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Mapping Media Ecology

Introduction to the Field


Dennis D. Cali

Until now, the academic foundations of media ecology have been passed down primarily in the form of edited volumes, often by students of Neil Postman, or are limited to a focus on Marshall McLuhan and/or Postman or some other individual important to the field. Those volumes are invaluable in pointing to key ideas in the field; they provide an important and informed account of the fundamentals of media ecology as set forth at the field’s inception. Yet there is more to the story.

Offering an accessible introduction, and written from the perspective of a «second generation» scholar, this single-authored work provides a unified, systematic framework for the study of media ecology. It identifies the key themes, processes, and figures in media ecology that have coalesced over the last few decades and presents an elegant schema with which to engage future exploration of the role of media in shaping culture and consciousness.

Dennis D. Cali offers a survey of a field as consequential as it is fascinating. Designed to be used primarily in media and communication courses, the book’s goal is to hone insight into the role of media in society and to extend the understanding of the themes, processes, and interactions of media ecology to an ever-broader intellectual community.

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Chapter 6. Jacques Ellul: Prophet of La Technique


← 94 | 95 →

· 6 ·


Of the triumvirate of scholars considered canonical figures in the field of Media Ecology, Jacques Ellul (1912–1994) is the only one who hails from Europe (McLuhan and Ong were both from North America whereas Ellul was born, lived, and worked in France). He differs from the other scholars in other significant ways as well.


One distinguishing feature concerns the early influences upon his thinking. He is unique among the three in his initial adherence to Marxist thought. Such early devotion may have resulted from his family’s poverty and the inability of his father to find work. The Nazi invasion and experience associated with the French Resistance Movement may have also been contributory factors. Ellul is also unique in his legal training, having acquired a doctoral degree in Roman law and history. Another distinction concerns his explicit scholarly attention to theological matters. While McLuhan referenced such matters and Ong wrote essays and theological and religious books apart from his writing on orality and literacy, their religious analyses were more typically tacit or implied whereas Ellul wrote overtly about the theme of being “in the world ← 95 | 96 → but not of the world.” His attention to religious themes arose out of his Christian conversion just prior to beginning college studies at the University of Bordeaux (France). Shortly after his conversion, he, like Ong, embraced Personalist convictions but later divested himself of...

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