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McLuhan in Reverse

His General Theory of Media (GToM)


Robert K. Logan

McLuhan in Reverse proposes two new and startling theses about Marshall McLuhan’s body of work. The first argues that despite McLuhan’s claim that he did not work from a theory, his body of work in fact constitutes a theory that Robert K. Logan calls his General Theory of Media (GToM). The second thesis is that McLuhan’s GToM is characterized by a number of reversals, including his reversals of figure and ground, cause and effect, percepts and concepts; and the medium and its content as described in his famous one-liner "the medium is the message." 

While McLuhan’s famous Laws of Media are part of his GToM, Logan has identified nine other elements of the GToM. They are his use of probes; figure/ground analysis; the idea that the medium is the message; the subliminal nature of ground or environment revealed only by the creation of an anti-environment; the reversal of cause and effect; the importance of percept over concept and hence a focus on the human sensorium and media as extensions of man; the division of communication into the oral, written, and electric ages along with the notions of acoustic and visual space; the notion of the global village; and finally, media as environments and hence media ecology.

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Chapter One McLuhan’s General Theory of Media (GToM) and the Role of Reversals


Whenever provoked, Marshall McLuhan would declare, Look, I don’t have a theory of communication. I don’t use theories. I just watch what people do, what you do. Or words to that effect. That’s the short answer to our question, “What is McLuhan’s Theory of Communication?” (Eric McLuhan 2008)

Marshall McLuhan through his analysis of the effects of media ushered in a new way of looking at media and communications in what has become known as media ecology. He always claimed, as his son Eric just noted above, that he had no theory but that he merely observed what happened. “I don’t explain, I explore,” McLuhan (1967a) once exclaimed. I beg to differ with Marshall, who was my media ecology mentor. Yes, he observed like none other before him and yes, he explored, but he also explained and by the end of his career he formulated his famous four “laws of media (McLuhan 1975, 1977; McLuhan, M. and McLuhan, E. 1988).” The inclusion of “the new science” in the title of his book with son Eric: The Laws of Media: The New Science (ibid.) represents McLuhan’s acknowledgment that there was a systematic, even a scientific way, in which he formulated his understanding of media and their impacts.←1 | 2→

Well Marshall, if you formulated laws you must have had a theory. And since you refused to formulate your theory and were content with your four Laws of Media (LoM), I am going to formulate your General Theory...

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