Over the past half century, qualitative reception studies have provided powerful in-depth accounts of the interpretive diversity of media audiences. However, despite the growing availability of digital reception traces, the field still lacks systematic tools to examine the distribution of interpretation, a lacuna which hinders theory development. This paper argues that a comparative approach to polysemy, namely–the diversity of interpretations to a media text, could increase the generalizability of reception studies. Drawing on the concept of framing and on the marketplace metaphor, it offers the Marketplace of Interpretation (MoI), a method combining qualitative and quantitative analysis to quantify and compare polysemy without sacrificing its complexity and nuance. The paper walks readers through the method and demonstrates it on a study that compared the polysemy of Facebook comment threads responding to different news stories about the same event. Potential future applications within and across audience analyses are discussed.
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- Herfindahl–Hirschmann Index