Thursday, June 29, 2017

Media Literacy and Media Ancestry

So, last year media literacy maven Renee Hobbs published an anthology she edited entitled, Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy Through Personal Narrative through Temple University Press. The volume includes a chapter I wrote for Renee on Marshall McLuhan, in case you were wondering. Here's the write-up for the volume:

Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative provides a wide-ranging look at the origins, concepts, theories, and practices of the field. This unique, exciting collection of essays by a range of distinguished scholars and practitioners offers insights into the scholars and thinkers who fertilized the minds of those who helped shape the theory and practice of digital and media literacy education.

Each chapter describes an individual whom the author considers to be a type of "grandparent." By weaving together two sets of personal stories⏤that of the contributing author and that of the key ideas and life history of the historical figure under their scrutinymajor concepts of digital media and learning emerge.

And here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction ■ Renee Hobbs

1 Historical Roots of Media Literacy ■ Renee Hobbs
2 David Weinberger on Martin Heidegger ■ David Weinberger
3 Lance Strate on Marshall McLuhan ■ Lance Strate
4 Dana Polan on Roland Barthes ■ Dana Polan
5 Cynthia Lewis on Mikhail Bakhtin ■ Cynthia Lewis
6 Srividya Ramasubramanian on Gordon Allport ■ Srividya Ramasubramanian
7 Michael RobbGrieco on Michel Foucault ■ Michael RobbGrieco
8 Gianna Cappello on Theodor Adorno ■ Gianna Cappello
9 Douglas Kellner on Herbert Marcuse ■ Douglas Kellner
10 Henry Jenkins on John Fiske ■ Henry Jenkins
11 Amy Petersen Jensen on Bertolt Brecht ■ Amy Petersen Jensen
12 Donna E. Alvermann on Simone de Beauvoir ■ Donna E. Alvermann
13 Jeremiah Dyehouse on John Dewey ■ Jeremiah Dyehouse
14 Renee Hobbs on Jerome Bruner ■ Renee Hobbs
15 Vanessa Domine on Neil Postman ■ Vanessa Domine
16 Peter Gutierrez on Scott McCloud ■ Peter Gutierrez
17 Susan Moeller on Roland Barthes ■ Susan Moeller

Epilogue ■ Renee Hobbs

And you may notice that the title of each chapter follows a strict formula, so I want to stress that this was not a bit of narcissism on my part. In fact, the title I had given for my essay, not knowing that it would take this final form, was, "The Medium, the Message, and Me: Marshall McLuhan and Media Education" (just so you know).

By the way, Renee's Introduction to the volume can be read online on the Temple University Press's website. And of course the book itself is available for purchase there, and on Amazon:


And just recently, Renee launched a website entitled Grandparents of Media Literacy that you might want to go check out. Here's the welcome message:

Welcome to the Grandparents of Media Literacy website! You can explore the many people who have influenced the field of media literacy through their work, ideas and creative contributions. These intellectual grandparents may come from fields including philosophy, sociology, literature and more. You can contribute to the website by uploading information about an author, scholar or creative individual whose work influenced your own. You can also share your own story of how an intellectual grandparent influenced your work in media literacy.

And here is some further explanation of the site:


Reflect on your experience with media, technology, society and culture and think about the writers, artists, filmmakers and others who have influenced your work in media literacy. People with interests in media literacy come from a variety of fields, including writing and composition, media psychology, literacy education, technology in society, sociology, cultural studies, media studies, and communication arts. As an transdisciplinary topic, media literacy scholars and practitioners do not all share the same foundational knowledge. We do not all rely on the same canonical texts that "tell the story" of our shared values and beliefs.

Personal storytelling can help people discover how we have been influenced by the generation of scholars and thinkers who came before us. Anyone can upload an intellectual grandparent, providing information about their work that will enable readers to understand their key ideas and contributions. Anyone can share a story about any grandparent, explaining "how they influenced you." Through this website, we aim to discover threads of previously overlooked connection to understand the subjectively-experienced history of media literacy education around the world.

So, anyone can sign up, log in, and leave their comments and stories. As one of the contributors to the anthology, there's a page already set up for me. Not the best photo of me, but what can you do? And there's an excerpt from my chapter that can be found under the profile set up for McLuhan, along with any other comments left by others (as of this writing, there's one other comment on McLuhan). It can also be found on my page, under "Stories" and, why not, right here as well:

The experience of suddenly getting McLuhan has been described as akin to a religious experience by some or in more general terms as an epiphany; to use a term popular during the sixties, I was able to grok McLuhan (grok was coined by the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land to refer to an extreme form of understanding and empathy). In visual terms, it was the kind of experience depicted in comic strips of a light bulb being switched on over a character’s head, which would certainly be fitting, given that McLuhan argued that electric technology and electronic media constituted the basis of a revolution that was reversing the course of some three millennia of Western civilization.

Television was the specific electronic medium that had pushed our culture over the edge, he argued, and one of the characteristics of television was its low resolution image, which McLuhan compared to that of the printed cartoon, which elevated the comics medium in importance (see Scott McCloud’s insightful, McLuhan-inspired graphic nonfiction, Understanding Comics [1993]).

This idea had no small significance for me because I had been reading comics since before I could read (my parents read them to me), despite the fact that the hybrid medium was often disparaged by teachers and others arguing in defense of elitist literary culture. The fact that comics crossed—or, if you like, transgressed—the boundary between literate and pictorial media contributed to my own developing awareness of differences among media, differences in their biases towards different types of content, differences in their effects on the ways we think, feel, act, perceive, and organize ourselves, differences that McLuhan famously summed up by saying, “The medium is the message” (1964, p. 7).

The image of a light bulb turning on is a visual metaphor for an idea (the word is derived from the Greek term for seeing) and perhaps the most basic way of describing the effect of my reading The Medium Is the Massage was that I was suddenly able to see the world from an entirely new perspective (in addition to being a field or intellectual tradition, media ecology has often been referred to as a perspective, although I prefer to use approach in order to avoid the visual metaphor). Or, to invoke Aldous Huxley’s well-known phrase, used to describe his experiments with hallucinogens, the “doors of perception” suddenly opened for me. The reference to perception is particularly significant because McLuhan’s specific approach to media ecology emphasized the primary role that sensory organs play in our thought processes.

Although there are differences between media literacy and media ecology, there is some significant overlap, as can be seen by the inclusion of Neil Postman as well as Marshall McLuhan in the anthology, as well as comics creator and theorist Scott McCloud. And depending on who you ask, other "grandparents" such as Heidegger, Barthes, Bakhtin, Foucault, Brecht, Dewey, and Bruner would also be characterized as media ecologists (not that anyone on that list would necessarily be excluded). 

The Grandparents website itself is an interesting experiment in fostering participation in this project, and perhaps exploring possibilities for a second edition or volume of the anthology. So I would certainly recommend it to you, to at least go take a look, and maybe even sign up, log on, and share your stories.

1 comment:

uAJSdudAUD said...

Thanks for this posting, Lance. I will certainly join Renee Hobbs's site and tell my story on how I lived a life of media ecology and media literacy before I knew they existed. I'm also sharing your post with my friends at Toronto's Association for Media Literacy, of which I'm a member, and recommending that they join too. I have bought Renee's book and will start reading it, starting with your chapter......Alex