Tuesday, 6 March 2007

A Response: Ravindra Mohabeer

I've appreciated this discussion tremendously, if only because it's helped me to realize that media studies may well yet have a 'canon.' I say this since a number of discussants have expressed such a strong response to say that the proposal of a 2.0 is moving too far away from our core values that we are only marginally able to realize with an increasingly theory-suspicious cohort of students. But I do not think it is theory of which they are suspicious, but perhaps it is us. We are on the outside speaking in. I don't think that we need to push our way in to get heard. It's more a matter of realigning our sense of what the field actually is. I should preface this all by saying that I don't know either.To me there are several competing ideas at play in this need for a 2.0. I will try and identify what I see as two of them.1. has to do with a split between theory and practice, but perhaps not in the way that may initially come to mind.I am want to believe that the examples I use in my teaching mean something to the students I teach - which often they do not. This is not simply a matter of gaps in taste or age (still within a decade of upper year students). It is more a matter of epistemology and ecology. The gaps are epistemological insofar as I do not regard media in the same way as do they. It is integral to my life quite differently than it is to theirs. Media don't do the same things for me as they do for them. Asking them to tell me what those things are helps me to recognize that I am not quite well equipped linguistically or experientially to understand. It is as if we occupy two entirely different cultural spaces that happen to only coincidentally be proximal to one another. In effect, if they practice media differently than I do, baturally, they may well have different theories of media than will I.This is why I see it as also an ecological difference insofar as though we share the same space in a classroom, my students and I occupy two/many entirely different informational worlds. The classroom is a meeting point for these worlds that, at best, allows for an overlap and a window toward mutual understanding. This, in my mind, is the essence of hope I see in developing the 2.0ness of this model. How I see this as a split between theory and practice is that the, so-called, 1.0 approach works when one assumes a degree of experiential equity between student and instructor when it comes to media. As many have already suggested and I can corroborate, little such equity exists. Either I know about what I speak and/or I have limited understanding about that of which they speak. The need in a 2.0 is likely to marry the existing theory to new forms of practice that do not mimic the old and, as a result, work with students to generate a new body of theory focused on a meta approach to media not primarily as artifacts but as processes. I think that there can be common ground here from which a new direction in media theory can emerge.2. has to do with ownership and authority.Looking out toward a new approach to media studies, in my mind, requires a willingness to accept that our students are part of tomorrow in a different way than we are. I don't see how it is helpful to presume that we have ownership over media or bodies of theory, particularly if our students, as some have mentioned, are reticent to read that theory in the first place.What I see as the necessary next step in media studies is not a shift from theory or historicity, but a pedagogical movement away from media as the first focus. While it might seem unusual to advocate the displacement of media in a media studies course it makes sense if you consider the idea that students do not see/read/hear media, they live it. It's like asking the proverbial fish to describe their distaste for water. They may know it's there, may even detect changes and have theories about it, but it's so obvious it becomes invisible or at best too obvious to consider.My thought was that the goal of media studies is to make media visible - or at least that's how I've approached the idea of developing a critical stance or 'savvy.' To do this, one must drop a rock in the proverbial water to make it ripple, thus making the surface come to life. It is only then that I have found it possible to introduce the theory below the surface, let alone encourage the intellectual tools to ask new questions. What this took, for me at least, was a recognition that my students had a far greater command of the pond than me. I didn't take this as a way to allow for experience and opinion to take the place of analysis and rigour.In practice, what this looks like is probably not that different than what many others are already doing. I spend time making maps and connections (sometimes but not always literally) with the help/guidance of my students. We start by talking about the world and working our way back to how media exist within and create our understanding of it. They take ownership over examples as much as possible and we work together to link these examples to theory, media and otherwise.Personally, I don't concentrate much on the act of 'reading' media at all. I don't see the point. As much as I can encourage students to jump when I ring a bell, teaching them to game the system doesn't demonstrate any sort of sustainable result. I can teach them to read and then they will read as I have taught them, critically if that's what they think will suit my interests. But being able to speak in a critical tone is not the same as believing what you are saying. As I have written elsewhere, prohibition is not the antithesis of desire. The main benefit of a media studies 2.0 approach is the recognition that media are so pervasive and articulated in the lives of students that they can hardly any longer distinguish where one stops and the other starts. The distinctions that once made sense do so no longer.