Regis Debray – What is Mediology?

Regis Debray’s article “What is Mediology?” focuses on defining, and offering further explanation for, the term “Mediology”. According to Debray “Mediology” is where an interdisciplinary grouping of fields – including philosophy, history, technology, literary studies, art, and “infocom” – combine together to form a new discipline focused upon showcasing the “function of medium in all its forms, over a long time span (since the birth of writing)… without becoming obsessed by today’s media.” (p2) Through this research one can begin to analyze the relationships between culture and technology, both in how culture influences technology, and how technology influences culture.

He uses an example Walter Benjamin proposed, as he calls Benjamin one of the “predecessors of mediology,” of photography and art. Benjamin didn’t just analyze photograph in terms of art, but he looked at how photography had changed our perceived notion of art. He does not just look at technology and define it in terms of technology, but looks at technologies and how they have affected the culture through their existence. Debray states that “mediologists are interested in the effects of the cultural structuring of a technical innovation … or, in the opposite direction, in the technical bases of a social or cultural development.” (p4) Mediology is not based around objects, but is based around relationships between objects. The goal of this field is to “destroy the wall that separates technology … and culture” (p17)

How would media scholars look at the Internet through the eye of mediology? How are virtual worlds, such as Second Life, changing the way the digital is viewed culturally? (For example, how digital items are being accepted as having physical value). How is this changing society’s view on “realness”?


~ by Melinda on March 1, 2009.

5 Responses to “Regis Debray – What is Mediology?”

  1. I think that, as mediology is trying to lay bare that we should abandon this binary opposition between technology and culture, it is also encouraging the blurring of boundaries between our perception of what is real and what is virtual. As we accept the virtual world to be a part of our real life, and we let our real life be part of our virtual life, can there any distinction be made?

  2. Sorry to not reflect on your question(s) Melinda, but would just like to get two concerns with the text out there:

    First off, mediology is somewhat of a simplified discours analysis – hoaming in o single relation(s). Hereby too autonomous. [somewhat like DeCerteau’s criticism of Foucault – that Foucault’s objects of study is reserved for only the highly evident and not the other tiny swarms of “influence”].

    Secondly, I wonder if mediology does not fall to McLuhan’s famous aphorism: that we are always marching backwards into the future.

  3. Karin, I don’t quite follow your comment. I see in fact a lot more common ground with Actor Network Theory than with discourse analysis. I would even argue it is Toronto School re-read through ANT and thus trying to overcome McLuhan’s techno-determinism.

    Or, to put it less opaquely: what mediology does try to do is indeed to look at media and their impact in a given historical and social situation in terms of wider networks of relations. In this respect it is rather close to one of the texts we have read (guess which). To look at it as a “simplified discourse analysis” misses the fact that this is a specific perspective on a phenomenon (see Debray’s explanation: “A study of the desire for immortality would be welcome in itself, but it would become mediological only if one endeavors to show how this intimate aspiration changed under the effect of painting, the photograph, cinema, television, in short, with the apparatuses of the collective imaginary.”)

  4. Re prof Kessler: with “simplified” i was alluding to specific perspective and the analogy to discourse analysis was a criticism of mediology by not only drawing causes and effects, but enforcing them without sufficient analysis of other influences

  5. I do realise this is a very belated remark, but Karin, I must disagree with you here, although the text serves as a teaser, as I am not familiar with more thorough outcomes of mediology. However, it doesn’t seem to me that the approach suggested is a mere relation from causes to effects, but a ‘social or cultural development ‘, to quote Debray.

    However, I find his proposition/theory/framework/ (or maybe simply glasses?) almost too broad – isn’t this what media studies are about – mediology? Hence mediiology could be blamed to be a mere neologism.

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