Researching the Everyday Mediatization of Religion
by Xabier Riezu Arregui
“Mediatized Worlds of Religion: Researching the Everyday Mediatization of Religion Empirically” was the title of the lecture on August 05. The professor Andreas Hepp of the University of Bremen talked to us about the importance of taking mediatization processes into account in our research projects. His lecture was aimed to provide us with the conceptual tools for that purpose. Hepp says there are two extreme positions with regard to the meaning of “mediatization”. The first one discusses mediatization as a “logic of the media”. According to this approach, there is one specific logic of the media, and what we can study is how actors and organizations accommodate to that logic. The second position on the contrary, contends that the society is shaped through a lot of acts of appropriation, interpretation, and resistance; not necessarily media related. Furthermore, the media-related pressures are too heterogeneous to be reduced to one media logic.
Andreas Hepp is in an in-between position: he shares the critiques against linear approaches to mediatization, but he does not share the rejection of mediatization theory as a whole: mediatization of certain cultural fields has to be investigated, but we should do it carefully in detail and without assuming a single “linear media logic”. The concept of mediatization becomes useful if we do not relate it to the assumption of one “media logic”, but understand it more generally as a frame for researching the relation between media and cultural change.
Hepp considers mediatization as a meta-process that cannot be researched empirically as a single transformation phenomenon. This is not difficult to understand, since it happens with other well known meta-processes. For example, the process of individualization, and the social change it entails, cannot be proven by any single survey. Rather, we have to understand it
as a meta approach that makes it possible to integrate very different results of surveys and qualitative investigations into an overall coherent understanding.
The same applies to mediatization as well.
Hence, it is necessary to theorize mediatization in a more complex manner than medium theory does. It is true, as medium theory says, that “media change” and “cultural change” are interrelated, but mediatization not only theorizes this in the perspective of the relation from media to cultural change. It is not enough to talk about the specificity of certain media related to the specificity of certain cultural changes. In a quantitative perspective, mediatization means that we are confronted with a long-standing process of spreading media communication. In a qualialitative perspective, there is a “moulding force” of the media; that is, media themselves exert a certain pressure on the way we communicate.
Regarding the ongoing cultural transformation, we find certain patterns along which cultural change takes place. And these patterns should be related to questions of media change. Up to the middle of the twentieth century, there was a sort of territorial national communicative space, constructed by the media, something we might call national-territorial media culture. Nowadays on the contrary, we are confronted with a much higher multiplicity of different communicative spaces. The argument is that this process of change is related to an increasing mediatization along the social, spatial, and temporal dimensions, interrelated with processes of further cultural change towards individualization (the individual is urged to be far more responsible for his or her life), deterritorialization (loss of the relation of culture to geographical and social territories) and the coming of intermediacy (the temporal ubiquitousness of electronic media). The process as a whole, results on a pluralization and fragmentation of institutionalized cultural fields and in a plurality of different (de) territorialized communicative spaces.
However if we want to consider the “moulding forces” of the media we need a more detailed approach. Hepp wants to take a detailed look at the mediatization of cultural fields by researching their articulation through various related institutions and power-relations empirically, in order to get an understanding of how the “moulding forces” of the media manifest themselves in processes of interrelation with other “forces”. For this purpose, he exposed in his lecture the case of the Catholic World Youth Day, celebrated in Germany in 2005. You can see several videos to realize how passionately young people from all over the world gather to life this experience:
Hepp pointed out several features of the event and its media coverage, to see the relevance of taking into consideration the mediatization approach. His empirical work is deep and cannot be explained in detail here. It entails both quantitative analysis of the media coverage of the World Youth Day and theoretical elaboration of some features of the celebration.
All in all, Andreas Hepp underlined, that if we want to research mediatization, some points are fundamental: transmediality of research (not “one media” but media “enviroments”); dialectic of research (not “one media logic” but “moulding forces”); and cultural sensitivity of research (not “closed systems” but blurred cultural thickenings).
After his lecture, we gathered in groups, to discuss how far our own present research projects are related to questions of mediatization, reflecting upon three questions: “What does mediatization mean for your present research?”, “How far are your research fields moulded by the media?”, “What does this mean methodologically for your research?” Obviously, given the subject of this Summer School, we all considered mediatization a useful approach four our own researches.