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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 7. Orality-Literacy Studies


← 106 | 107 →

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This area of media ecology study forms the foundation of the entire field. Even the earliest contributors to the field contemplated the noetic changes that accompanied the evolutionary or seismic shifts from an oral culture to a print one. Media ecologists investigating these changes implicitly or explicitly adopt a “great divide” theory: they render binary accounts marking contrasts in thought and expression among pre-alphabetic or manuscript societies on one side of the “divide” and typographic societies on the other. Chandler (2014) sketches the binary or dichotomous terms that often frame orality-literacy pursuits:

‘primitive’ vs. ‘civilized’, ‘simple’ vs. ‘advanced’, ‘pre-logical’ vs. ‘logical’, ‘pre-rational’ vs. ‘rational’, ‘pre-analytic’ vs. ‘analytic’, ‘mythopoetic’ vs. ‘logico-empirical’, ‘traditional’ vs. ‘modern’, ‘concrete’ vs. ‘scientific’, ‘oral’ vs. ‘visual’, or ‘pre-literate’ vs. ‘literate’.

At issue are modes and modalities of communication. For that reason, several media ecologists either not included in this chapter or even in this book due to space constraints or included in other chapters of this book might just as easily have been classified in this section. Mumford, for example, states that language and other forms of expression are what distinguish the human ← 107 | 108 → species from other creatures, and as modalities of language delivery change and evolve, so too does human civilization. Those changes in language, sometimes regarded as “technological,” wrought substantial changes in thinking. Likewise, Innis spoke of several areas of changes brought about through changes in the way messages...

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