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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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18 Meyrowitz uses the epochal framework of first-generation Medium Theory and applies the role theorem of sociological analysis; together they frame the arguments for a second-generation Medium Theory. He places his role triad: group identity, socialization and hierarchy in juxtaposition to the oral, literate, and electronic stages of mediation (1986, 1994). The roles in the triad are best understood here as universally shared norms. The first can be represented by the fact that we are all either male or female; we therefore experience a group identity. Socialization can be understood in terms of the transition from childhood to adulthood; we all experience this process. Hierarchy is described as a relationship to political power; we are all either political leaders or average citizens. Meyrowitz describes social reality in terms of information systems, and clearly these roles define social behaviour with respect to information access. The behavioural role triad is best understood as a heuristic aid that outlines the parameters of networked social interaction. In the context of this study, we are most interested in the notion of an information network that has extended over time and therefore contains elements of its earlier conditions.

Thus, Meyrowitz’s role triad provides a link to theories established in the work of Innis, McLuhan, and Ong. He provides a heuristic device that can be used to conceptualize the dynamics of mediated social interaction with respect to the individual and collective psychic transformations that occur as a result of mediated communication, and the accompanying social changes. McLuhan and Ong were most concerned with individual psychic changes as a result of media usage; Meyrowitz is most concerned with the changes of networked social dynamics throughout the history of mediation. In this project we are not as concerned with possible psychic changes than with the evident differences between patterns of media use as exhibited by the traces produced by using print and electronic media. While this analysis of print and electronic communications is not chronologically placed within an epochal framework, we can understand that there is evidence of each in our current age, and the differences between them may prove to be significant.

Medium Theory thereby provides this thesis with a theoretic backbone from which other theories concerning the nature of mediated communication can be addressed. In particular, Medium Theory enables one to position various media and their impacts using an historical framework of increasingly complex interrelations. With respect to the SOEIS project in which print and electronic media operate in tandem, the notions of the History of Mediation and of Information Network provide a means through which we can assess and compare the similarities and differences between the mediated communications of the research project.

The Structural Tradition

Structuralist, Poststructuralist, and Structurational theories of meaning are relevant here because they provide a conceptual link between Meyrowitz’s information network and theories concerning the location of meaning and its exchange, and by extension, theories of networked social relations. This review of primarily symbolic approaches also provides a useful juxtaposition to the modelling approaches of Medium Theory, Actor Network Theory, and Systems Theory. Importantly, while the approaches covered here in the Structural Tradition are symbolically oriented, each 19 provides a unique conceptualization of knowledge and its ‘location’ and thereby provides this thesis with a range of different ways of conceptualizing knowledge production.

Here, central arguments concerning the locus of meaning are reviewed to describe the network connectivity implied with word use. Saussure, Lévi-Strauss and Ricoeur from the Structuralist tradition, Derrida from the Poststructuralist tradition, and Giddens from Sociology are addressed. In so doing a theoretical stance is provided from which knowledge production can be understood to be a mediated process; it is an achievement of meaning by communicating information. The example of the information network is an integral feature of the History of Mediation as it will be used to highlight the parameters of each mediated communication under analysis.


Saussure In the early Twentieth Century, Saussure (1909) developed a framework of linguistic analysis through which he conceptualized language and meaning to be located within a network of relations. This approach was subsequently imported into Anthropology by Lévi-Strauss, and thus helped formalize ‘Structuralism’. These two theorists articulated the basic building blocks upon which all further Structuralist analyses followed.

A brief outline of Saussure’s concept of difference will help explain the fundamental ideas of Structuralism. In a word, difference suggests that the meaning of words is contingent upon their relationship with other words. He delineates langue as the language object, and parole as its use, and in so doing unwittingly postulates a transcendental realm of meaning that proves devoid of any reference to context.

Langue assumes a universal meaning: difference indicates that words refer to a transcendental signified, not to everyday social context. The key point is that meaning is understood to be located in the network of relationships between words. The sign is perceived as a duality, it consists of both a signifier and a signified. The signifier is best described as a sound, a written pattern, a gesture or any medium that connotes a message. The signified, by contrast, describes the sign in terms of its differential value in the lexical system. This presumes a static and unchanging network of relations, as it remains transcendent and free of any local influence. The metaphor of the network, used here, suggests an inter-linking between all words and concepts in all languages, and moreover, that these relations share a common ground. The reader should note that Saussure never characterized this realm of transcendental meaning as a network, per se, nor did he use the terms system or structure in the way that they are currently employed. Nevertheless his ideas were central to the historical development of these terms.

Importantly, structural linguistics shifted general linguistics from the study of conscious, observable linguistic phenomena to the study of the unconscious infrastructure of language. It does not treat words as independent entities, rather, the concern lies in the relations between words – and this implies systemic properties.

The linguistic model isolated by the theory of difference introduced something 20 entirely new to the humanities: the possibility of a system of operations that functions entirely outside of social context. Difference thereby suggests a deeper structure than we are normally aware of in everyday social interaction. This formulation is simply inadequate because both human beings and social context are integral to how meaning is generated in processes of communication.

Cilliers (1998) argues that Saussure’s argument is that language, artificial or otherwise, cannot be controlled whilst in circulation – once used by a community it will adapt and change. Importantly, then, “the sign is a node in a network of relationships. The relationships are not determined by the sign; rather, the sign is the result of interacting relationships.” (1998:39). The network metaphor, as it is used here, represents a way of thinking about the organization of large information structures or systems of knowledge. Indeed, Cilliers argues that through the lens of general theory of complex systems, “one would say that these dynamics of the system of language are a result of the way in which a system self organises in order to meet the needs of the community.” (1998:40) Still, it is important to appreciate the closed nature of the network as implied by Saussure’s concept of difference – this is important as it provided the catalyst for a Structural Anthropology.

Lévi-Strauss Lévi-Strauss’ Structural Anthropology (1963, 1976) is significant as it extends Saussure’s Structural Linguistic framework into a general paradigm for the social sciences. His central point in this respect is that kinship systems entail a similar ‘language’ as linguistic systems. Structural anthropology is best perceived as an effort to uncover the general laws or universal features of the social stratum. Like Saussure who identified the word as the key unit of analysis for linguistics, Lévi-Strauss’ key unit of analysis is the kinship group – it is perceived as a fundamental building block of more complex systems (1963:48). Lévi-Strauss’ application of the structural method to Anthropology revealed for him that any culture may be viewed as an ensemble of conscious and unconscious symbolic systems – language, marriage, law, art, science, and religion.

For Lévi-Strauss social phenomena could be studied on the same terms as linguistic phenomena – both are influenced by unconscious, underlying patterns. He argued that the structural method employed in linguistics, when used for the study of all social phenomena, could reveal certain relationships between these ‘languages’ and could therefore enhance our understanding of society. Thus the fundamental distinction between the structural approach to linguistics and the structural approach to anthropology is that the latter served to isolate the relations between systems such as language or kinship groups; whereas the linguistic project merely analyzed relations within the internally referential system of language itself. These two views differ in the respect that structural linguistics described a closed, internally referential system, whereas structural anthropology sought to reveal the patterns of association between systems. In both cases the problematic is the same – how does one isolate the deep unconscious structural codes that influence meaning and behaviour?

Here it appears that the network concept is used slightly differently, and it is accompanied by a different set of assumptions. For Structural Linguistics the network remains an internally referential system. For Structural Anthropology the network

–  –  –

Saussure’s original application of the structural framework isolated language as a virtual system of differences existing outside of social context, and this approach was shown to be a unique yet inadequate theory of meaning as it negated social context.

Lévi-Strauss’ application of the structural model to social phenomena such as phonemic and kinship systems expanded the original framework by introducing an aspect of structural analysis lacking in Saussure’s linguistics: namely the interaction between systems, as opposed to a single internally referential system. Nevertheless, Lévi-Strauss’ adaptation of the structural method to the study of social relations similarly lacks an adequate account of human agency as an integral aspect of social change. Finally, we look to Ricoeur’s structural hermeneutics as a refinement of the structural framework.

Ricoeur Ricoeur’s adoption of the structural framework is significant because it addresses language as used. Earlier structural approaches emphasized a deep unconscious structure but negated how this structure enables and constrains human social interaction. Ricoeur’s project in general can be categorized under the general rubric of Interpretation Theory. Briefly, Interpretation Theory isolates the moment of discourse as the point in which we employ the ‘systems’ of language, to communicate ‘structured’ meaning. This approach acknowledges human beings as an integral

aspect of the process of knowledge production. Two key texts will be addressed here:

Ricoeur’s 1974 text: The Conflict of Interpretations; Essays in Hermeneutics, and 1976 text: Interpretation Theory; Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning.

Ricoeur begins his interpretation of the structuralist approach by invoking Saussure’s science of signs. The reader will recall that the sign is perceived as a duality, it consists of both a signifier and a signified. This science of signs is important for Ricoeur because the distinction between signifier and signified allow for two different kinds of analysis: phonological and semantical. He argues that this definition reduces language to a self-sufficient system of inner relationships. (1976:6) Through this view, language as discourse has disappeared. For Ricoeur, Saussure’s science of signs excludes the primary intention of language, which is to say something about something; as he states: ‘speaker and hearer understand this intention immediately’.

(1974:84) For Ricoeur the study of language should determine both a science of states of system – a synchronic linguistics, and a science of changes – a diachronic linguistics.4 Saussure applies just the synchronic analysis, and hence, Ricoeur argues, change remains unintelligible to his project. (1974:81) Saussure’s collection of signs 4 Chapter IV: Analysis of Print Communication and Chapter V: Analysis of Electronic Communication address precisely this aspect of linguistic analysis through an examination of the ‘state’ of each system and of the significant changes in patterns of word use in each medium over the two year time period of the SOEIS project.

22 (difference) must remain a closed system in order to be analyzed, because change is not a part of this structural equation. (ibid:82) The essential point here is the closed state of the linguistic universe. For Ricoeur the “units of meaning elicited by structural analysis signify nothing; there are only combinatory possibilities. They say nothing; they conjoin and disjoin” (ibid:77). The structural linguistic approach as a theory of meaning is thus handicapped by its lack of diachronic analysis, and its inability to account for changes in the meaning system itself render it inadequate.5 Ricoeur’s project sought to establish a theory of language that could account for changes in the structure of meaning. For Ricoeur a message is a temporal event, while the code is atemporal (as a synchronic system). Thus, a message is intentional because it is meant by someone, whereas the code itself is anonymous and not intended. In this sense Saussure’s langue is an unconscious structure which can only be understood synchronically, in juxtaposition to parole, which is the intentional aspect of language and can only be understood temporally, and in terms of context.

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