student profile: Ms Rachel Cole


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Reasonable Adults and Vulnerable Minors: A history of the media classification system in Australia

Supervisors: Catherine DRISCOLL , Anthea TAYLOR

Thesis abstract:

Media classification is now a largely uncontroversial practice in everyday life, but the means by which we arrived at our current processes for classifying media content has not been simple or straightforward, and the history of these developments provides considerable insight into relations between popular culture, citizenship norms, and mechanisms of governance. This thesis is focused on the Australian case, which additionally provides insight into the processes of Australian nation-building, given its origins in the first decade of the twentieth century and thus immediately after Federation.

The contemporary Australian media classification system deals principally with film, television, videogames and online media, offering audience guidelines as to suitable media content for different age groups. It additionally provides legal barriers restricting media content to the two oldest age-groups (over 15 or 18 years of age). These decisions are made by statutory organisations that classify media at a Commonwealth level, on behalf of State and Territory governments, using guidelines that are set by national legislation. Decision-making processes are indicative of changes that represent alterations to means of access through technology and social attitudes as well as within the types of content available. In particular, the shift from primarily a system of censorship to one that foregrounds classification has occurred as part of various forms of organisational adjustments as well as fluctuations of the classification categories themselves.

This thesis takes an historical approach to what media classification is and does, observing the social conditions that have catalysed change in the Australian case. It is centrally focused on film as the medium with the longest history of censorship and classification, and touches on other media where necessary (although literature has a longer history of censorship, the same attention has not been paid to the classification of literature). Utilising archival research in censorship and/or classification files to ascertain how decisions were made and textual analysis of influential or exemplary film content, this thesis is also concerned with how these archives represent changing cultural norms and social standards. The analysis illustrates the diverse range of entities involved in classification, deploying a Foucauldian framework to analyse forms of governance invested in the management of children and adolescents, drawing out two key concepts that have shaped the Australian media classification system: ‘minority’ and ‘sexual violence’. Through their representation, negotiation and restriction in the processes of classification these concepts have helped determine modes of media distribution and, consequently, media literacy, media reception, and media cultures. The film classification processes examined in this thesis provide an excellent example of the governance of not only modern media cultures but also modern society through media representations.

This PhD project is one section of an international study into media classification systems across seven countries initiated by Prof Catherine Driscoll and Dr Liam Grealy.

Selected publications

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Book Chapters

  • Cole, R., Driscoll, C., Grealy, L. (2018). (affiliation missing) Classifying Adulthood: A History of Governing Minority in Media Classification. In Liam Grealy, Catherine Driscoll and Anna Hickey-Moody (Eds.), Youth, Technology, Governance, Experience: Adults Understanding Young People, (pp. 65-84). Oxon: Routledge.

2018

  • Cole, R., Driscoll, C., Grealy, L. (2018). (affiliation missing) Classifying Adulthood: A History of Governing Minority in Media Classification. In Liam Grealy, Catherine Driscoll and Anna Hickey-Moody (Eds.), Youth, Technology, Governance, Experience: Adults Understanding Young People, (pp. 65-84). Oxon: Routledge.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.