The Imagined Industry

Elena Maris


Media studies scholars have long examined media industries’ fascination with audiences, detailing industries’ incessant work to define, locate, and measure media consumers. If audiences prove elusive and alluring for media, it is important to recognize that audiences often just as keenly seek media industries, looking to understand and influence such arbiters of culture. I argue that how audiences and users conceive of media industries’ members and norms and the viability of various ways to engage (with) them constitutes an “imagined industry.” Imagined industries are consequential and inextricably linked to audience practices. This article articulates, deploys, and argues for an imagined industry framework for revealing results and implications that reflect the complexities of media systems in the digital age. I demonstrate the framework’s ability to disaggregate imagined industries from larger media systems and illustrate its utility through the results of empirical case study research on two contemporary online activist-audience groups. Findings from the case study show that the imagined industry is useful in augmenting both active audience and institutional approaches to the study of media.


media audiences, media industries, imagined industry, Internet and technology, social constructions

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