Yesterday William Merrin presented an overview of Media Studies 2.0 at London Metropolitan University , following a recent public exchange between himself and David Gauntlett on the discussion list of the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA)
Merrin argues media studies needs an 'upgrade'. Where media studies scholars traditionally researched TV, radio, film and print as distinct, mass media, now such research agendas are difficult to sustain. Take the link between ‘television’ and crime. Once this meant episodes of The Sweeney or the fear of someone stealing your telly. But now that we can watch TV on the internet and mobile phones, people try to hack into our 'TV’ to steal our credit card details. Television is delivered in different codes on different formats and remediating other media forms. Hence Merrin questions the validity of media studies 1.0 categories.
According to Merrin, traditional concerns with audiences, institutions, and mass media were a product of a particular historical period, beginning with Lippmann's enquiries into mass media and democracy and encompassing the postwar era of mass broadcasting. The problem is that media studies scholars assume that era and its associated concerns are somehow ahistorical and permanent. Today, Merrin suggested, it is not that 'old' media have disappeared, but that each has transformed and become interconnected. This creates new matters to investigate, such as the emergence of collective intelligences, questions of materiality, sensory experience and embodied media, and new types of human engagement and participation. Now that we contribute content ourselves via blogs, video and photo posting sites, and citizen journalism, instead of producers and consumers, can we now speak of 'pro-sumers' or 'con-users'?
Merrin worries that the most valuable research on new media is being conducted outside of media studies, for instance by political scientists and sociologists (and we should add economists, management analysts, psychologists, geographers and others). As a McLuhan-ite, who starts with questions of technology and then expands to address people's usage, I wonder if Merrin's approach is part of the problem he identifies. Researchers in politics reverse his order of analysis. They begin with questions about democracy, political mobilisation, social movements and so on, then see what role media technologies play in these processes. Sociologists have their own concerns about crime, sexuality, lifecourses etc, which questions of media technologies can feed into. So if these disciplines have done the work of media studies 1.0 and are leading the way creating new categories and understandings of the world of media studies 2.0, is there any point to the field of media studies at all?