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McQuail's Mass Communication Theory

McQuail's Mass Communication Theory

Sixth Edition

February 2010 | 632 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
"Denis McQuail's Mass Communication Theory is not just a seminal text in the study of media and society - it is a benchmark for understanding and appreciating the long and winding road people and their media have taken to get us here."
- Mark Deuze, Indiana University and Leiden University

"This is a unique work tested by time and generations of students around the world - North, South, East and West."
- Kaarle Nordenstreng, University of Tampere

"McQuail's Mass Communication Theory continues to be the clearest and best introduction to this sprawling field."
- Anders Hansen, University of Leicester

With over 125,000 copies sold, McQuail's Mass Communication Theory has been the benchmark for studying media and communication for more than 25 years. It remains the most authoritative and comprehensive introduction to the field and offers unmatched coverage of the research literature.

It covers everything a student needs to know of the diverse forms of mass communication today, including television, radio, newspapers, film, music, the internet and other forms of new media. Denis McQuail shows that more than ever, theories of mass communication matter for the broader understanding of society and culture.

Unmatched in coverage and used across the globe, this book includes:

  • Explorations of new media, globalization, work, economy, governance, policy, media audiences and effects
  • New boxed case studies on key research publications, to familiarize students with the critical research texts in the field
  • Definitions, examples, and illustrations throughout to bring abstract concepts to life.

McQuail's Mass Communication Theory is the indispensable resource no student of media and communication studies can afford to be without.
1. Introduction to the Book
Our object of study

The structure of the book

Themes and issues in mass communication

Manner of treatment

How to use the book

Limitations of coverage and perspective

Different kinds of theory

Communication science and the study of mass communication

Alternative traditions of analysis: structural, behavioural and cultural


2. The Rise of Mass Media
From the beginning to mass media

Print media: the book

Print media: the newspaper

Other print media

Film as a mass medium


Recorded music

The communications revolution: new media versus old

Differences between media


3. Concepts and Models for Mass Communication
Early perspectives on media and society

The ‘mass’ concept

The mass communication process

The mass audience

The mass media as an institution of society

Mass culture and popular culture

The rise of a dominant paradigm for theory and research

An alternative, critical paradigm

Four models of communication


4. Theory of Media and Society
Media, society and culture: connections and conflicts

Mass communication as a society-wide process: the mediation of social relations and experience

A frame of reference for connecting media with society

Theme I: power and inequality

Theme II: social integration and identity

Theme III: social change and development

Theme IV: space and time

Media–society theory I: the mass society

Media–society theory II: Marxism and political economy

Media–society theory III: functionalism

Media–society theory IV: social constructionism

Media–society theory V: communication technology determinism

Media–society theory VI: the information society


5. Mass Communication and Culture
Communication and culture

The beginnings: the Frankfurt School and critical cultural theory

The redemption of the popular

Gender and the mass media


Communication technology and culture

Mass media and postmodern culture


6. New Media - New Theory?
New media and mass communication

What is new about the new media?

The main themes of new media theory

Applying medium theory to the new media

New patterns of information traffic

Computer-mediated community formation

Political participation, new media and democracy

Technologies of freedom?

New equalizer or divider?


7. Normative Theory of Media and Society
Sources of normative obligation

The media and the public interest

Main issues for social theory of the media

Early approaches to theory: the press as ‘fourth estate’

The 1947 Commission on Freedom of the Press and the social theory of responsibility

Professionalism and media ethics

Four Theories of the Press and beyond

The public service broadcasting alternative

Mass media, civil society and the public sphere

Response to the discontents of the public sphere

Alternative visions

Normative media theory: four models


8. Media Structure and Performance: Principles and Accountability
Media freedom as a principle

Media equality as a principle

Media diversity as a principle

Truth and information quality

Social order and solidarity

Cultural order

The meaning of accountability

Two alternative models of accountability

Lines and relations of accountability

Frames of accountability


9. Media Economics and Governance
Media ‘not just any other business’

The basics of media structure and levels of analysis

Some economic principles of media structure

Ownership and control

Competition and concentration

Mass media governance

The regulation of mass media: alternative models

Media policy paradigm shifts

Media systems and political systems


10. Global Mass Communication
Origins of globalization

Driving forces: technology and money

Global media structure

Multinational media ownership and control

Varieties of global mass media

International media dependency

Cultural imperialism and beyond

The media transnationalization process

International news flow

The global trade in media culture

Towards a global media culture?

Global media governance


11. The Media Organization: Pressures and Demands
Research methods and perspectives

The main issues

Levels of analysis

The media organization in a field of social forces

Relations with society

Relations with pressure and interest groups

Relations with owners and clients

Relations with the audience

Aspects of internal structure and dynamics

The influence of personal characteristics of mass communicators

Role conflicts and dilemmas


12. The Production of Media Culture
Media-organizational activities: gatekeeping and selection

Influences on news selection

The struggle over access between media and society

The influence of sources on news

Media-organizational activity: processing and presentation

The logic of media culture

Alternative models of decision-making

The coming of convergence culture: consumers as producers


13. Media Content: Issues, Concepts and Methods of Analysis
Why study media content?

Critical perspectives on content

Structuralism and semiology

Media content as information

Media performance discourse

Objectivity and its measurement

Questions of research method

Traditional content analysis

Quantitative and qualitative analysis compared


14. Media Genres and Texts
Questions of genre

Genre and the internet

The news genre

The structure of news: bias and framing

News as narrative

Television violence

The cultural text and its meanings


15. Audience Theory and Research Traditions
The audience concept

The original audience

From mass to market

Goals of audience research

Alternative traditions of research

Audience issues of public concern

Types of audience

The audience as a group or public

The gratifi cation set as audience

The medium audience

Audience as defi ned by channel or content

Questions of audience reach

Activity and selectivity


16. Audience Formation and Experience
The ‘why’ of media use

A structural approach to audience formation

The uses and gratifi cations approach

An integrated model of audience choice

Public and private spheres of media use

Subculture and audience


Gendered audiences

Sociability and uses of the media

Normative framing of media use

Audience norms for content

The view from the audience

Media fandom

The end of the audience?

The ‘escape’ of the audience

The future of the audience

The audience concept again


17. Processes and Models of Media Effects
The premise of media effect

The natural history of media effect research and theory: four phases

Types of communicative power

Levels and kinds of effects

Processes of media effect: a typology

Individual response and reaction: the stimulus–response model

Mediating conditions of effect

Source–receiver relations and effect

The campaign


18. Social-Cultural Effects
A model of behavioural effect

The media, violence and crime

Media, children and young people

Collective reaction effects

Diffusion of innovation and development

The social distribution of knowledge

Social learning theory


Social control and consciousness formation


Media and long-term social and cultural change

Entertainment effects


19. News, Public Opinion and Political Communication
Learning from news

News diffusion

Framing effects


Effects on public opinion and attitudes

The elaboration-likelihood model of infl uence

The spiral of silence: the formation of climates of opinion

Structuring reality and unwitting bias

The communication of risk

Political communication effects in democracies

Effects on the political institution and process

Media influence on event outcomes

Propaganda and war

Internet news effects


20. The Future of Mass Communication
Origins of the mass communication idea

The end of mass communication?

The survival of mass communication

The consequences of new media for mass communication



Over successive editions, Denis McQuail has pulled off the trick of expanding the scope of his analysis and integrating new research in a rapidly changing field. Hats off to him once again for making such enormous amounts of material so user-friendly
Philip Schlesinger
University of Glasgow

Denis McQuail's Mass Communication Theory is not just a seminal text in the study of media and society - it is a benchmark for understanding and appreciating the long and winding road people and their media have taken to get us here. Denis McQuail offers the best roadmap available to navigate our times, a roadmap that stands the test of time
Mark Deuze
Indiana University and Leiden University

This is a unique work tested by time and generations of students around the world - North, South, East and West
Kaarle Nordenstreng
University of Tampere

McQuail's "Mass Communication Theory" is the prescribed reading material for our module, offering students a solid and varied background to the wider study of mass communication. While its scope is somewhat daunting for our students, there have been no complaints regarding its comprehensive nature. The only negative of the text is that it presents very little by way of African (or specifically South African) examples and discussions that our students can relate to. Perhaps by concentrating almost entirely on the first world, the text limits its usefulness to the third?

Dr Mark Kirby-Hirst
Department of Communication Science, University of South Africa
December 9, 2014

A very neccesary volume! Giving Students in their first year a good idea was Macc Communication is about.

Mr Sebastian Koch
Department for Communication and Media Studies, Universität Leipzig
June 4, 2014

The mass media plays a huge role in research - as a phenomenon to be researched, as a provider of secondary data or a vehicle used to disseminate findings. Students at MA level are increasingly interested in research projects looking at media content, audiences and/or effects. This book is very relevant to any student who will conduct their research project in this area but also to students who have a general interest in mass media. It is extremely comprehensive and very accessible.

Dr Anne Krayer
School of Social Sciences, Bangor University
July 30, 2013

This is an excellent text and will be highly recommended to students.

Dr Susan Pell
Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Communications, Richmond, The American Int'l University in London
July 22, 2013

Very helpful overview on 'classic' topics of media research. McQuail's books presents a good foundation for courses as well as for research routines on mass communication.

For courses it would be helpful if the book gets a better visual structure: text boxes, keywords, self-tests, challenges, ...

Dr Carsten Moeller
Institute of Communication and Media Research, DSH - German Sport University
June 17, 2013

The book gives an extensive overview of theories within communication theory and I therefore recommend the book as supplementary reading for students following "Principles of Communication" which is an introductory communication course. However, I find that students at all levels can benefit from reading this book and use it as supplement to communication related courses.

Ms Anne Ballantyne
AU Herning, Aarhus University
April 5, 2013

Way too dense for sophomore level class.

Dr Heidi Murphy
School of CHSS, Central New Mexico Community College
January 11, 2013

This is essential reading for those who are interested in media and communication studies.

Dr Jung Woo Lee
Institute for Sport, Physical Education & Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh
November 2, 2012

McQuail provides comprehensive coverage of theories with focus on matters important to future practitioners as well as researchers—an emphasis included in our course description. It is also the only mass communication theory text that gives an unbiased and balanced treatment of the Toronto School, particularly Marshall McLuhan.

Professor James Morrison
Communication Dept, Boston College
October 18, 2012
Key features

Key Features

  • New boxed case studies on key research publications, familiarizing students with the critical research texts in the field
  • A new streamlined structure for better navigation
  • More definitions, examples, and illustrations throughout to bring abstract concepts to life
  • Major updates on new media, globalization, work and economy

Fully up-to-date, this new edition includes:

• New boxed case studies on key research publications, familiarizing students
with the critical research texts in the field

• A new streamlined structure for better navigation

• More definitions, examples, and illustrations throughout to bring abstract
concepts to life

• Major updates on new media, globalization, work and economy

For instructors

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