Introduction to Media Ecology: Thinkers, schools of thought, key concepts by Paolo Granata


Media ecology is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry rooted in both North American and Continental European academic traditions that remains largely under the radar of contemporary scholars. This book aims to concisely and systematically survey a wide range of 20th-century thinkers who shared an approach to media studies as a complex system of relations and processes, viewing technologies as habitats in which changes occur that shape human culture.

The use of the word ‘ecology,’ according to its original etymon, implies that media are not treated—as they usually are—as mere means or tools used by people to communicate or interact with the world. Media ecology rather encapsulates a holistic view that approaches media as a complex system of cultural, technological, and communication forms within which human beings live. Media ecology takes the plurality of media forms back to a unitary and coherent, although open and dynamic, human ecosystem. That means conceiving the media not just as conduits or instruments, but rather as actual environments and thus human ecosystems.

This book offers a comprehensive survey of the most influential thinkers of media ecology from both North America (such as Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Neil Postman, Susanne Langer, Lewis Mumford, and Gregory Bateson) and Europe (including Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, Jacques Ellul, Regis Debray, and Jack Goody to name just a few), as well as of the main schools of thought associated with these thinkers in Toronto, New York, Chicago, Palo Alto and elsewhere. This book also provides a history of convergence of different disciplines involved in the formation of media ecology—history, literary criticism, economics, sociology, anthropology—as required by a truly interdisciplinary, humanistic approach. In doing so, this book introduces readers to key concepts and defines a historiographic map of the intellectual tradition now formally recognized as media ecology. This book is intended as an essential guide for readers—graduate and undergraduate students—who wish to approach this still unexplored field of study with an informed view of its history, aims, and approaches.

Paolo Granata is an educator, innovator, and a cross-disciplinary media scholar. Throughout his 20-year academic career in research, teaching, and public engagement, he has held positions at the University of Bologna, the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna and Turin, and most recently at the University of Toronto. His advocacy efforts are focused on digital equity and digital sustainability, exploring the potential that information and communication technologies hold for enacting positive social change.

Paolo Granata in front of the McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology

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