"Ontologizing" Media Studies

Reading WJT Mitchell and Mark Hansen’s introduction to their Critical Terms for Media Studies: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/532554.html

They describe media as an ontological condition that is always-already part of our situation –it is something in which “‘we live and move and have our being.'” Speaking in less Biblical terms, Mitchell and Hansen continue: “Before it becomes available to designate any technically specific form of mediation, linked to a concrete medium, media names an ontological condition of humanization—the constitutive operation of exteriorization and invention.”

In this sense, the term “media” is to be understood in broadest possible way, as designating

…the operation of a deep, technoanthropological universal that has structured the history of humanity from its very origin (the tool-using and inventing primate). In addition to naming individual mediums at concrete points within that history, “media,” in our view, also names a technical form or formal technics, indeed a general mediality that is constitutive of the human as a “biotechnical” form of life. Media, then, functions as a critical concept in something like the way that the Freudian unconscious, Marxian modes of production, [the educationist’s notion of curriculum (?)] and Derrida’s concept of writing have done in their respective domains. Though a distinct innovation, this general concept of mediality that we are proposing reveals thinkers from Aristotle to Walter Benjamin to have been media theorists all along. Sophocles had no concept of the Oedipus complex, but after Freud it becomes difficult to think about Greek tragedy without reference to psychoanalytic categories. Shakespeare had no concept of media, but his plays may be profitably studied as specific syntheses of varied technical, architectural, and literary practices. The very concept of media is thus both a new invention and a tool for excavating the deepest archaeological layers of human forms of life.

Education, of course, is deeply tied to (if not indistinguishable from) notions of “literary practice,” and “operations of exteriorization.” And like the literary examples that Mitchell and Hansen mention, educational theorists and practitioners can (should?) be re-read in terms of their responses to their own mediatic condition. From Plato’s warnings to his student Phaedrus about writing, through Dewey’s notions of “transactional education,” to current activity-theory studies of the dialecitcal mediation of the relationship between subject object and artefact.

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