31 May 2007

Media Studies 2.0

Whilst O'Loughlin offers an interesting position on a presentation by William Merrin I think he unfortunately misses the major argument of Merrin's paper; namely a methodological examination of the key categories that have been used in media studies to date, particularly since its cultural studies turn. In essense, this is the 'natural' division of study based on the medium (TV, Film, Radio) and secondly a privileging of the audience as the key category of research focus. Merrin rightly calls attention to research that unproblematically relies on unreflexive definitions of media (both as a technology and a medium) and researchers who then carry these definitions over into their quasi-ethnographic studies without attention to the way in which they privilege a particular division of the media sensorium (Lakatosh would have called this the hard core of a research programme). Unfortunately these 'old' media studies categories (which Merrin argues are Media Studies 1.0) whilst successful in a pre-digital age may become a fetter on our ability to understand media if we do not pay attention to profound changes in media. Additionally these media studies categories have been liberally borrowed by other disciplines, such as sociology and political science, where they are often used equally unproblematically in their own research programmes. Think, for example, of the way in which democracy and political representation is increasingly re-presented through new digital technologies and the difficulties of political scientists to understand this mediation within their own disciplinary categories - and indeed their own flight into ethnography as a response.

I think that it is widely accepted that the growth in digital technologies is transforming our experience of media by allowing recombinant and hybrid forms of media to populate our mediascape. So much so that it is arguable (and indeed empirically verifiable) that our previous divisions of mediums are collapsing into a single 'supermedium', namely computer code. As such the old media become the content of the new media and in doing so are transformed - think of the way in which Raymond William's concept of 'flow' in television is interrupted and fragmented when placed in a new media setting like Youtube. So I think that Merrin's intervention is both timely (with the growth of digital technologies) and welcome. We do need to continually rethink our disciplinary categories and question the way in which changes in mediation shift our perception of the world (and I would hasten to add, so should other disciplines).

Where I would raise a concern, however, is in a too strongly drawn line between a Media Studies 1.0, and a Media Studies 2.0. Clearly this division can be read as a major shift or discontinuity which is, I think, rather overstated. There is much in old media scholarly work that is excellent and should serve as an exemplar for new media research, and I would not agree that old media research is made obsolete by digital technologies - although read in this new context it can be transformed. Nonetheless all media scholars need to be attentive to the huge changes in media that are taking place, and rather than an eclipse of the 'old', we should begin a discussion over how we can approach research that is sensitive to a new post-broadcast digital world.

I would also disagree with the claim that the *most* valuable work on new media is being done outside of media studies, although clearly there is a large quantity of useful research being produced which media studies should be alert to, some is laughably simplistic. Indeed, I see Merrin as calling for the kind of cross-disciplinary work between Media Studies and other disciplines that allow us to broaden and deepen our knowledge of 'new' media and begin a conversation to move all of our scholarly work forward.

In sum, then, Merrin is arguing for a paradigm shift within Media Studies to take account of these larger changes bought about by new digital technology and to re-focus efforts on understanding media in light of this. I would agree with his call to rethink our categories of study and I would argue that we should link it to Roger Silverstone's 'double articulation' as a foundation for innovative new approaches to understanding media.

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