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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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The publication of Professor Dennis Cali’s Mapping Media Ecology is a noteworthy development in communication, for a number of good reasons. To begin with, it is a rich and extremely well-written introduction to a fascinating subject in the study of media and culture. Media ecology—as an intellectual tradition in understanding the symbiotic relationships among culture, communication, and technology—evolved into being from a multitude of academic disciplines since the beginning of the ecological movement in the 1800s. Whereas most existing research in the discipline has tended to focus on studying the roles and impacts of communication media as they pertain to content, representation, economics or ownership, and the like, media ecology is a theoretical perspective on understanding media as physical, sensorial, perceptual, and symbolic environments or structures within which people’s sense-making experience manifests itself through and in communication. That is, it seeks to shed light on how changes in communication technology may facilitate social and cultural changes, and vice versa. Some of the most notable seminal figures in media ecology include Lewis Mumford, Eric Havelock, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan, Elizabeth Eisenstein, James W. Carey, and Neil Postman, to name just a few. ← ix | x →

But media ecology has also been a relatively new theoretical perspective in the communication discipline even as its intellectual roots germinated as early as in the late nineteenth century. The term made its formal debut in an address by Postman to the 1968 annual meeting of the...

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