Penser la télévision, Eds. Jérôme Bourdon and François Jost, (INA/Nathan, 1998). ISBN 2.09.190854-1.
The INA/Nathan collection Médias-Recherches is rapidly becoming an indispensable source of stimulating and serious work on the media, and Penser la télévision is a very worthy addition to the series.
Derived from a Colloque de Cerisy, this volume presents a panorama of twenty individual reflections of high quality on various diverse aspects of the history and study of television. Naturally enough, as its title suggests, the aim of this bringing together of expertise and analysis is to give an overview of research into television and of the methodologies being employed, only four years after the Dépôt légal de l'audiovisuel has already created an almost dangerous cornucopia of material for academic study - the volume of material available for analysis means now that more than ever, those attempting to study television must be sure of methods and concepts. In their Preface, Bourdon and Jost suggest that an initial guideline for researchers is abandonner le singulier - in other words to realise that television is a plural phenomenon, simultaneously in the multiple ways in which it is approached and in the different forms of television which exist diachronically and synchronically and which offer themselves for analysis. The Cerisy conference and Penser la télévision address this protean quality of television by concentrating on firstly approaches to the study of 'les télévisions'; secondly, on the variety of programmmes, genres and sub-genres; thirdly, on the role of television viewers in making 'television'; and fourthly, on how television can explain and teach and what this reveals about itself.
The contributions are too varied and their arguments too sophisticated for a simple review of this length to do justice them all. We can however perhaps note the stimulating reflections of the editors themselves in the first section of the collection, where Bourdon considers 'L'archaique et la postmoderne - éléments pour l'histoire d'un peu de télévision', reflecting on the importance of periodisation, of the tendency towards the invention of successive periods in which the quality of television inexorably declines, and concluding that television has always been, from its origins, postmodern in its formal and narrative features. Bourdon concludes with some useful practical guidelines for diachronic research into television: talking about changes in television must be based on studies of single genres, of carefully defined time periods and specific television channels and research must constantly relate the television of any period to its social and media context. In other words: '. . . toute théorie de la représentation télévisuelle est une théorie sur l'institution et sur le public, et sur la façon dont le texte permet d'articuler l'une et l'autre'. An issue touched upon by Bourdon - l'énonciation - is developed at greater length by Jost in his 'Quand y a-t-il énonciation télévisuelle ?' in an interesting and fertile analysis which leads to the question: 'Est-ce que les années soixante-dix ne pourraient pas être décrites avantageusement comme celles de l'énonciation audiovisuelle alors que les années quatre-vingt-dix sont celles de la télvvision comme institution, comme chaîne ?' - which brings the debate back to Bourdon's concerns with periodisation. Still in this section on theoretical approaches, Noel Nel develops the fruitful concept of a 'dispositif télévisuel', Jacques Walter contributes another chapter in the debate over Bourdieu and television, Michèle Lagny considers how best to access and exploit television material at INA, and Marie-France Chambat-Houillon analyses the different forms of 'quotation' operating in television and their implications.
The section of Penser la télévision of most interest to the reader more casually interested in French television is undoubtedly that devoted to programmes, in which are to be found stimulating treatments of émissions de satire politique - the Bébêon;te Show and the Guignols de l'Info (Marlène Coulomb-Gully), cookery programmes (Odile Bachler), costume drama from the 1960s - Le Rouge et le Noir by Pierre Cardinal (Gilles Delavaud), news programmes (Suzanne de Cheveigné and Philippe Marion), and history documentaries (Isabelle Veyrat-Masson). Sections three and four return to a more theoretical discussion of television viewing, with interesting contributions by Patrick Charaudeau, Guy Lochard, Jean-Pierre Esquenazi and Dominique Mehl, amongst many others. All in all Penser la télévision is an exceedingly rich and varied sourceboook of debate, current theory and case studies of current work in French media studies on television cannot be more highly recommended.
Hugh Dauncey (University of Newcastle upon Tyne)