Cognitive Mapping and Radio Drama by Alan Beck - Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 1 Number 2, July 2000

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8.1 Problems with radio reception theory

The next part of the article is concerned with applying cognitive mapping to radio drama directly and using an excerpt from the 1929 radio drama, 'Ingredient X'. As has already been pointed out, a lack of range in reception studies and the nature of the dispersed radio audience mean that most listeners' judgements will never be directly accessible. This methodological problem seems to afflict radio much more than in film or TV studies, even if little commented on. There have been severe criticisms recently of such a reductionist approach to audience studies, as here, in the case of film, summarised by Collins, 1993, 2:

... empirical research concerning an audience's reactions and viewing patterns... [is] an ethnographic imperialism which rejects interpretation of anything except audiences, and simply abandons any notion of critique ...

Regarding the sociological model of reception studies, there has been one sensible suggestion for a working method, among others, which I recommend here. As the researcher cannot in a single study grasp the full dynamics and complexity implied by the notion of reception, it is better to select a perspective and consistently stick to the premises implied by this choice (Birgitta Höijer in discussion). (See also Gripsrud, 1995 and I come back to this at the end of the article.)

8.2 Cartesian coordinate geometry

With the misgivings of the last paragraph, the premise in this article is that I, the analyst, stand in as the (supposedly) representative listener, 'journeying' through the play. This typical radio play - and 'Ingredient X' of 1929 stands as the fount and origin of all, in my opinion - is of the type of production I term standard (Beck, 1997, 128-9) where there are fixed conventions of spatiality, on the model of Renaissance perspective. This standard production is in the realist mode and so conforms (in its own way) to the laws of motion in Euclidean space. We could also refer to Cartesian coordinate geometry, the predominant method of representing three-dimensional space. I take it that the radio fictional characters move in their represented fictional 'mise en scène', which possesses cubic volume.

This is not the occasion to query realism in radio. But realism is not the mode - and especially in view of my emphasis on the 'degradation' aspect of radio - that raises questions in the listener's mind about the actual and potential illusions of aurality (or the 'listening-in' in itself), nor does it problematize referentiality, in the main.

To SECTION 9 - Listener positioning

 SECTION 1 - Introduction - Way-finding  SECTION 2 - Previous discussions
 SECTION 3 - Cognitive mapping  SECTION 4 - Referentiality
 SECTION 5 - Phenomenology, Reception theory  SECTION 6 - Perspective
 SECTION 7 - Way-finding in radio drama  
 SECTION 9 - Listener positioning  SECTION 10 - Objects in outline Gestalts
 SECTION 11 - Cognitive mapping in the radio studio  SECTION 12 - Final remarks
 Glossary  Notes
 Works sited - bibliography Welcome Page for 'Cognitive Mapping'



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