From a very general point of view, “mediatization of society” is a concept that indicates the extension of the influence of the media (considered both as a cultural technology and as an organization) into all spheres of society and social life. In this broad sense, the way the media influence social life is linked to the larger process of culturalization, that is, the process by which culture – considered as the complex of signs, symbols, meanings, and values circulating within and between societies – has become increasingly central to the operation of all social institutions.
Thus, “mediatization of society” can be roughly considered as a process involving all the spheres of society, from the structure of the family to the aging process, from gender relationships to power, from the political apparatus to the economic structures, from everyday life to globalization processes. Moreover, it is a concept that examines the ways in which the media, which are vehicles of various types of messages (by which meaning is exchanged and negotiated), and society have made themselves mutually indispensable and unavoidably interrelated.
Media And Changes In Social Life
Arguing that the media have a significant role in all the spheres of society and social life means stressing the importance of the media system in the transformation processes of society itself. According to Schulz (2004) four main processes of change represent different aspects of mediatization. At the first level, the media are considered to extend the natural limits of human communication capacities; in this sense the media are “extensions of man,” according to McLuhan’s famous expression, providing means of communication that bridge spatial and temporal distances. At a further level, the media tend to substitute social activities and institutions, thus changing their characteristics (suffice it to remember the changes in private communication brought by phone and email). Third, the media amalgamate with different non-media activities. This is an important feature of the media–society complex, as since media-centered and non-media-centered everyday activities mingle with one another and media use becomes a normal aspect of social life, the media’s definition of reality becomes part of the social definition of reality. Finally, all sectors of society (including social actors in their everyday life) tend to accommodate to the way the media operate, produce texts, and provide vehicles for meanings. In short, several sectors of society must take into account the media logic of electronic media (above all television), thus following the logic and the formats that are typical of media language and organizational practices, such as the ways the contents are organized and put together, the styles they are presented in, and the grammar (syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) of mass media communication.
Media logic has played an important role in the processes that shape the nature of the changes brought by mediatization. Media logic is the combination of several technological, organizational, and cultural elements. The most important element is commercial logic, which involves the commercialization of both the media institutions and society as a whole, followed by such elements as industrial logic (the media are an important industry), technological logic (referring to the importance of technologies in producing and reproducing contents), and cultural logic. We can find the logics of the mediatization processes particularly at the commercial and technological levels.
The commercial level, in both its economic and industrial dimensions, refers to the processes of standardization of mass media products and contents, which is accompanied by a continuous self-reinforcement of the media system and a growing circularity of media messages, ending in a series of “feedback loops” from the media coverage to the events covered (Kepplinger 2002). Thus, from standardized production, which makes media contents almost ubiquitously available at relatively low costs, we arrive at a general dependence on mass media products, explained by such theories or hypotheses as the media system dependency theory (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur 1976), agenda-setting effects, the priming effect, or cultivation theory.
The technological level has much to do with the fact that the media are technologies of communication that embody the ways messages are constructed, presented, and circulated, which also affect the ways they are interpreted by their audiences. This is at the core of “medium theory,” according to which every single medium embodies a “bias” that affects the message itself (this is the meaning of McLuhan’s famous statement “the medium is the message”). Authors like Meyrowitz (1985) have extended this process not only to effects on the audiences’ patterns of consciousness, but also to changes in the patterns of the social actors’ everyday interaction rituals, thus providing a theory of social behavior that represents an important connection between social interactionism à la Goffman and “medium theory” à la McLuhan. Moreover, these technological constraints lead to mediation theory, where, again, media logic is at stake: the media’s technological characteristics contribute to the shaping of media messages and contents according to a specific “logic” that involves specific production routines and content formats. According to these technological (and commercial) characteristics, the media encode and format their contents in a way that reinforces specific patterns of human perception and information processing.
Mediatization In Society
In brief, the concept of “mediatization of society” indicates an extension of the influence of the media into all societal spheres. Therefore, it is important to see what are the (main) domains that are influenced by the media system (remembering that the media system is both a cultural technology and an economic organization). In broad and general terms, all the main societal domains are affected by the connection between media and society: sex/gender and generational relationships, deviance, control and surveillance, religious and ritual dimensions, power relationships, urban environment and city life, localization and globalization processes, and so on.
As far as gender relationships are concerned, Meyrowitz (1985) argues that in contemporary western society men are becoming more woman-like and women more manlike. The so-called “private sphere” of men is becoming less private and more open to the gaze and knowledge of women – and vice versa. Meyrowitz sees this movement toward a unisex lifestyle as influenced by the advent of media images that the two genders had previously kept separate. The author claims that the same is true for generational relationships: due to the media, younger people gain access to the so-called “adult world,” thus gaining more information than ever in the history of childhood.
As far as deviance is concerned, an important dimension that highlights the processes of interplay between forces of social reaction and control, the media, and certain forms of deviant activity is that of “moral panic,” while the processes of control and surveillance are more and more “mediatized” thanks to the new information and communication technologies. The concept of “war” itself is undergoing a mediatization process, from “media diplomacy” to “infowar.” The concept of “mediatization of war” refers not only to the relationship between war, media system, and political and military system, but also to the use of media languages and codes to define and frame war. In fact, the information technologies play a leading role in the development of the forms of contemporary conflicts. The war cycle is fulfilled within an IT logic, from remote sensing (a satellite surveying the territory) to “photo finishing” (the photos after the raid).
Even the religious and ritual aspects of society are undergoing a continuing process of mediatization. If the “mediatization of religion” is a topic raised by McLuhan, who pointed out the importance of electronic and technological devices for changes in the Roman Catholic liturgy, the mediatization of the ritual dimension is demonstrated by Dayan and Katz (1992) and by their definition of media events. By “media event” Dayan and Katz mean an event that is broadcast “live” and is “remote” from its audiences, and that is a real event occurring at the society’s “center,” not set up by the media themselves. The effect of the media event is to enhance the symbolic importance of social ceremonies, while at the same time reaffirming the social bond through the media process.
If mediatization of politics has been much studied and analyzed (Mazzoleni 1987; Mazzoleni & Schulz 1999), and it is now clear that political actors have to adapt to the rules of the media system in order to increase their publicity (at the price of a loss of autonomy), other spheres of society are undergoing a growing process of mediatization. It is the case in sport, where it is evident that sport and the media, two separate institutions, have come to be intimately involved over the past decades, with economic, political, and professional forces united in the making of media sport culture. Other societal domains where we can detect a growing mediatization are those of urban life, with the rise of the “digital cities” of the “network society” (Castells 1996), or in architecture itself: as Colomina (1994) argues, while conventional criticism portrays modern architecture as a high artistic practice in opposition to mass media products, the mass media are the true site within which architecture is produced, as architectural discourse is the intersection of a number of systems of representation (such as drawings, models, photographs, books, films, and advertisements) that presuppose a new sense of space, one defined by mass mediated images rather than walls.
Lastly, the mediatization of society is evident in the processes of globalization and cultural identities, where the mass media have become a proliferating resource for the production and the reproduction of identities.
- Ball-Rokeach, S. J., & DeFleur, L. M. (1976). A dependency model of mass-media effects. Communication Research, 3(3), 3 –21.
- Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
- Colomina, B. (1994). Privacy and publicity: Modern architecture as mass media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Dayan, D., & Katz, E. (1992). Media events: The live broadcasting of history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Kepplinger, H. M. (2002). Mediatization of politics: Theory and data. Journal of Communication, 52(4), 972 – 986.
- Mazzoleni, G. (1987). Media logic and party logic in campaign coverage: The Italian general election of 1983. European Journal of Communication, 2(1), 81–103.
- Mazzoleni, G., & Schulz, W. (1999). “Mediatization” of politics: A challenge for democracy? Political Communication, 16, 247–261.
- Meyrowitz, J. (1985). No sense of place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Schulz, W. (2004). Reconstructing mediatization as an analytical concept. European Journal of Communication, 19(1), 87–101.