Media theory

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As media theory specific or generalized research approaches which, in the nature and operation of individual media or mass media try to explain in general. It often refers back to communication and information theory .

In addition to media analysis and media history, media theory is one of the three central fields of work in media studies .


A uniform media theory does not exist. So far it has not been possible to reconcile a categorization according to technical media terms with a meaningful and coherent definition of medium or media. In addition, different scientific disciplines approach the topic differently. Some media theories can be viewed more as media philosophies ( media philosophy ), others are sociological theories. Media studies in the humanities and social sciences also pursue different research interests . In media criticism , which is closely related to media philosophy, media theory is combined with criticism of the consequences of modern media for society , politics and education . The neurophysiologically based direction of criticism ( Manfred Spitzer ) and the more humanistic or cultural-philosophical direction of Neil Postman and Giovanni Sartoris are the most influential, but also the most controversial.

Systematics of the media theories

There are different approaches to systematizing existing media theories.

Arabatzis systematics

In his review of the books by Leschke, Mersch, Debray and Agamben, in his essay, Stavros Arabatzis differentiates between the doxologies of circuits and in his book Medienherrschaft, Medienresistent und Medienanarchchie. Archeology of the media and their new use and most recently in his essay ›Be networked! Mediate! Be in relation! ‹. Eleven categories of media theories about the abbreviated media models of the new sociology :

  1. Media Aesthetics ( Dieter Mersch )
  2. Media Science ( Rainer Leschke )
  3. Media culture ( Régis Debray )
  4. Media Theology ( Giorgio Agamben )
  5. Media mythology ( Marshall McLuhan , Vilém Flusser )
  6. Media ontology ( Jean Baudrillard )
  7. Media technomythology ( Friedrich Kittler )
  8. Media network mythologies ( Lorenz Engell , Bernhard Siegert , Frank Hartmann )
  9. Media anthropology ( Günther Anders , Byung-Chul Han )
  10. Media eschatology ( Paul Virilio )
  11. Media Sociology (Armin Nassehi, Andreas Reckwitz)

Then the following aspects of media and media theories according to Stavros Arabatzis can be distinguished:

I. Media and media theories deal with two essential aspects: the modernity of the new media and their archeology. An archaeological legacy of the media, which lies buried in between as a historical-social, mythical, ontotheological trace (as beginning and rule).

II. This media trail leads back to the imperative character of the new media. It can already be seen in the narrower domain of language, as Aristotle once differentiated it into apophantic (logos, argument, rationality, truth, etc.) and non-apophantic (narrative, wish, feeling, threat, anger, question, etc.) but far beyond “language” ( logos ) as a medium and includes all media - in their conveyance and immediacy. That is, they describe the two sides of the same media dispositif: the mediated, objective side of the media and its immediate, subjective side. Here, the free, ancestral network culture of the global actor as a whole is deciphered as a monarchical media dispositif (globality, unrest, world market, capital, attention, exhibition value, civilization, etc.), which is always simultaneously separated from the mythical media dispositifs (origins, nations, ethnic groups, roots , Home, region, A-capitals, etc.) is framed polyarchically.

III. Accordingly, media theories are classified in the respective categories, although this categorization is not to be understood statically because the dynamics of the media also have an effect in it. On the other hand, it is pointed out here that media in their dynamics need a static moment if they do not want to remain blind and empty in their practice and theory. In the critique of this media reflection, two elements are diagnosed: the progressive energies of the media and, at the same time, the workings of the ancient media. Therefore, these media reflections can only convince if two aspects are taken into account: 1. The really new media can only be reached from an archeology of the media. 2. The intended, truly new, an-archic medium (without domination) is so radically different that all powerful ( archic ) media machines must first be deactivated if the medium wants to have a healing effect.

IV. The modernity of the media refers to the genealogy of the media: from its magical-mythical and cultic to the profane media. Here the terms nature and culture are deciphered in their dialectics. Likewise, the dualism of number and music, of logos and myth is unfolded in all its problems. The starting point here is above all the clarification of the question: What are myth, cult and religion anyway? The answer is: They are nothing more than the attempt to base the world on the imperative. Evidence for this is provided by Homer in the Iliad (myth) and the biblical texts (theology) - for example, the Iliad begins with the imperative: " Menin aide, thea " (sing, oh goddess, the wrath), as do the biblical texts : "And God spoke". This imperative rule of the media then extends into our time. It is an "army device" (Kittler) concealed by the historical-social, mythical, cultural and theological stage (history, process, dialectic, being, becoming, happening, pseudo-criticism), which today is in the service of the new imperatives: ' Be !, Become !, Count !, Tell !, Sing !, Write !, Speak !, Enjoy !, Wool !, Wishes !, Consume !, Buy !, Optimize !, Make music !, Create !, Take care of yourself !, Have fun !, attract attention !, communicate! Or as collective narcissism: Be independent !, Set yourself apart !, Lock yourself up in your own identity !, Put the we against you! ' etc. In this way, all media in their historical development, dynamics, differentiation and transformation fulfill a desubjectivizing function from the beginning ( archē ): the alliance between capitals and A-capitals. One that is still in the negative-dialectical, “that it should be different” (Adorno), in “Think in systems!” (Luhmann), in “Communicated!” (Habermas), in the fundamental ontological “other beginning of history” (Heidegger ), in which “Forms rhizomes!” (Deleuze) or “Deconstructs!” (Derrida) is in the service of that ancient media archē . That is why we can now use the enlightening and educational Kantian imperative “One must be able to want” today in “You must be able to want!” reformulate what then includes both the ability and the will (the currents of desire) and the human imagination. With this we can also reformulate the mythical and theological founding medium ( poiesis, téchnē, praxis, logos ): In the beginning ( en archē ) there was not the word ( logos ) or the "deed" (Goethe), but the 'imperative of the media' .

V. Describing media and media theories ultimately means looking for the exit from imperative media devices. Beyond the complementarity of the two imperative media machines (globally-mediated and locally-immediate), which all media have confiscated today, the necessity of deactivating the media machines that are in the service of the old and new imperative powers is pointed out here. The imperative rule has of course changed its appearance today by taking on a microphysical (invasive, subcutaneous, neural) and macrophysical (as a universal subject or national subject) shape - or as a monarchical principle (which in turn is framed polyarchically) in itself antagonistic metaphysical dualism (God against God), an " eternal reversal " (Baudrillard) creates. Beyond the absolute media integral (including the relative media integrals), it is shown here how the impossibility of using the media can be paradigmatically reversed, namely by overriding all media devices in order to redirect the media to something new, different and common. Finally, it is the decontaminated media that enable a new experience of the word and a new use of all media. So we are dealing with three main categories in the media and media theories: 1. The imperative-archic media and media theories . 2. The counter-imperative media and media theories . 3. The an-archic media and media theories .

Systematics according to Faulstich / Faßler

Werner Faulstich , for example, distinguishes four categories of media theories:

  1. Individual media theories: film, radio, television, theater, book and letter theories.
  2. Theories of communication theory: viewing media as part of a communication process.
  3. socially critical media theories: explicitly critical approach; Differentiation according to the emancipatory content of media theory, see also : emancipatory media theories .
  4. system-theoretical media theories : communication as part or form of social action.
    • Example: Talcott Parsons : Money and power as central social interaction media .
    • Example: Niklas Luhmann : symbolically generalized communication media .

With an object-oriented ordering principle , four groups of individual media are also distinguished (according to Harry Pross ):

  • Primary media: without the use of technology;
  • Secondary media: use of technology in production;
  • Tertiary media: use of technology in production and reception ;

Manfred Faßler extends this model in his book “ Was ist Kommunikation? “(1997) around

  • Quaternary media: use of technology in digital distribution.

Systematics according to Leschke

The following approaches can be distinguished as order models in a phase model according to Rainer Leschke (2001) :

Primary intermediality

Primary intermediality approaches deal primarily with the relationship between different media ( media comparison ); These approaches usually arise when a new media technology is developed or when a functional change occurs, for example with the transition to mass media . They are pre-theoretical and are limited to individual statements about the objects of investigation.


Secondary intermediality

Theories of intermediality: secondary intermediality

Streamlined practice

When a new medium has established itself, practice-oriented reflection sets in; the focus is no longer on comparisons with other media, but the individual medium under consideration and its specific properties come into focus, for example the montage by Sergej Eisenstein . These media-theoretical approaches to rationalized practice do not claim to be a complete theory of the medium - they are also pre-theoretical - and attempt to systematize relevant sub-areas.


Brecht's radio theory :

  • Bertolt Brecht : Radio - An Antediluvian Invention? In: the same: Collected works in 20 volumes. Volume 18, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 119-121.
  • Bertolt Brecht: Proposals for the director of broadcasting. In: the same: Collected works in 20 volumes. Volume 18, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 121-123.
  • Bertolt Brecht: The radio as a communication device. In: the same: Collected works in 20 volumes. Volume 18, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 127-134.
  • Bertolt Brecht: About exploitation. In: the same: Collected works in 20 volumes. Volume 18, Frankfurt am Main, pp. 123-124.
  • Sergej M. Eisenstein : Assembly of the attractions. On the staging of AN Ostrovskijs "Even the smartest in the Moscow proletarian cult does something stupid". In: Franz-Josef Albersmeier (Ed.): Texts on the theory of film . Stuttgart 1990, pp. 46-57.
  • Howard Rheingold : Tools for Thought . 1986.
  • Howard Rheingold: Virtual Community: Social Relationships in the Computer Age . Bonn / Paris / Reading (Massachusetts) et al. 1994.
  • Sherry Turkle: Life on the Net. Identity in the age of the internet . Reinbek near Hamburg 1998.
  • Dziga Vertov : Writings on the film . Edited by W. Beilenhoff. Munich 1973.

Single media ontologies

Single media ontologies attempt to determine the essence of a new medium that has already established itself. In contrast to other approaches, they proceed methodically and systematically; they no longer only deal with details of the media character, but strive for generality in relation to the individual medium. Individual media ontologies can only be transferred to other media to a limited extent.

  • Rudolf Arnheim : Radio as an audio art . Munich / Vienna 1979.
  • Rudolf Arnheim: Film as Art . Frankfurt am Main 1988.
  • Béla Balázs : The spirit of the film . Frankfurt am Main 1972.
  • André Bazin : What is cinema? Building blocks for the theory of film . Cologne 1979.
  • Gilles Deleuze : The motion picture. Cinema 1 . Frankfurt am Main 1989.
  • Gilles Deleuze: The time picture. Cinema 2 . Frankfurt am Main 1991.
  • Werner Faulstich : Radio Theory. A study for the radio play The war of the worlds (1938) by Orson Welles . Tuebingen 1981.
  • Jochen Hörisch : God, Money, Media - Studies on the media that hold the world together at the core. (= edition suhrkamp. 2363). Frankfurt 2004; A history of the media (= paperback edition of The Sense and the Senses - A History of the Media . Frankfurt am Main 2001). (= Suhrkamp Taschenbuch. 3629). Frankfurt am Main 2004. (2nd edition. 2006)
  • Siegfried Kracauer : Theory of the film. The salvation of external reality . 2nd Edition. Frankfurt am Main 1993.

General (generalizing) media theories

General or generalizing media theories are developed in order to theoretically cover several media; they are usually designed using the models and methods of other scientific disciplines such as cultural or social sciences . They do not replace the individual media ontologies, but complement them .


General (generalizing) media ontologies

General or generalizing media ontologies attempt to go beyond the statements of general (or generalizing) media theories and to make general statements about the nature and structure of media themselves and to create a universal theory ; With this generality claim, they exclude a coexistence with general media theory, they are incompatible with one another. In addition, general media ontologies are breaking away from neighboring scientific disciplines and setting up independent media-theoretical paradigms.

Intermediality theories: secondary intermediality

The approaches of secondary intermediality attempt to generalize intermediality and create a general media theory; they determine the nature of media from the mutual influence of the media on one another. They thus form a special variant of the general media ontology.

  • Thomas Eicher, Ulf Bleckmann (ed.): Intermedialität. From image to text . Bielefeld 1994.
  • Jürgen E. Müller: Intermediality . 1996.
  • Karl Prümm : Intermediality and multimedia. A sketch of media science research fields. In: Rainer Bohn, Eggo Müller; Rainer Ruppert (ed.): Views of a future media science . Berlin 1988.

System according to Liebrand / Schneider / Bohnenkamp / Frahm

Liebrand / Schneider / Bohnenkamp / Frahm are not looking for a uniform media term because, in their opinion, it is superfluous and should be avoided from a cultural studies perspective. Rather, they investigate when and under what conditions something becomes a medium. Therefore, in their introduction, they distinguish four perspectives of media theory, which are related to four core concepts:

  • Signs ( semiotic media theories) - here theories are put together that deal with the signification of language and culture as a whole.
  • Technology ( anthropological and technology-centered media theories) - this rubric summarizes theories that focus on the “physical” interaction of man and technology, with anthropological theories starting from man, technology-centered theories from technology.
  • Society (society-oriented media theories) - at this point theories are named that not only focus on the relationship between media and individual people, but also on the mutual formation of media and society.
  • System (system-theoretical media theories) - system-theoretical media theories based on cybernetic and constructivist assumptions occupy a special position .

Web links



  • Dieter Prokop: Against media lies. The new culture industry lexicon. VSA Verlag, Hamburg 2004.
  • Helmut Schanze , Susanne Pütz: Metzler Lexicon Media Theory, Media Studies: Approaches - People - Basic Terms. Metzler, Stuttgart a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-476-01761-3 .

Text collections

  • Claus Pias, Joseph Vogl and others: Kursbuch Medienkultur. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-421-05310-3 .
  • Günter Helmes , Werner Köster: Texts on media theory. Reclam, Ditzingen 2002, ISBN 3-15-018239-5 .
  • Detlev Schöttker (Ed.): From the voice to the Internet: Texts from the history of media analysis . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1999. (UTB for science: Uni-Taschenbücher; 2109), ISBN 3-8252-2109-1 (UTB), ISBN 3-525-03213-7 (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).

Overview representations

Media theory and social theory

  • Guy Debord : The Society of the Spectacle. Edition Tiamat, Berlin 1996.
  • Niklas Luhmann : The reality of the mass media. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2004.
  • Dieter Prokop: Aesthetics of the Culture Industry. Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2009.

History of the concept of media

  • Stefan Hoffmann: History of the concept of media (= archive for concept history, special issue). Hamburg 2002.
  • Emmanuel Alloa: The translucent image. Contours of a media phenomenology. diaphanes, Berlin / Zurich 2011, ISBN 978-3-03734-119-3 .


Individual evidence

  1. Stavros Arabatzis: Media-theoretical, media-scientific and media-philosophical reflections . Springer VS, Wiesbaden, ISBN 3-658-15878-6 .
  2. ^ Weimar contributions | Journal for literary studies, aesthetics and cultural studies. Retrieved on May 11, 2020 (German).
  3. Stavros Arabatzis: media domination, resistance to media and media anarchy. Media archeology and its new uses . Springer VS, Wiesbaden, ISBN 3-658-15878-6 .