re-reading McLuhan - An International Conference on Media and Culture in the 21st Century (re-reading McLuhan)

Venue: Schloss Thurnau

Location: Thurnau, Germany

Event Date/Time: Feb 08, 2007
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About the Conference

The conference is chaired by Prof. Derrick de Kerckhove, Director, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

Marshall McLuhan is still seen as the founder of contemporary media theory and its focus on the cultural effect and impact of media. And yet, a re-reading of McLuhan has become an ever more pressing — and promising — concern. Since McLuhan's early publications, the contemporary mediascape has undergone fundamental changes, the most decisive of which is the computer and its networks. Digital technologies have become ubiquitous agents of anthropological concepts and cultural change and, as such, they are developments whose implications McLuhan could not fully anticipate. At the same time, a multi-faceted and complex, frequently competing if not contradictory, array of media theories and schools of media studies have emerged internationally, for who McLuhan still constitutes a vital, possibly still elementary point of reference.

This conference aims at an encompassing re-reading of McLuhan at the beginning of the 21st century, discussing McLuhan's influential body of work in light of — change — contemporary mediascape. By taking McLuhan's theorems as their point of departure, scholars from media and cultural studies as well as media artists debate new approaches to the study of digital media and develop interdisciplinary research strategies for a reconceptualization of the computer and digital technologies. The conference encourages a fruitful exchange between different schools of media studies, their theories and respective terminology and, leaving the trenches aside, engenders an investigation of their role for the humanities and contemporary media practice. Investigating their common roots in McLuhan invigorates the dialogue between different schools and disciplines exactly where it might have come to a halt. Re-Reading McLuhan will thus act as an international and interdisciplinary meeting place with the goal of producing an epistemic map, a topography and topology of media- and cultural studies based on a new interdisciplinary re-reading of McLuhan.

The conference focuses on the following questions:

Can the computer be thought as an electronic medium and, if so, how can we trace its genealogy in an electrical/electronic universe, or in a different one?

McLuhan's theorems of the medium as message and of the global village are still basic theoretical tools; and yet, they are contingent on a technical grounding of electronic media and were predominantly developed with regard to television. In which ways do digital codifications change these concepts, and to what extent do they question the applicability of McLuhan's theorems to contemporary media- and cultural studies?

Can McLuhan be seen as the alleged euphemist of the new media?

A contemporary re-reading of McLuhan should trigger a more thorough investigation of this claim and lead to more accurate methods and goals when dealing with digital media. In his interviews, McLuhan repeatedly pointed out the two sides of the coin of electronic culture. On the one hand, he argues, electronic culture leads to a reintegration of human beings into their environment and eventually to a global conscience. On the other hand, it inadvertently leads to the loss of identities and borders, which, in turn, provokes border wars and encourages fundamentalist nationalisms. "Tribalization" can thus be seen as a two-faced cultural mechanism which determines the political, social, and cultural approach to contemporary media. Participants will discuss the implications of McLuhan's theorem of a medial duality — until now not fully considered — for our common, digital future prospects.

What is the relationship between McLuhan and wireless technology, so-called augmented reality, and how are both conceptualized within contemporary media studies?

As of now, telephone, television, GPS-systems, banking transactions, computer, and internet all converge in the single appliance of the mobile phone. But the question emerges if, or to what extent, wireless and mobile technologies will eventually surpass the computer and lend new meaning to McLuhan's parable of the global village?

The conference consists of four sections:

Media Studies and McLuhan

This section of the conference will investigate German and international schools of media studies, their approaches to contemporary digital media and their perspectives on McLuhan. In this respect, particular attention will be paid to possibilities of a fruitful exchange between different academic traditions as they come from Europe, Asia, and North America.

Interdisciplinary McLuhan

This section investigates the meaning of McLuhan in different academic disciplines and explores the ways in which re-readings of McLuhan take place outside of traditional media studies and how precisely these re-readings can contribute to media studies.

Media-/Art and McLuhan

Since the 1960s, media art has been seen as an area that not only works with, but literally dissects and creatively approaches electronic and digital technologies. The work of media artists is intricately intertwined with electronic/digital technologies, and these artists are often software engineers themselves. What can we discern from these art works about the status of the computer in-between analogue and digital possibilities and how do they contribute to a contemporary media aesthetics? In many ways, video artists have investigated the possibilities of wireless mobility more comprehensively that media theorists. What are their visions and metaphors and what role does the computer play in their work?

The McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology / University of Toronto

The University of Toronto's McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology offers a senior research program for scholars doing research in McLuhan's spirit and based on his methods. Fellows from the Program will present their work at the conference, discussing methods of contemporary interconnected research.

Selected papers and discussion sections will be published, including a CD-Rom with visual material.