Saturday, July 16, 2011

Probe: The Word

"The concern of many people for the destruction of the word in our time, seems to overlook the fact that the word is neither private nor spoken in its essence. The word, as manifestation of all our perceptions and faculties in a single moment, can be managed by nonvocal means." -- H. Marshall McLuhan.


yana said...

"But no resource is more effective as a basis for joint involvement than speakings. Words are the great device for fetching speaker and hearer into the same focus of attention and into the same interpretation schema that applies to what is thus attended. But that words are the best means to this end does not mean that words are the only one or that the resulting social organization is intrinsically verbal in character. Indeed, it is when a set of individuals have joined together to maintain a state of talk that nonlinguistic events can most easily function as moves in a conversation." Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk, 1981

yana said...

Actually, as I am thinking more about Goffman and the consequentiality of his work to my own thought, I recall the text of Joshua Meyrowitz' Media Ecology Association annual address (2001) I read a while back. Just found it online and here's the relevant part:
"Morphing Two: McLuhan and Goffman. Perhaps the most insightful sociologist of the middle
to late 20th century, Erving Goffman, was largely innocent of understanding of media. Indeed, in
most of his works, he divided the universe of social interaction into two mutually exclusive categories:
We are either in each other’s co-presence—aware of being aware of each other—or we are
alone (e.g., 1967, p. 167). This dichotomy, along with Goffman’s stated emphasis on the “naked
senses” (e.g., 1963, pp. 14–15), doesn’t leave much room for analyzing media. Goffman also defines
behavioral settings (or what he calls “regions”) in terms “of any place that is bounded by
barriers to perception” (1959, p. 106). And although Goffman is an incredibly astute observer of
how people change their behaviors from one setting to another, he is largely blind to factors, including
media, that alter the boundaries of social settings and thereby encourage variations in the
way people change behaviors from setting to setting.
McLuhan and Goffman, therefore, have complementary strengths and weaknesses. McLuhan
describes how media reshape large cultural environments, but he doesn’t have much to say about
the specifics of social settings or social roles. Goffman focuses on the dynamics of face-to-face
interaction, but has almost nothing to say about media or about change in the settings or roles he
In some of my own work (Meyrowitz, 1985), I’ve tried to create common-denominator concepts
that link McLuhan’s concepts of media environments with Goffman’s concepts of situational
roles in order to build a predictive—and retrodictive—theory of how changes in media
alter everyday social behavior.
In a similar effort, Janet Sternberg (2001) adapted Goffman’s study of Behavior in Public
Places (1963) to a McLuhanesque understanding of Misbehavior in Cyber Places, the title of her
doctoral thesis. As Sternberg has suggested, media ecology has been tilted toward the study of
mass communication and intrapersonal communication and can be strengthened by blending it
18 Joshua Meyrowitz
Proceedings of the Media Ecology Association, Volume 2, 2001
with interpersonal communication theory. Sternberg argues that media ecology has focused too
much on media as environments, and too little on social environments as media.
In bringing McLuhanesque insights into the work of Goffman and other situationists, we also
bring Goffman’s situationist insights into the work of McLuhan and other medium theorists."