Mapping media space

Some find I had discovered during a visit at transmediale04 arrived just today: the book MediaSpace – Place, Scale and Culture in a Media Age edited by Nick Couldry and Anna McCarthy(2004).
It happens rarely that I start immediatly to read and become deeply interested. After reading a few paragraphs it is too early for me to already comment on it, instead I want to let it speak for itself and post some excerpts from the introduction to draw attention towards it and to give myself something to think on.

Orientations: mapping MediaSpace

MediaSpace, then, at once defines the artefactual exsistence of media forms within social space, the links that media objects force between spaces, and the (no less real) cultural visions of communication. It is also expanding too. We can no longer ignore what Thrift and French (2002) call the ‘automatic production of space’ through software, a condition of spatialized governance in which media and space quite literally merge in architectural infrastructure. As they note, information relay and coding systems on which media technologies rely are increasingly incorporated into everyday places, from elevators to locks to generators, shaping the movements and behavioural options of the citizenry in social space (Thrift and French2002: 314; 317)

This dislectical sense of belonging and alienation, self and system is integral to the experience of MediaSpace. Much research on the spatial processes of media is bound up with what Anthony Giddens called ‘the fundamental question of social theory – the problem of “order”‘. This is the problem of expalining ‘how the limitations of individual “presence” are transcended by the “stretching” of social relations across time and space.’

Media, like all social processes, are inherently stretched out in space in particular ways, and not others. A classic, if now neglected, insight into MediaSpace is Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, itself inspired by the great social and spatial theorist Henri Levebre. Leaving aside Debord’s analysis of consumerism, his book makes a fundamental point about the spatial properties of the media that are essential to societies of consumption:

The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society, it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived … and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official languages of generalized separation.
(Debord 1983, paras 2-3, emphasis in the orig.)

However we might want to inflect the details of Debord’s argument four decades later, he grasped the contradiction between the (limited) spatial origins of media and the (general, indeed totalizing) claims made by, through and on behalf of media. This gap between the media rhetoric and actual spatial organization is but one example of what Lefebre called ‘spatial violence’ (1991: 289). Like symbolic violence in Bourdieu’s work (Bourdieu 1991), spatial violence is a gap between representation and material organization that is naturalized out of everyday awareness. It is something we would rather, and generally do, forget. Yet not forgetting this spatial violence inherent to media is the first step in grasping the dynamics of MediaSpace and its territoriality (Sack 1986). Focusing on the levels of spatial structuring and restructuring that media systems produce reveals them as a historicallly particular organization of the scarce resourses to make effective representations of social life (cf. Carey 1989). Media, then, emerge as one of the most important dis-placements at work in the relatively centralized ‘order’ of contemporary societies.

So far here for the moment, as there is still some ambivalence, as the text excerpts seem emerging to sound like an explanation for media to be the place/space for placelessness … despite other points. Some interesting comparison in that, I will come back to this.

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