Racialisation and the cultural politics of advertising
This thesis demonstrates that advertising is an important and neglected site of racialisation. It argues that advertising plays a crucial role in the cultural politics of 'race' but that, in order to examine this role, we need a more subtle understanding of the production and consumption of advertising meanings. That the relationship between advertising and racialisation remains understudied is arguably a result of traditional academic approaches to the media which have tended to focus exclusively on textual interpretations of media products by academics themselves. This project has attempted to move beyond such approaches by investigating the social relations of production and consumption of British television advertising in a number of sites, in addition to analysing the content of such advertisements. The project focuses upon young consumers; this is a group to which advertising most frequently targets racialised imagery, a group whose 'cultures' have been actively influenced by racialised minorities, and who are arguably the most 'media literate' of consumers. It employs a variety of research techniques, including content analysis, participant observation in an advertising agency, individual interviews with industry personnel and group discussions with young people in two contrasting London schools. It concludes that, in contrast to accounts of advertising that emphasise 'rational' economics, all stages of the advertising process are rife with racialised meanings. The thesis shows how advertising is sometimes consumed in different ways from those intended by its producers, and that there are significant differences in consumption among different groups of consumers. Such differential patterns of consumption are not adequately explained by reference to traditional social categories such as 'race', gender and class; instead relational categories of difference and distinction have greater explanatory value. The thesis incorporates an attempt to provide a critical handle on the advertising industry, and draws attention to the consistent presence of relations of power in the cultural politics of advertising. It discusses the notion of 'resistance' to such relations by the young people interviewed and concludes that previous research has tended to over-simplify, and over-estimate the extent of, consumer resistance to advertising's dominant meanings.