Education, Media and the End of the Book –a view from German media theory

Just finished a draft of this paper with Rainer Leschke. It incorporates a number of concepts and references familiar in German media studies (Medienwissenschaften), including notions of a Leitmedium, of Medienvergessenheit and media-systems. But these aren’t all necessarily German. One of these is Pierre Bourdieu’s study of Distinction or taste, which includes the diagram cropped below (and maps out the axial significance of Petula Clark).

Here’s an overview of the paper:

The paper begins by considering the generally negative response of those in education to new media forms by developing the notion of the gradual and often conflicted integration or “enculturation” of new technologies into the social order. Like the musical Leitmotif, a Leitmedium serves as a repeating and guiding example for such a process. It acts as a standard to determine what is valuable and desirable in cultural contexts offering multiple, competing media or within complex “media-systems.” The medium of the book has historically served as precisely such a Leitmedium in educational (and other) contexts, but its dominance as a medium, together with associated practices of reading and the traditional authority of the author, is clearly in decline. What is taking their place is not so much the characteristics of a new Leitmedium as a radically new and distinctly digital way of organizing media and media-systems. By relentlessly reducing all media contents to ones and zeros, digitization brings conventional media forms (e.g., music, film, text) into new interrelationships, effectively erasing their material characteristics as separate media, and foregrounding their individual formal qualities as aesthetic conventions. The paper concludes by exploring how the symbolic competencies which once constituted the core of all education (reading, writing, ‘rithmatic) are increasingly at odds with performative and stylistic abilities integral to these new media forms.

Download the paper as a .pdf.

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