Media, Society, and Censorship (on the Work of Mumia Abu-Jamal) Statement of Problem

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lewis levenberg - 21 October 2009 - Thesis Prospectus/Research Design - Dr. Michael Coventry

Media, Society, and Censorship

(on the Work of Mumia Abu-Jamal)

Statement of Problem

I am studying the work of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist, activist, and death row inmate. I want to find out how it has been censored in three different mediations. These are in print, on the radio, and online. I am interested in what the conditions of censorship were for each of those forms. Since these conditions include interpersonal, systematic, and internalized practices, I want my reader to understand that censorship is a complex system with both technological and social factors. Therefore, a change in one part of this system can have profound effects on the structure of social relations.


There are many issues bound up with, and forming the background of, this problem of censorship across media in Mumia Abu-Jamal's work. In order to organize this study, I will divide the introductory part of my thesis into two main sections. One of these is historical, which I will further subdivide into two parts. First, I will briefly trace the development of censorship in the United States. Since this is a broad topic in itself, I will focus on the emergence of contemporary conditions of censorship. Then, I will review the legal case history of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Through these two narratives, I hope to set up the connections between society, censorship, and media for my readers, connections which I will try to make explicit through the arguments of each chapter.

I will then frame several theoretical and methodological issues in the literature review, which will be divided into three parts, corresponding to the major chapters of the thesis. In the first part, I will invoke theories of literary and comparative cultural criticism. I will concentrate on deconstruction, which relies on the continental tradition of philosophy, and address questions of authorship, meaning, and value in the content of a text. In the second part, I will introduce theories of communication. These theories, especially adaptive structuration, third-party effects on perception processes and media systems dependency, work to explain how meaning is contingent not only on a message's internal content, but also on its mediation and environmental context. The third part of the review will concentrate on theories of visual culture, especially cultural semiotics. This approach seeks to decode the relationships between culture, vision, and meaning. I hope to use the literature review as a sort of narrative in itself, to tell the reader how I will argue that society, media, and censorship are linked in each of the chapters to follow.

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