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Foregrounding Embodied Knowledge in Media Studies

The next and final keynote session at Transforming Audiences is a panel with Shaun Moores and Christine Hine. Shaun begins by reviewing his take on audiences, and notes that they have become less central to his conceptual vocabulary. Media studies has traditionally focussed on mass communication (as in broadcasting or the print media), with its clear production/distribution/consumption divisions. There was a settled way of media studies which emerged from this, and that approach now needs to be unsettled, that vocabulary needs to be revised.

The non-mass media which have emerged to our attention in the meantime need to be better included in media studies, but this is not simply a call for the study of new media; the telephone as an old non-mass medium also still needs to be better included here. There needs to be an integrated study of a range of old and new media and forms of communication, along dimensions of time, space, interaction, and experience. Similarly, we need to shift to a study of media uses rather than simply studying media production and/or consumption.

There has been a blurring of boundaries between studies of media uses and studies of other everyday practices already; we must contribute to the establishment of non-media-centric media studies, as David Morley has put it. This may appear paradoxical at first, but situates media in their wider context, and allows the concept of daily living to move to the centre stage instead.

The question of how to understand these phenomena is also of great importance, then. We ought to move past simply understanding media uses as interpretative, as merely cognitive processes; instead, a phenomenological approach that attends to a pre-cognitive familiarity with the world may be more productive. Out fundamental experience with the world is one of familiarity, Heidegger has said, and this is familiarity more basic than cognition. Phenomenology can be understood as part of a family of praxis philosophies.

Shaun points to the 'knowledge in the hands' which exists in typing, for example: it is possible to type without knowing where the letters are located on the keyboard. This is practical as opposed to discursive knowledge; a knowledge whose holders may not have the ability to express it discursively - it is knowing without knowing, enabling the holder to operate in the world without a need to articulate the knowledge in thinking. (This reminds me strongly of Robert Fripp's writings on the unconscious body knowledge of the guitar player which enables them to play music without needing to think consciously about finger placements, incidentally.)

Knowing how to move around in space without reflectively thinking about it is an important skill, then; it is a matter of familiarity related to our orientation in and habitation of the spaces we move through. People not only move through and between places, however, but also form them by the process of moving. Place is accomplished through everyday practice; place becomes place when it starts to feel thoroughly familiar, when it becomes filled, inscribed with meaning through everyday movement and experience.

This connection between dwelling and movement ought to be central to our understanding of everyday life, and ought to relate closely to media studies; media uses are embodied and embedded everyday movement, too. They are forms of mediated interaction at a distance, of moving around in media environments. Viewers and listeners find their way about in media environments and programmes. Skills learnt in physical spaces help people to move around in the virtual spaces of media, too, and vice versa. They enable experiences of at-homeness; we can inhabit media spaces as we simultaneously inhabit physical spaces, and in the process, media objects become places themselves, especially through routine habitual use.

A current project Shaun is involved in studies this in the example of young migrants from new EU member states, by examining both their getting around in physical spaces and their mediated communicatory experiences. The study of such experiences - based in embodied rather than discursive knowledge - also raises problems for the researchers, though; if place is felt, how can subjects be brought to articulate such feeling in language?

Migrants who feel a profound attachment to their city of origin, for example, and of disorientation and alienation in their new environment, point to a lack of pre-cognitive familiarity in the new place which creates a great deal of anxiety; as such problems are overcome eventually, that achievement points to the growth of familiarity and embodied knowledge. Similarly, the inhabiting virtual spaces related to the country of origin enables the maintenance of a familiarity with the country, while the inevitable disconnection from familiar environments can be experienced as unsettling.

Such work, then, points to an approach which decentres audiences and media, and foregrounds familiarity with the world.

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