Regis Debray – communication and transmission

Regis Debray’s biography is quite colorful and is connected to Marxism and political activism, to McLuhan and to pedagogical media theory.

Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture. Columbia University Press, 2004.

A short text on Debray’s Mediology by Lauri Heikonen, ePedagogy Design student.

One prominent idea of Debray which has influenced pedagogical media theory as seen by Torsten Meyer is the distinction between communication (spatial dissemination/presentation of information) and transmission (cultural or institutional perpetuance of information).
As an example, this eMail to you is communication; but the interpretation of it is depending on transmission, i.e. concepts within the institutional framing of university/institutions of learning & teaching.
Yet another example: Stereoscopic information recorded, disseminated and replayed in 3D for entertainment or work is communication; but the cultural/institutional attitudes towards a steady refinement of sensory representation in media counts as transmission.

Two quotes:

“Indeed in order to bring off transmission across time, to perpetuate meaning, in my capacity as emitting Everyman I must both render messages material and convince others to form into a group. Only working on dual fronts to create what will be memorable by shaping those devoted to it can elaborate the milieu for transmission. (…)
The message that does not find an institutional housing will go up in smoke or be drained off as so much background noise by the ambient environment of cultural life. (…)”
– Debray (2004), “Transmitting Culture”, 10-11

For the media-designer, from Debray’s point of view the question arises: How do we work on both fronts – not only relying on the message produced, but also on the (social, artistic, medio-technical) institution to perpetuate and constantly enliven it?

“As befits a nation of engineers and pioneers of industry, the American line favors instead transmission’s technologic moment. Its media are the message. From Edison to Bill Gates and Bell to Nicholas Negroponte, there has been an implacable drive to pare down communicative devices and systems to their intrinsic properties. This postulates the political neutral­ity of the media of emission, just as the European line postulated the neu­trality of technologie media. It overlooks ideological tendentiousness in order to talk performance. The effective functions of the tool, as well as the ulterior imperial motives of the operators, are all absorbed and concealed by the tool’s potential, abstract deployments. Good news about the newest conduit, channeI, or network of civilization-as-content-provider, occludes the nature of information spew itself and how it might enslave its human receivers. Transmission via satellite, we are told, obsolesces the nation-state and political rivalries of yore.Yet territorial disputes are replaced by wars between competitors about norms, the euphemistic technological equivalent of nationalist expansionism. This heralded rejection of ideolo­gy turns exorbitantly ideological in reality. We see it break out in today’s euphoria of exaItations over the Web and information superhighway as paths to salvation. Digital interconnectedness for everyone is offered up as the newest panacea, leading to no less than a planetary blossoming of democratic individualism. Being counted part of the network as an imag­inary cure for the ills of exclusion casts the chilI of a technologic asepsis onto what is hotter matter: the political question, proper and improper. The American line of approach to transmission does tend to dominate more fully when it dissociates communication from domination by secluding normalization behind machines and equipment, in all their deceptive fascination.”
– Debray (2004), “Transmitting Culture”, 25

How can we (as teachers or artists) draw attention to the interconnectedness of the mode of handling technological media and the effect it has on communication and its interpretation?


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".
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