«Andrés Gregor Zelman The University of Amsterdam 2002 ii Mediated Communication and the Evolving Science System: Mapping the Network Architecture of ...»
(1984:181) Via space-time distanciation the media of societal and system integration become quite distinct forms of integration. With the immediacy of speech and gesture both the social and system aspects of existence maintained continuity. With the increasing predominance of physical, external forms of media for information storage, the media that integrate the social (gesture, speech) are divorced from the media which integrate the system (text, institutions, internet). Giddens describes this process as an increasing differentiation between social and system integration.
Giddens is explicit about social and system differentiation as a three stage process.
He describes tribal society (oral cultures) as characterized by a fusion of social and system integration, class divided society as a differentiation of social and system integration with respect to the rise of the state (via the distanciation of space and time associated with text), and class society as a differentiation of social and system integration with respect to the centrality of the state in modern culture. (1984:181-2) It is important to note, however, that Giddens does not describe this threefold classification as an evolutionary scheme whereby oral cultures are characterized as ‘not yet’ having disentangled social and system integration. Rather, the differentiation between social and system forms of integration is a causal result of the development of physical media, and of the distanciation between space and time.
For Giddens, modernity is a result of the distanciation between space and time fostered by physical media. The separation of the media of social and system integration is due first and foremost to the technology of writing. Giddens’ concern in highlighting this distinction is to articulate the necessity of realizing that our current situation of globalized social relations via electronic media reveals not a stage beyond the modern, but rather a mature, or late modernity through which social relations and institutional form become stretched across the planet. Giddens’ discourse on Radical
Structuration, as indicated, provides the concepts of the duality of structure and the differentiation between the media of social and system integration. The concepts of disembedding and reembedding as the key features of Giddens’ Radical Modernity, however, can enhance an understanding of these phenomena with respect to media and distanciation. The reader should be clear that these discourses are distinct, and are intended to highlight quite different aspects of Giddens’ overall project. What follows is a discussion of disembedding and reembedding in order to bridge Giddens’ theories which pertain to mediation, with those which directly critique the structuralist and poststructuralist assumptions regarding the symbolic aspects of mediated communication. Briefly stated, disembedding can be understood as the extraction of social relations from immediate space-time locales due to an increased distanciation of space and time through physical media. Reembedding is best understood as the reinsertion of displaced social relations back into specific space-time locales. Both components are integral to processes of social communication.
For Giddens the two key elements of social communication are talk and cultural objects. Everyday interaction between people involves face-to-face communication, and talk is the term Giddens’ uses to describe such processes. Cultural objects, by contrast, can be considered as something that facilitates communication. Both talk and cultural objects reference deep structure; the contextuality of action is thus determined by both talk and cultural objects, and also by what is referred to in the course of interacting: deep structures of signification. Recall that Saussure’s langue was interpreted as a deep structure; parole, by contrast, is the action or use of language.
Cultural objects and talk are both aspects of parole, but the difference is that talk refers to everyday communication whereby speech is employed in the course of exchange (this also includes a whole range of non-verbal modes of expression), and that it is always context bound. By contrast, cultural objects act as extended forms of signification across space and time, and are not bound to specific space-time locales.
He describes cultural objects as extended forms of signification; they are distinct from objects in general because they carry embedded meanings. (ibid:215).
Cultural objects are defined by three key characteristics. They require a durable medium of transmission, such as text, video or even memory. They require a means of storage as an encoding of information, and they require a subsequent means of retrieval or decoding of stored information. (ibid:216) Using the example of human memory as a durable medium of transmission, the encoding and decoding features would be equivalent to the ability to store and recall the memory using language.
7 Giddens’ (1991) discourse on Radical Modernity is a direct critique of Postmodern theorizing – particularly Lyotard’s notion of the disintegrating grand narrative of history. Giddens’ criticism is that although we have certainly gone beyond what we consider to be a modern era, we are mistaken if we assume that we are in an era of postmodernity because the institutions upon which modern culture is grounded still persist.
32 What is key to understanding this framework is realizing that talk and cultural objects are not mutually exclusive, indeed, cultural objects can only be understood in relation to talk. “The significance of cultural or informational objects is that they introduce new mediations between culture, language and communication. In talk the agent and the setting are the means whereby culture is linked to communication (ibid:217).
Thus, the contextuality of action defined as the moment in which talk or cultural objects reference deep structure in the course of day-to-day action, and within this setting participants, or agents, continually monitor their own and each other’s actions.
In addition to the mutual monitoring involved in contexts of co-presence, the cultural objects referenced through talk are themselves monitored. The interpretation of cultural objects occurs, however, without certain elements involved in co-presence.
For example, turn-taking rules govern the context of interaction, allowing only one person to speak at a time in order to effectively communicate, talk is therefore inevitably serial. (1984:77) But, the interpretation of cultural objects is not restricted by the same constraints as talk. Cultural objects imply certain sets of reception habits, and they are insulated from turn-taking mechanisms. “Since language as ‘carried’ by cultural objects is no longer talk, it loses its saturation in the referential possibilities which language has in the contexts of day-to-day action. As a visible or recoverable trace, separated from the immediacy of contexts of talk, the signifier becomes of peculiar significance.” (1987:217) Thus, language which is encoded into cultural objects loses its self-reflexive characteristics, but it acts as a recoverable trace that becomes present with use. That is to say that when language is stored in cultural objects it loses the self-reflexive characteristic of language as used by human agents. Giddens’ statement that the signifier is of peculiar significance therefore indicates that the consumer is more important than the producer of cultural objects in the achievement of meaning (1987:216). Cultural objects act as recoverable traces of disembedded space-time contexts, which become present (reembedded) through talk, and this process is a disruption to the flow of action.
Giddens’ appropriation and reworking of the concepts langue and parole marks a significant shift from the structural approach that tended to bias the code (deep structure) in the search to ‘locate’ meaning. The reworking is significant because it rejects Saussure’s original negation of context in favour of an approach that places the context of interaction at the center of analysis. Giddens describes talk as the moment in which reference and meaning interlace (1987:211). To clarify: talk is the moment in which reference and meaning overlap as it references both the everyday situation and cultural objects. Meaning therefore exists in the moment background structures of signification are referenced through talk or cultural objects in the context of the situation.
Talk entails an ongoing monitoring process in which space and time are disembedded through reference to cultural objects, and this indicates that as an aspect of social interaction, cultural objects contain a different space-time than the current context of interaction. Talk is therefore of key importance when considering ‘meaning’.
Meaning is always dependent upon the recursivity of talk, and upon discursive 33 consciousness as the ability to talk about; meaning is always dependent upon the contextuality of action.
The implications of this reworking of the structuralist approach to meaning has far reaching implications for social theory. Giddens’ negation of Saussure’s langue bias in favour of a context-based approach indicates the importance of day-to-day interaction in the determination of meaning. Social interaction alters the organization of, and reference to, deep structure. Meaning is no longer assumed to exist entirely in the deep structure (as Saussure argued), nor does it exist just in day-to-day interaction;
rather, meaning is a product of the combination of talk and cultural objects as references to deep structures of signification (rules and resources), and of monitoring and reembedding. This is a central point which grounds the following analyses of the SOEIS media environment – as argued by Derrida, the traces left by said communication contain evidence as to the biases of the respective media used to exchange information.
Giddens states that all social interaction is characterized by both intended and unintended consequences of action and these operate in a feedback fashion (1984:27).
Each action is performed in the face of unacknowledged conditions, and each action yields unintended consequences. This represents an effort to map the dynamics of social interaction at the level of the individual. The deep structural aspects of mediated communication is represented by the unacknowledged conditions of action, and the unintended consequences of said (inter)action. The SOIES communications can be understood to have operated in a feedback fashion whereby new information was obtained and contributed thereby creating a new information environment in which the SOEIS members operated. But what must be accounted for is that element of the communication whereby communications are misinterpreted, or have different consequences than intended. The situation in which the SOEIS communications operated can be understood as a unified information flow with variations in its composition. Elements such as time (two years) and structure (project plan, milestones, reports) influence the ways through which information is communicated;
likewise, variations in intent and variation between print and electronic media biases each played a role in the creation and maintenance of this complex system.
The networked aspects of mediated communication, when viewed through the lens of Structuration Theory, indicate more dynamic and transformative relationships than those perceived through the lens of Structuralism and Poststructuralism. The agent, as the counter-concept to the limited notion of the subject articulated in the poststructuralist analyses, indicates a more operative theoretical position with respect to the nature of mediated communication itself. Relevant to this analysis is the difference between social and system integration. Interpreted literally we can understand SOEIS communications to fulfill both integrative modes. The communications of the group served to coordinate individuals and unify efforts to produce a worthy final product, but in the very act of doing so the larger science system is supported, legitimized and maintained as well.
However, where Structuration Theory gains in its weaving together structure, action, time and media, it fails in providing a useful model whereby said communications can be analyzed and compared. The present study requires theoretical bodies that engage 34 the network metaphor in a way that suits the study of differences in mediated communication – specifically approaches that contend with modelling mediated processes, rather than symbolically oriented approaches. Actor Network Theory provides such a theoretical position that contextualizes the interrelation between actors and, arguably, the disembedding and reembedding processes evident in SOEIS project communications.
Actor Network Theory
Actor Network Theory (ANT) provides this analysis a perspective similar to that of Medium Theory and the Structural positions outlined above in that the theoretical bodies share a common emphasis on outlining networked relationships. What differs here is that ANT is less focused on the symbolic aspects of mediated communication, in favour of modelling its properties. Moreover, ANT has been used in the past to theoretically ground textual analyses of contingent and emergent networks of scientific discourse (Callon 1986, Latour 1992, Wise 1997). In this respect, ANT presents a way to conceptually link the results of print and electronic keyword analyses, and indeed, the publication and mailing list analyses as well.8 ANT is perhaps best understood by introducing the major theoretical flaws it tries to avoid. Two schools of thought are relevant here: Medium Theory and the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT).9 The primary criticism of Medium Theory is that it is technologically deterministic. Medium Theory has a tendency to downplay social aspects of technology in favour of the technological. By contrast, the primary criticism of the SCOT is that it is socially deterministic, favouring social aspects over the technological. The ANT attempts to bypass both of these ‘determinisms’ by treating human actors, natural phenomena, and technology on the same level of analysis. This is achieved by reducing all elements into the same analytical vocabulary and then positioning them into a network of relations. In a word, an actor network is a means of positioning all of the factors relevant to the study of a particular social-technological relationship, by reducing them down to relatable elements – as actants.