Medium (communication)

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A medium ( Latin medium , "middle", "center", from ancient Gr . Μέσov méson , "the middle"; also public, common good, public path) is, according to more recent understanding, a mediator in the general sense of communication . The word “medium” in everyday language can often be equated with means of communication .


In media theory , media philosophy and media studies , a large number of concepts with different objectives have developed.

The plural media has been used for the entirety of all communication media and communication organizations since around the 1980s and, with catchphrases such as media culture, stimulates interdisciplinary questions between technical, economic, legal, social or psychological issues.

Concept history

The term medium has a checkered history and has been used differently in aesthetics , logic , physics (for example in Aristotle or Newton ), physiology or jurisprudence. Often there is talk of a constellation of several elements, between which an interplay takes place that is understood as communication . The question arises whether a definition does not restrict the various meanings too much.

An older, pre-academic media term up to around the end of the 18th century referred to magical mediation (or more soberly: mediation based on an incomprehensible power or competence): A medium as a person establishes contact with inaccessible worlds. Furthermore, ancient epistemology is based on media of perception in which knowledge takes place ( Aristotle , who drafted the first theory of media of perception, is also the first to substantiate the local 'in-between' of the medium and describe it as an independent entity, namely as' to metaxy ', ie as "the medium"). These media are closely related to the material elements such as water, air or the breath of a person - an elementary doctrine that continues into the 18th century, for example through concepts such as 'ether'. The scientifically shaped media term, which emerged in the 19th century, denoted the entirety of all carriers of physical and chemical processes.

Two media categories emerged that have to do with communication:

Medium as a material mediator
Because substances momentum and energy transfer, they can also information about agents . The transmission of sound requires z. B. a mediating substance like air.
Medium as a means of communication
The term medium was transferred from the material transfer of information to means of communication of any kind between senders and recipients . The older magical meaning was also retained in this idea.

An expansion of the term media brought the technical means of communication such as phonograph , cinematograph , telegraphy and radio developed from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century , but also new reproduction and production processes in the print media . Since the end of the First World War, film and after 1940 television became mass media .

With the controversial catchphrase "The Medium is the Message" ("The Medium is the Message", redesigned through a misprint to the title The Medium is the Massage , 1967), the literary scholar Marshall McLuhan drew attention to the fact that the channels of information transmission may be are more important than the information itself, thus drawing attention from the content to its often neglected communication. In his work Understanding Media (1964) he defined media as extensions of the sense organs and in this way asserted a parallel between mass media and tools .


A distinction must be made between primary, secondary and tertiary media:

The specialist literature sometimes mentions computer-mediated communication as a quaternary medium , which requires an online connection on the sender and recipient side .

Current usage

Colloquially, “mass medium” is often considered to be synonymous with the term medium: it refers to communication media with a wider distribution . There is a lack of conceptual clarity as to what can actually be described as a medium: the information itself (e.g. film), the technical equipment (e.g. film projector, internet) or the institutions that provide both (e.g. . Facebook, Youtube).

With the latest development, which is related to the digitization of many communication media, the Internet and the emergence of social media , a dominant concept of cultural studies is emerging beyond its previous meanings .

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

The writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger developed a socialist media theory in his treatise Construction Kit for a Theory of Media (1970), which deals critically with the mass media. Based on Bertolt Brecht's radio theory as well as Max Horkheimer's and Theodor W. Adorno's polemics against the culture industry , he dealt with the question of the extent to which the media can contribute to emancipation or manipulate them . He also condemned television as a “ zero medium ”.

Niklas Luhmann

The sociologist Niklas Luhmann gave a definition of communication media that presupposes technology but is not directly related to technology as a further development of the theory of his teacher Talcott Parsons , who understood money and power as media. Luhmann relies on the statement: “Communication is improbable.” For him, media are “facilities” that serve to “transform improbable into probable communication”. He differentiates between interaction media such as language, distribution media such as writing (including the so-called mass media) and symbolically generalized communication media , to which he counts truth, art and love in addition to Parsons.

In addition to this very general media concept, Luhmann also distinguishes between medium and form (based on Fritz Heider's thing and medium as well as George Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form ), so that, for example, one can think of a command as a form in the medium of power, of a Inquiry as a form in the medium of truth or of a friendly gesture as a form in the medium of love.

Harry Pross

Harry Pross divides media into groups depending on their production and reception conditions:

  • primary media are means of elementary human contact without a device,
  • Secondary media require devices to be produced, but not to be perceived.
  • tertiary media require devices on the part of the producer as well as on the part of the consumer,
  • Quaternary media require the use of equipment, but neither temporal nor spatial correspondence is necessary.

Manfred Fassler

Following the suggestion of Manfred Faßler (1997), Quaternary media are added to the media described by Harry Pross , which require devices on both sides, but are not used exclusively for mass media communication or the dissemination of messages. The Internet is z. B. a medium that requires the user to make active decisions about consumption and in some cases allows direct feedback from the user to the provider. This results in quick and spontaneous changes in the assignment due to the modes of use: Changes between tertiary and quaternary properties are something new that needs to be inserted into this structure. Digitization enables the integration and mixing of the first three media levels in the fourth. Quaternary media offer a close connection of mass media properties (tertiary media), but allow a quick change at any time between individual and group approach or communication, but always under conditions that depend on devices on both sides of the communication.

Ulrich Saxer

In 1998 Ulrich Saxer presented a definition that tries to capture media not only as technical artefacts, but also in their social dimension. "Media are complex institutionalized systems around organized communication channels of specific capabilities" and are characterized by five more or less pronounced characteristics:

  1. Media represent technical communication channels that can transport different sign systems - visual (e.g. newspapers), auditory (e.g. radio) and audiovisual (e.g. television) - with different capacities.
  2. Media have to organize themselves in order to be able to use their respective media technology effectively.
  3. Media communication results from production, provision and reception processes and thus forms a complex system of media.
  4. Media can be both functional and dysfunctional. They are problem-solving and problem-creating at the same time in cultural, economic, political and social terms.
  5. Media are institutionalized.

Jürgen Wilke

In 1999, the media scientist Jürgen Wilke coined the term leading medium for mass media, which have a special influence on opinion formation . His interest in the specific connection between medium and influence was ironically ironized in English with the term “German leitmedium”.

Hanno Scholtz

The sociologist and political scientist Hanno Scholtz uses a definition of media as "producers of derived perception". This shortest existing nominal definition makes it possible on the one hand to record media that do not have a definable transmitter (i.e. in particular the Internet). On the other hand, its three parts of the recipient relationship ("perception"), the reality from which the conveyed signals are "derived", and the production of these derivations offer a natural structure of aspects of media sociology.

Media philosophy

Philosophizing about communication media has been called media philosophy since the 1990s . Walter Benjamin , Roland Barthes , Jacques Derrida , Vilém Flusser and Jürgen Habermas have been pioneers since the middle of the 20th century . Secondary literature by Frank Hartmann or Mike Sandbothe has established the term at universities. Contemporary media philosophers include Norbert Bolz , Sybille Krämer and Dieter Mersch .

Georg Rückriem

In contrast to the definitions mentioned, Georg Rückriem differentiates between the terms mediation, means and medium, whereby the medium is merely a space within which the relationship mediated by means becomes possible. "Means" in this context then means to provide an instrument for a purpose between two sizes. This is often optional for the purpose of maximizing utility. Following the example above, the newspaper as a material medium would not be described as such, but as a means.

Vilém Flusser

Vilém Flusser prophesied the replacement of the alphabet by “techno images” and designed the utopia of a “telematic society” in which the authorities have been overcome by means of the new media . His visions, which he called “ communicology ”, were directed against pessimistic media criticism.

Regis Debray

Régis Debray is particularly well received in the French-speaking area. He advocates a media philosophy that he called mediology and which was often commented on, especially in the 1990s. In doing so, he tried to free himself from technological and anthropological approaches and to develop a more broadly oriented humanities media philosophy, which also made works of art or institutions the subject. Frank Hartmann , for example, picked up on this in the German-speaking area .

Lambert Wiesing

In his study, Lambert Wiesing understands artificial presence. Studies on the philosophy of the image as a medium as a tool, but points out that therefore not all tools are the same media - as was the case with McLuhan, for example: According to Wiesing, media are rather exclusively the tools with which "genesis" and "validity" let separate. Media are "tools for establishing validity".

List of definitions

  • "Mediator of information" (Horn / Kerner)
  • "Information mediator between source and sink" (Fluckiger)
  • "Media are mediators and form a sphere of mediation" (Winkler)
  • "Complex, institutionalized systems around organized communication channels of specific capabilities" (Saxer)
  • "Practical therapist (medium) between" guru "therapist (supervisor) and target person (target)"
  • "Invisible, non-materializable information and communication systems" (Rückriem)
  • "Mediating element" (Duden)
  • "Media are technology for storing, transmitting and processing information." (Kittler)
  • "Media are producers of derived perception." (Scholtz)


  • Maiko Kahler, Juliane Müller: Children discover media - competence in use and design , Braunschweig: Westermann 2015, ISBN 9783141621747 .
  • Stefan Münker, Alexander Roesler: What is a medium? , Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp 2008, ISBN 978-3518294871 .
  • Michael Staiger: Media Terms - Media Discourses - Media Concepts , Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Hohengehren 2007, ISBN 978-3-8340-0191-7 .
  • Hanno Scholtz: Media Sociology: A Systematic Introduction . Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2020, ISBN 978-3-658-26010-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Medium  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Medium  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Daniel Brockmeier, Image, Language, Writing - On the Understanding of Language in Contemporary German-Language Image Theory , 2010, p. 15 ff, ISBN 3640575113 , Google Books
  2. Lambert Wiesing, Artificial Presence: Philosophical Studies in Image Theory , 2009, p. 122 ff, ISBN 0804759413 , Google Books
  3. ^ Stefan Hoffmann: History of the concept of media. Meiner, Hamburg 2002.
  4. Emmanuel Alloa, The Translucent Image. Contours of a media phenomenology , diaphanes, 2011, chap. II.6.1 .: ›This 'nameless something'. The invention of the diaphane, p. 91ff.
  5. Heinz Pürer, Journalism and Communication Studies , 2014, p. 68 f.
  6. Roland Burkart , Communication Science: Basics and Problem Areas , 2002, p. 38
  7. Helmut Schanze (Ed.): Metzler-Lexikon Medientheorie Medienwissenschaft. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01761-3 , pp. 199-201.
  8. Niklas Luhmann: The improbability of communication [1981]. In: Claus Pias et al .: Kursbuch Medienkultur, dva, Munich 1999, p. 56.
  9. Niklas Luhmann: The improbability of communication [1981]. In: Claus Pias et al .: Kursbuch Medienkultur. dva, Munich 1999, p. 58.
  10. Pross, Harry (1970): Journalism: Theses for a basic colloquium. Neuwied: Luchterhand, p. 129.
  11. Manfred Faßler: What is communication? An introduction, UTB, Munich 1997, p. 147.
  12. Cf. Dittmar, Jakob F. (2009): Fundamentals of Media Studies. Berlin: Verlag der TU Berlin, S.?.
  13. Cf. Barbara Thomaß: Media systems in international comparison . Konstanz: UVK, 2007. ISBN 978-3-8252-2831-6 , p. 16.
  14. See Ulrich Saxer (1998): Media Society: Understandings and Misunderstandings . In: Sarcinelli, Ulrich (Hrsg.): Political mediation and democracy in the media society . Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, p. 54.
  15. a b Scholtz, Hanno: Mediensociology: A systematic introduction . Springer VS, Wiesbaden, ISBN 978-3-658-26010-1 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-658-26011-8 .
  16. a b G. Rückriem: means, mediation, medium. Comments on a major difference. Lecture at the seminar for primary school education at the University of Potsdam Golm, October 30, 2010 (online) (PDF; 98 kB) Accessed October 31, 2011
  17. Oliver Fahle, Michael Hanke, Andreas Ziemann: Techno images and communication. Vilém Flusser's media theory. Parerga, Berlin 2009. ISBN 978-3-937262-89-5 .
  18. ^ Frank Hartmann: Mediology. Approaches to a media theory in cultural studies. Vienna: Facultas WUV 2003.
  19. Lambert Wiesing (2005): '' What are media? ''. In: Wiesing, Lambert: Artificial Presence. Studies on the Philosophy of the Image. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, ​​p. 157.
  20. Christian Horn, Immo Kerner u. a. (Ed.): Computer science textbook and exercise book. Hanser, Munich 1995.
  21. ^ Francois Fluckiger: Multimedia in the net. Prentice Hall, Munich 1996.
  22. Hartmut Winkler: Basic knowledge of the media. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2008.
  23. ^ Ulrich Saxer: Introduction to Journalism. Univ. Zurich, Zurich 1994.
  24. cf. Tharp & Wetzel: Behavior Therapy in its natural environnement.
  25. Duden Online
  26. ^ Friedrich Kittler : Aufschreibesysteme 1800-1900, 3rd revised. Edition 1995, p. 519