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«Andrés Gregor Zelman The University of Amsterdam 2002 ii Mediated Communication and the Evolving Science System: Mapping the Network Architecture of ...»

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In what follows several key theoretical positions are explored, as argued by their central proponents. An overview of Medium Theory, as presented in the work of Innis, McLuhan, Ong and Meyrowitz, will provide the central framework around which the other theoretical traditions will be discussed. Central arguments concerning the locus of meaning are then addressed, as argued by Saussure, Lévi-Strauss and Ricoeur from the Structuralist tradition, Derrida from the Poststructuralist tradition, and Giddens from Sociology. In so doing we provide a theoretic stance from which to understand the notion of knowledge production as a networked process. Actor Network Theory as argued through the work of Callon, Latour, and Wise will then be addressed; here we link theories of meaning with theories of networked phenomena.

Finally, Self-Organization Theory is reviewed, as presented by Luhmann and Leydesdorff. By providing an overview of each of these positions in detail, a language is provided to contextualize the following analysis of mediated communicative processes, their implied information networks, and the recursivity involved with said communication.

Medium Theory

As indicated, Medium Theory provides two basic concepts: historically contingent epochs in which there was a predominant medium (Oral, Literate, Electronic stages of mediation) and the notion of transformation between these epochs. Importantly transformation indicates change, and in that respect, the history of mediation is best 14 understood as a history of media use. Understood historically, media use is a dynamic process whereby individuals have collectively communicated using a myriad of different media and created networks of interaction.

This process can be understood as the History of Mediation: a heuristic that encompasses architectural, network and systemic properties along distinct historical trajectories. Along this historical axis at least two trajectories are observable.

Processes of mediated communication have both a participating party and a collective reference system that defines them; communicators are always contextually situated and thereby defined by a myriad of factors. This collective reference system is not context bound, and has its own unique history of use (or more accurately, of being used). Therefore, that which is referred to in processes of communication, such as concepts, stories, grammatical rules of language or codes of behaviour (between scientists, siblings, monks) have unique histories that are always contingent upon social processes.

Similarly, social processes are contingent upon the development, maintenance and exchange of these concepts, language norms, and behavioural codes. In processes of mediated communication we reference a collective or shared cultural memory. Yet this sum total of our collective deep structure remains inaccessible to any individual in full; each of us only understands a fragment of its totality. All processes of communication are comprised of a myriad of different factors, and all are contingent upon the process of mediation.

In what follows, we review Medium Theory as an academic tradition, and expand upon the concept of the History of Mediation as a useful heuristic in understanding the biases of dominant media and their impact on processes of knowledge production.

Medium Theory thereby provides this analysis with both a language to address media impact, and a historical framework with which to contextualize this impact.

Joshua Meyrowitz, a central proponent of the academic tradition of Medium Theory, argues that Medium Theory is best conceptualized as having two distinct generations (1994). He introduces a distinction between first and second generation Medium Theory. First generation concerns the formation of deep, unconscious frameworks that influence human perception and interaction. By contrast, second generation concerns the role of human agency in the production of meaning. Simply stated, first generation Medium Theory presents the history of media as technologically deterministic and in so doing negates the essential element of human agency in mediation as a process.

Second generation Medium Theory avoids this deterministic bias and thereby achieves a more dynamic notion of the History of Mediation. We examine the implications of each, below. Importantly, this latter position highlights the socially networked dimensions of mediated communication. Second generation Medium Theory offers a means of conceptualizing how the production and exchange of knowledge is contingent upon the various media employed for communication, over time.

–  –  –

First generation Medium Theory can be generalized by a central tenet: Media are the means of communication, and when media usage is viewed macro-historically, the overlap between media forms reveal deep structural patterns.

Innis In Empire and Communication (1950) and The Bias of Communication (1951) Harold Innis developed a theory of economic sustainability suggesting that an empire’s ability to maintain stability depended upon its capacity to balance the internal biases of its dominant media. The nature of these biases can be exemplified with a simple example: stone tablets as means of communicating text are more biased to time than space, given its weight and durability, whereas paper or papyrus is more biased to space since it can be moved far distances but hasn’t the durability to sustain it in the time dimension. An empire that employs a medium is subject to its possibilities and limitations. The view that dominant media have inherent properties is decidedly technologically deterministic.





Innis also perceived history as a series of epochs that are separated by discontinuity.

He believed that each epoch relies upon dominant forms of media to transform information into systems of knowledge. The consequent “interaction between media form and social reality create biases, which strongly affect the society’s cultural orientation and values” (Crowley & Mitchell, 1994:xvi). Systems of knowledge were perceived as intricately bound within the network of media relations that exist within any given epoch, and this suggests that media are not mutually exclusive but are interdependant and form patterns of relation.

McLuhan Extending the work of his predecessor, Marshall McLuhan argued that media determine the structural possibilities and limitations of social development, and expanded the concept to include the effect that media have upon the interplay of our perceptual and cognitive processes. For McLuhan the history of mediation was best perceived as a multi-epoch process of symbolic and technological expansion. He argues in the case of writing, for example, that the print medium permitted a distanciation between space and time in the sense that an inscribed text becomes disembedded from its particular space and time and is able to extend itself in either direction. For McLuhan, media were not just extensions of the body (binoculars extend the eye) but also of the mind (in the case of memory) – both are perceived as enabled via technological expansion.

Among the most interesting of McLuhan’s arguments concerns the nature of mediated experience. For him, media bias is a fragmenting experience; they cause perceptual changes, and as extensions they demand certain reception habits. Media thereby cause a closure, or displacement of perception (1964:157). He argued further, that the development of the alphabet entailed a separation of the gesture, sight and sound associated with the spoken word (1964:147). The alphabet thereby permitted the use of the unconscious via internalization, which served to fragment and distanciate experience, ultimately causing the splitting of percept and concept allowing us the capability of dialectic, logic, philosophy, and so on (1988:15). Mediated 16 communication thereby demands a numbing, a certain ‘closure of the senses’ that causes us to conform to the ‘pattern of experience presented’.

Defense against the seduction of mediated experience was attainable through what he termed Synaesthesia: the action of sense re-combination (1964:275). Synaesthesia entails the (re)integration of sense and perceptual biases and provides a closure to the rift implied with the distanciating aspect of media. Thus the alphabet simultaneously separated the combination of gesture, sight and sound characteristic of oral cultures, yet allowed for an entirely new form of communication to arise.

This codification of experience (as evoked by such terms as numbing, synaesthesia, and media juxtaposition) implies that, for McLuhan, media form has long been an essential part of our ability to communicate with each other, and that each medium is unique in its biases. Moreover, McLuhan’s arguments can be read to suggest that conceptual space itself is not a given phenomenon, but is a result of media usage.

Ong Walter Ong provided a logical connection to McLuhan’s notion of psychological transformation; together their work is known as Transformation Theory.

Transformation Theory is a way of conceptualizing shifts between historical epochs.

Ong’s project reflects McLuhan’s in the sense that both understood media usage as capable of profoundly altering our cognitive and perceptual processes, but Ong extended the argumentation to argue that changes in our thought processes via electronic media indicate a new form of orality. Ong is perhaps best perceived as a mature version of McLuhan, in that he clarifies and extends some of the more esoteric theoretical positions.

Ong’s theory of Secondary Orality (1977, 1982) carries serious implications for all social institutions. In oral culture there is no such thing as an inscribed text, there is no external reference point, and knowledge is generally stored internally, or psychically, via memorization. Later, with the development of writing, we begin to have what is understood as a physical medium. Writing is perceived as a technology that signals a new type of internalization, or interiorization process (as with all technologies).

Considered as technologies, oral memorization, writing, and print can be understood as a succession (or deep structure) of different media forms employed for communication which tend to bias certain senses and cognitions over the previous modes employed. Ong believed that the development of telephones, radios and televisions have signalled a new transformation in our psychic makeup – one that is largely reminiscent of oral cultures in their immediacy. In part we aim to assess this relationship between print and electronic forms of writing to determine particular biases.

Second Generation

Second generation Medium Theory can also be summed up with a central tenet: The relations between media form deep structural patterns that influence the nature of social interaction; the process of social interaction, in turn, transforms deeper structural patterns.

17 Meyrowitz The distinction between first and second-generation Medium Theory stresses the importance of human actants with respect to media usage. First-generation is perceived as a theory of civilization stemming from the macro-historical, epochal approach isolated by Innis, developed by McLuhan, and solidified through the work of Ong and formalized through subsequent thinkers.2 By contrast, second generation Medium Theory, as argued by Meyrowitz, concerns the socially networked aspects of mediated communication. For Meyrowitz, first-generation provides a framework of the deep structural pattern yielded through media usage, and of the physical and psychical transformations involved, but the approach lacks the hard quantitative data achieved through media content studies. (1994:51) The resolution lies in the application of Medium Theory to everyday social interaction: a second-generation Medium Theory. The current study engages this challenge and aims to link symbolic and modelling approaches to further our understanding of the dynamics of mediated communication.

Meyrowitz describes media as not only channels for conveying information, but also as shapers of new social environments. (1994:51) For Meyrowitz social reality is constituted through interactions among people. He thereby considers the physical setting of situated interaction less important than the informational worlds that are being exchanged. Communication may be context bound, but the nature of interaction between people, he argues, is more influenced by the patterns of information flow, than the physical setting. (ibid;36) Media use as the means of information transmission thereby implies a disconnectedness that shapes social reality. For Meyrowitz, media alter social behaviour, and he argues that this is an important focal point for Medium Theory because social roles are bound by communication media.

Importantly, Meyrowitz argues that “[s]ocial identity does not rest in people, but in a network of social relations” (1994:58). Social roles operate as information networks, and they cause a disconnectedness (in a McLuhanian sense) caused by the separation of social roles and interactions. In this way social roles can be understood as merely a question of access to social information networks. The patterns of access to social information, he contends, are linked to the patterns of access to social situations.

(ibid:59) Thus, distinctions in behaviour, identity and status are created and maintained by segregating people into different informational worlds. “In general, the more situations and participants are segregated, the greater differentiation in status and behaviour. Conversely, the more situations and participants overlap, the less social differentiation in status and behaviour.”3 (ibid:59) What is of distinct importance here is the notion that social situations should be perceived as information networks; it is the combination of factors that contributes to the general constitution of a given situation. Situations are determined by patterns of information flow and social identity is similarly determined, but more crucial to Meyrowitz’s project is how we perceive situated interaction. For Meyrowitz, situations should be seen as information-networks, or informational systems. (ibid:59) 2 Havelock (1963), Goody & Watt (1963), Luria (1976), and Eisenstein (1979, 1983).

3 Italics in original.



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