Michael Wesch wrote a nicely compact and straight-forward exposition of what can be considered his core principles with regard to digital networked media and their impact on our collective conceptualization of education. In it, he explains that he considers the concept of the “subject” in education — history, psychology, etc. — to be the wrong approach because it encourages:
“the Vaccination Theory of Education” [,] as students are led to believe that once they have “had” a subject they are immune to it and need not take it again.
By contrast,he suggests students should be assisted in growing their competence in certain “subjectivities,” by which he means
ways of approaching, understanding, and interacting with the world. Subjectivities cannot be taught. They involve an introspective intellectual throw-down in the minds of students….they can only be learned, explored, and adopted through practice. We can’t “teach” them. We can only create environments in which the practices and perspectives are nourished, encouraged, or inspired (and therefore continually practiced).
This is an intriguing idea in several ways. In the article, he lists several subjectivities he considers himself actively encouraging his students to practice while teaching anthropology at Kansas State. In the spirit of exploring this idea, I suggest a first step might be for others to consider what subjectivities they may be actively (or passively) encouraging in other subjects. I’ll start with my own approach to media studies.
First, I consider media studies to be less easily or clearly bounded than more traditional subjects like anthropology: it is much harder to succinctly write a description of what media studies is the “study” of, in my opinion. Still, I’ll borrow from Wikipedia here and say that media studies is concerned with “the content, history and effects of various media; in particular, the ‘mass media‘.” For me, this is helpful if very broad: it puts us in the ballpark. Given this, I’d argue I’m at some level always seeking to encourage my students to practice the following subjectivities:
- For most Americans most of the time, the world is heavily mediated through texts produced by others; the notion that we can know the world simply by “looking around us” is a myth.
- However, the growing ubiquity of digital networked media production tools is making it incredibly easy for non-professionals to create, and this is a notable change happening right now (at the beginning of the 21st Century).
- Technologies employed in media culture almost always begin as tools devoid of ideology, but they can take on ideological dimensions through use.
- Media producers are neither angels nor demons, but they do tend to operate according to certain principles such as efficiency and risk-aversion.
- Media consumers consume for a remarkably diverse array of reasons, many of which are personal and idiosyncratic and some of which are still unknown.
Though this is probably a partial list, one thing I can say is that I am always trying to encourage my students to practice these principles in their production and criticism of media, though I realize now after writing them that I do it much more implicitly than I had realized. My guess is even my best students would have trouble articulating these with any specificity.
Plus, I’m guessing plenty of other media studies scholars would have somewhat or significantly differing lists of their own. But I sure would be interested to read them. Any takers?