second will be
supplied by the commentary, drawing on epic/heroic narratives surrounding
professional sport, themselves derived largely from classical literature and military
discourse, plus additional themes of nationalism, gender, and so on. Both layers of
narrative are instrumental in building up the parasocial relationship between the
viewer and the figure.
Consistent with ecological theory, we must also consider here what the viewer brings
to the encounter. Knowledge of tennis is a key factor here; if one fails to understand
2
My use of the word “script” here is not to be confused with cognitive “script theory” (Schank &
Abelson, 1977). I am not suggesting (necessarily) that the media produce sets of mental instructions
that individuals carry around in their heads; rather that certain narratives assume a dominant role, or
mythic status, in a given culture (Sarbin, 1997).


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