3.1181 media and society (48)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 16 Mar 90 21:05:40 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1181. Friday, 16 Mar 1990.

Date: Thu, 15 Mar 90 09:28:08 PST
From: Linc Kesler <KESLERL@ORSTVM>
Subject: media and society

Niko Besnier recently launched a critique of the McLuhan/Ong/etc
interpretation of literacy. I've been following this debate for some
time (the theorist not mentioned of considerable significance is Eric
Havelock), and I've really enjoyed Brian Street's contribution to the
debate. The social practices argument, however, does not seem to me
to be entirely maintenance-free: technological systems of course
occur in social contexts and are determined in their operation by
their relation to other social systems, but that is not exactly to
deny their materiality, is it? I don't believe the point of Street's
argument is that they have NO effect, though at times I think his
argument could use some clarification in this respect.

In my academic work, I'm primarily concerned with the development of
European literacy, which as Besnier points out, has some particular
social features and class associations (though as Ong, etc. perhaps
indirecly point out, literacy may help to create such classes as much
as be simply appropriated by them: just ask Chaucer), but due to my
own ethnic background (American Indian) and the communities it puts me
in touch with in other aspects of what I do, I'm certainly interested
in the introduction of "pre-formed" literacy on the social structure
of other types of communities. I was once a student of McLuhan and
frequently enraged by his pronouncements in this area. But then, I
think that many of his other arguments, in the long run, are hard to
deny: societies do not absorb technologies (whatever their source)
without change. This issue, due to its obvious political importance,
needs more thorough investigation. I'd really like to communicate
more directly with Besnier or anyone else interested in this issue and
willing to deal with its social and political implications. I'm
currently running a special program titled "Technology,
Representation, and Sexual Difference" which places the history of
communications technology against an obviously political issue and
investigates their relation. There's a speaker's series (Jesse
Gellrich, Tania Modleski, Hubert Dreyfus) accompanying. If anyone
wants details, just let me know. Linc Kesler: KESLERL at ORSTVM.