April 1st: Culture and medial blind spots

As Torsten Meyer and Christina Schwalbe state, the use of media, the form of education, and the notion of knowledge are shaping and being shaped by the culture they are part of.
As an introduction to the blind spot connected to the specific usage of a medium, take a look at  “Culture and Language”, “Culture and Knowledge”, beginning with a short clip about the Himba and their different coding system for colors.

YouTube Preview Image

Findings with the Pirahã indians‘ language hint on similar effects on the perception of time, numbers or kinship.

The following texts are optional, but I can recommend [XX] the ones about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and about George Orwell’s “Newspeak”: If language is shaped by environmental needs; and our environment is, by a large part, media-technically shaped by us; then shaping media means shaping language, which means shaping possible perceptions, thoughts and actions!
All of you are designers, educators or artists – shaped by culture, and shapers of culture.

“Even comparatively simple acts of perception are very much more at the mercy of the social patterns called words than we might suppose. …We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation”
– Edward Sapir (1929), “The Status of Linguistics as a Science” From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (accessed 17th Jan 2012)

Texts to read, media to view:

We’ll take a look at one extremely influential moderate constructivist concept of learning/teaching – “situated cognition”. Please read “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning”, or its corresponding wikipedia article on “Situated Cognition”. If you want to use the concept in your Master’s thesis, I can recommend the text from 1989.
Try to read it with your personal interests in mind: Being a photographer is more than to know how to handle a camera; being an artist is more than to know how to handle a brush or a chisel; understanding a culture… well. It’s about developing worldviews, not just skills.

In the video and the texts, the culture shapes the way we perceive a problem – or are able to see one at all. So, what kind of culture do we want?


Invent some expressions you think that your language is lacking, to describe events, emotions, persons, things etc. you think would enrich your culture (and/or your personal life) and would make it easier to talk about specific areas.


The first question is: How can we show a Himba that there are colors he has no concept of – does he even need to know?
The second question is: How can we do this for ourselves, from being within our culture?
Do you know of any “blind spots” of our culture, that are so deeply ingrained as to be nearly invisible, but deeply shape our behavior for the better or the the worse?
For examples please see the text of Van der Horst (Dropbox).


If we write a text, shoot a photo, craft a stage set, create a website, or shape a learning environment, we can influence and create bias by the omission and accentuating of elements or aspects. We want the user/learner/viewer to ‘interpret’ and ‘act’ in a specific way. What do you want this to be?

Does the work of a good teacher differ from that of a propagandist or advertiser? To inform, influence and inspire their audience, with content deemed personally/culturally right and good? Is there a way to circumvent this dilemma (is there one at all?), or to make the learner aware of it?

„When people construct objects in the world external to them, they are forced to make explicit decisions about how to connect different pieces of their knowledge. How does one representation fit with another? Which pieces of their knowledge are the most basic? Which are important enough to incorporate into the construction, and which can be safely left out? Which really matter to them and which don’t engage them at all? The constructionist paradigm, by encouraging the externalization of knowledge, promotes seeing it as a distinct other with which we can come into meaningful relationship.“
– Uri Wilensky (1993), “Abstract Meditations on the Concrete and Concrete Implications for Mathematics Education”, 202
[In Idit Harel und Seymour Papert (Hrsg.): Constructionism. Norwood/NJ (USA): Ablex Publishing Corporation 1993, 193-203.


This is a (sad?) story dealing with the dilemma of change vs. stability in the usage of language. It’s a very popular text for german pupils to read in school (sixth grade and up, if I recall), and a writer’s approach to the problems we are facing as media/medium designer.
Try to imagine this with abstract notions like “love”, “happiness”, “relationship”, “art”. Can you define a problem here, is there a solution?

“Something has to change!”
– The Old Man in the video realisation of Peter Bichsel’s short story “A table is a table”.

Peter Bichsel (1969), “Ein Tisch ist ein Tisch”, (Eng.: “A table is a table”), Suhrkamp
Video Version (english) by Remo Rauscher.

Developing project ideas:

Since this course should lead to a project – a medium to ‘enter’, to interpret and act upon, and to incorporate ideas from this course – , it would be advisable to choose, invent or answer tasks that help you develop a specific theme you’d like to work on. For example “blind conceptual spots in language”, “perception and prejudice”, “the world as seen from a special needs person”, or “cultural rules as modifiable game rules” (just making these up… ;)


Avatar photo

About Wey

My name's Wey-Han Tan, I graduated 2007 as Diplompädagoge (educational scientist) in Hamburg, and 2009 as M.A. in ePedagogy Design. Currently I work at the project "Universitätskolleg" as scientific assistant at the Faculty for Educational Sciences, Psychology and Human Movement at the University of Hamburg. My research interests are game based learning, second order gaming, media theory and (radical) constructivist approaches. I like pen-and-paper-roleplaying, especially in contemporary horror settings like "KULT" or "Call of Cthulhu".
This entry was posted in course organisation, culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply