Phatic morality: Television and proper distance

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This article attempts to expand Silverstone's notion of 'proper distance' by asking what moral possibilities are 'proper' to aspects of mediation that are usually understood to be 'distant': impersonal, non-intimate and inattentive. Proper assessment of these low-intensity modes of mediation invites us to challenge the automatic assumption that moral sensibility has a necessary basis in audience attentiveness, intimacy and involvement with the representations of others. Instead, the article emphasizes the work of 'phatic morality', the moral ground created by long-term, habitual, ambient forms of mediated connectivity rather than the attentive engagement of viewers with particular texts. Focusing on television, it elaborates the features and limitations of phatic morality by exploring frequently denigrated aspects of the medium: the creation of non-reciprocal communicative relations between viewer and viewed; the transience of those depicted; the substitutability of depicted individuals and the aggregation of images over time.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)383-400
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • composite image
  • inattention
  • morality
  • phatic communion
  • television

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies


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