In more conventional terms, mediation refers to a process of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party helps negotiate an agreement between the two parties in dispute with one another. In mediation as pertaining to media and communications, the importance of a “third party” is a key concept in understanding the theory.
According to Silverstone (1999/2003), mediation “describes the fundamentally uneven, dialectical process in which institutionalized media are involved in the general circulation of symbols in social life.” Thompson (1995) defines the process in other terms: “If we focus…on symbolic forms and their modes of production and circulation in the social world, then we shall see that, with the advent of modern societies in the later mediaeval and early modern periods, a systemic cultural transformation began to take hold.”
Silverstone (2006) reiterates the concept of mediation as follows:
Mediation refers to what media do, and to what we do with the media. It is a term that defines the media, both the media of mass communication (radio, television, the world wide web, but also the press) and the media of interpersonal communication (fixed and mobile telephony, e-mail, but also the letter), as actively creating a symbolic and cultural space in which meanings are created and communicated beyond the constraints of the face to face, and which is becoming increasingly significant for the conduct of public, institutional and private life. Readers, viewers and audiences are part of this process of mediation, because they continue the work of the media in the ways they respond to, extend and further communicate what they see and hear on the world’s multitude of screens and speakers.
This definition describes a process that is ongoing and fluid. It involves both producers and consumers of media in the process, and incorporates elements of both semiotics and consumption theory into its framework. Silverstone and Haddon’s design/domestication interface can be seen as an application of mediation theory to the cycle of technological production and consumption because of its incorporation of both producers and consumers in the process.
The triangle of mediation (Silverstone, 2006) describes how mediation takes place with regard to the human experience. This device helps understand how mediation is composed of our memories, our imaginations, and our experiences. Media moves between these different areas, mediating the experience of each. According to Silverstone, through media, we learn about the world and simultaneously, we are creators of media. Mediation creates a “texture” to our experience of the world. A key concept in mediation is the connection between what is mediated and what is non-mediated.
Mediation in Context
In the study of technology, many theories fall into two schools of thought: technological determinism and social construction of technology. In short, technological determinism perceives technology and society as existing more or less independently of one another. In this scenario, the technological exists external to the social, and influences it from afar. Social construction of technology perceives the social and the technological to be more intertwined with technology being shaped by social processes. Mediation could be perceived as a “mediator” between these two sometime-conflicting schools of theoretical thought. In the conception of mediation, the social influences the technological, and vice-versa.
- Walter Benjamin
- Marshall McLuhan – Media is an extension of our senses, a prosthesis of sorts.
- Jean Baudrillard – Studies on experience of reality in everday life.
According to Lang & Lang (1969) one of television’s great effects lies in its power to contsruct public events. In their study, “The Unique Perspective of Television and its Effects: A Pilot Study,” they studied a public event, MacArthur Day in Chicago. Their research methodology involved content analysis and focused on the framing of the event through cinematography and on the content of explanations and interpretations of televised events given by commentators and persons interviewed by them. They concluded that there was a discrepancy between the actual and televised experiences of MacArthur Day in Chicago.
Baudrillard, Jean (1983) Simulations, New York: Semiotext(e)
Cairncross, Frances (1997) The Death of Distance, London: Orion
Cohen, Stan (2001) States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering, Cambridge: Polity Press
Gergen, Kenneth J (2002) ‘The challenge of absent presence’, in James E Katz and Mark Aakhus (eds.) Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, private talk, Public Performance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 227-241
Lang, K and G (1969) The unique perspective of television and its effects: A pilot study. In W. Schramm (ed) Mass Communications and Society (2nd edn), University of Illinois Press, pp 544-560.
Meyrowitz, J (1985) No Sense of Place. New York: Oxford University Press, Ch. 6. (pp 93-114 plus notes pp 349-350, plus bibliography pp 374-390).
McLuhan, Marshall (1964) Understanding Media, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
Silverstone, Roger (2003) ‘Proper Distance: Toward an Ethics for Cyberspace’, in Gunnar Liestøl et al. (eds.) Digital Media Revisited: Theoretical and Conceptual Innovations in Digital Domains, Cmabridge: MIT Press, 469-490
Silverstone, Roger (2006) ‘Media and Communication in a Globalised World’ (Draft) WebCT