Friday, January 13, 2012

Transdisciplinarity and approaches to new media

Some thoughts in response to the question on how different disciplines approach the study of media:

I thought initially that the study of media ran on a spectrum from macro to micro. Sociologists and anthropologists assume a macro view – the impact of media on society, and how culture adapts to new media (or, conversely, how media adapts to society or culture). Writers such as Jenkins (2006), take a macro view in their concern with “emerging cultural practices” and “the underlying logic shaping our current moment of media in transition” (p. 1).

In contrast, I find that in my work in communications I am often assuming a micro view of media. I am a graphic designer and work with copywriters and web strategists on such tasks as making sure that web banners work properly, messages are communicated clearly, and that graphic standards are met. Unreasonably lengthy discussions have occurred in my department around such micro issues as colour adjustments for online environments and naming conventions in social media.

Given this, it was interesting to come across Mark Linder’s thoughts in the Lecture Notes for week 1 on what transdisciplinarity looks like in practice, and the questions raised around how much someone should expand their established role in order to achieve transdisciplinarity. This is a tricky question – while breadth of knowledge (which for me contributes to a macro view of situations) is something to strive for, it’s also hard to achieve competence in a breadth of fields. Both generalization and specialization (the focus on the micro) come at a cost.

It was also interesting to discover Manovich’s (2003) historical perspectives and overview of different approaches. He draws a distinction between definitions of new media that focus on technology and definitions that focus on “cultural tendencies” (p. 20). I think that focusing on technology may lead one to more of a micro view, while a focus on cultural tendencies leads one to a macro view.

My hunch is that when we work in a communication role, as I do, we need to lean toward a transdisciplinary approach. A thorough understanding of the technology is only of benefit if we also understand how and why the technology will be used - i.e. the cultural context. We need to be thinking along the spectrum on various dimensions – macro to micro, and technology to cultural tendencies.

No comments:

Post a Comment