audience Those to whom mass communications are addressed. It is helpful to distinguish between the actual audience, which is always made of of diverse individuals and groups, and an ideal audience (also called authorial audience or authorial reader). The latter is the hypothetical construction of an ideal cognitive and affective respondent to a particular mass communication.

The object in general terms of all forms of communication but used most often to refer to a group or mass and as such distinguished from a 'readership' or 'spectators'—the 'audiences', respectively, for forms of written communication and 'spectacles' such as sporting events. The term has its most direct association with theatre and concert-going and is used consistently to refer to film and television viewers.

Theoretical and critical debates on audiences have been concerned with their social composition and the issue of 'effects' (see Marris and Thornham [eds] 1996). Initially, audiences were assumed by producers, advertisers and researchers to be uniform and predictable. Textually based studies also customarily assumed that the researcher or critic represented or could represent the understanding of audiences. (It has been common also for critics of written texts to invoke 'the'reader.) Some of these practices and assumptions persist. Nevertheless, it has become clear from both theoretical and ethnographic studies over the last twenty years that audiences must be understood as socially constituted and differentiated. Influential work in this field on television audiences, adopting initially a strong class-based analysis, has been conducted through the 1980s and l990s by David Morley (see 1980, 1986). Further work on soap opera (Hobson 1982; Ang 1985) and the domestic use of video recordings (Gray 1992) has emphasized the importance of gender and the contextualized circumstances of viewing. This has been confirmed by Janice Radway's (1984) influential, empirically based study of women's romance and theorisations of the male and female gaze. Elsewhere, Marie Gillespie's (1995) study of Southall teenage viewers in 1992 has brought the necessary dimensions of ethnicity and generation to the contemporary picture of the TV audience (see Seiter et al. [eds] 1989 for a review of research on television audiences).

The debate on effects has followed a similar course. Early work in the 1950s and 1960s was based upon a largely American-based behaviourist approach (which assumed a given stimulus would be met with an equivalent response). Studies in this mould, influenced by Hans Eysenk's research on sex and violence in the media, tended to conclude that young audiences (the main object of concern) were either inclined to imitate what they saw on the screen or to become de-sensitized. This has proved a particularly persistent view, endorsed by conservative pressure groups (Mary Whitehouse; the Festival of Light) and a mainstay of public opinion on the media. Meanwhile, in academic work, the alternative model of a socially differentiated and contextualized audience gained force and was joined, following concentrated case studies in the 1970s, by a view of media effects as indirect and limited. 'Gratification' studies also saw audiences as using the media in more discriminating and positive ways rather than being passively used by them. The discipline base of this work remained in social psychology and assumed a symmetry of some kind between a given content and an audience response. The major break with this tradition came from within British Cultural Studies and a shift of attention from 'effects' to 'ideology'. Its locus classicus is Stuart Hall's essay 'Encoding/Decoding' (1997a [1974]) which drew on structuralism and the idea of hegemony to posit a range of possible audience responses to a coded ideological message (see code).

More recent work has questioned the earlier emphasis on social class and the continued viability of the concept of hegemony (Bennett 1990) and has looked instead to Michel Foucault's idea of the more dispersed operation of power and to Pierre Bourdieu's concept of taste (Fiske 1987, 1989). Fiske sees media audiences as operating within a relatively autonomous cultural field and as responding in discriminating and subversive ways which contradict the intended ideological meanings and effects of media products. In this model the media can be appropriated at the level of signification for the making of alternative and resistant cultural identities. [see: Fiske, "Popular Culture"]

In a direct response to Fiske and others, Jim McGuigan (1992) argues that this approach offers a partial and over-sanguine view which ignores questions of media ownership and production. What he terms 'cultural populism' invests too much in text-based readings at the expense of a study of political economy (see Storey 1993). A further view of media audiences appears in the writings of Jean Baudrillard. For Baudrillard there is no distinction between the world of media, or other, images and the 'real world': the media have 'imploded' into the real, bringing a 'dissolution of TV in life, dissolution of life in TV' (1994: 30). In such a world there can be no meaningful discussion of causes and effects or of active and passive audiences. The only possible resistance to the ubiquitous, invasive power of the image is the non-response of the 'silent majority'. see also: reception [in part from: Brooker, 1999]