The concept of pleasure has emerged as a multi-faceted social and cultural phenomenon in studies of media audiences since the 1980s. In thesestudies different forms of pleasure have been identified as explaining audience activity and commitment. In the diverse studies pleasure has emerged as a multifaceted social and
cultural concept that needs to be contextualized carefully. Genre and genre variations, class, gender, (sub-)cultural identity and generation all seem to be instrumental in determining the kind and variety of pleasures experienced in the act of viewing. This body of research has undoubtedly contributed to a better understanding of the complexity of audience activities, but it is exactly the diversity of the concept that is puzzling and poses a challenge to its further use. If pleasure is maintained as a key concept in audience analysis that holds much explanatory power, it needs a stronger theoretical foundation. The article maps the ways in which the concept of pleasure has been used by cultural theorists, who have paved the way for its application in reception analysis, and it goes on to explore the ways in which the concept has been
used in empirical studies. Central to our discussion is the division between the ‘public knowledge and the ‘popular culture projects in reception analysis which, we argue, have major implications for the way in which pleasure has come to be understood as divorced from politics, power and ideology. Finally, we suggest ways of bridging the gap between these two projects in an effort to link pleasure to the concepts of hegemony and ideology.