Guide Ebenen der Kommunikation: Mikro-Meso-Makro-Links in der Kommunikationswissenschaft

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Donges and Jarren : — , that is the level of specific kinds of collectivities groups, communities, etc. Beyond such a need to make the idea of media logic more concrete, there is a second problem about theorizing media as a domain of its own that relates closer to the character of present deep mediatization: when digital media permeate the various domains of society Livingstone : 2f.

To substantiate this, we can think about collectivities. Again, we are confronted with the necessity of reflecting the cross-media and technology-related character of present communicative constructions of the family Hasebrink : Generalizing this, there is a certain paradox. They are a phenomenon across domains. This domain specificity becomes especially concrete at the level of supra-individual actors, that is collectivities and organizations.

Having an understanding of the changing media environment of deep mediatization, and within this the domain specificity of related transformations as outlined so far, it is evident that the possible consequences of a changing media environment can differ depending on context. But how can we research and compare the possible consequences of a changing media environment with reference to very different social domains?

Basically, we are confronted with the challenge of firming up the idea of social domains in a conceptual framework. This framework has to be substantiated sufficiently enough to offer a stable design for collaborative empirical research, comparison and theory development; and it has to be flexible enough to reflect the specificity of the social domain under investigation. From such a point of view, two aspects matter above all. First, a changing media environment can develop only if practices change.

When it comes to media, these are predominantly practices of communication. Second, such changing practices are not just individual phenomena; they have to be analyzed with respect to the social domains in which humans act. We refer here to the already mentioned concept of communicative figuration. In media and communication research, approaches that move agency and social practice into the foreground have a long tradition and can be traced back to the beginnings of sociology. Based on this tradition, we can witness a recent and more focused move in research towards media practice.

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Practices are anchored in the body and cannot be described as a mechanical obedience to rules. In this sense, practices of communication—with media but also without—are also embodied and have to be considered in their interrelation to other forms of practice Bourdieu : 16—22; Reichertz : — The argument that we should focus on the entanglement of practices with objects is of special interest, because with deep mediatization communicative practice increasingly turns into a media-entangled and therefore object-related practice.

Following this line of reasoning, we can understand practices of communication as complex and highly contextualized patterns of doing. Or to put it another way, certain forms of communicative action build up complex practices of communication as they are realized today in the increasingly complex media environment of the media manifold. Communication therefore involves the use of signs that humans learn during their socialization and which, as symbols, are for the most part entirely arbitrary.

This means that the meaning of communicative practices depends on social conventions. This understanding of communication has certain implications for conceptualizing media. We have to address this constellation on at least three levels. These are, firstly, the level of the entire media environment. As we have already noted above, what we mean by media environment is the entire body of available media at any given time. Secondly, there is the level of the media ensemble.

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This is the subset of the media in a media environment as it is used in a particular social domain family, company, etc. Thirdly, there is the level of media repertoire. With deep mediatization, our practices of communication typically reach across media. Therefore, when it comes to the question of how our social domains are moulded by media, we have to consider such cross-media influences with regard to various types of communication.

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To theorize this further, the process-sociological approach of Norbert Elias is of great help and importance. His solution was to argue that structural transformation could be explained in terms of the shifting relation between individuals and society through time. Elias referred to these dynamics as figurations—or as we would put it, as figurations of certain social domains.

These actors constitute, by their interaction, larger social entities. A development that Elias could hardly reflect, though he had some presentiment of it Elias : , is that today many figurations are made up by the use of media.


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This is one possible driving force of their transformation: the figurations of individuals, collectivities families, peer groups, communities, etc. In addition, deep mediatization makes new figurations possible, such as online gatherings in chatrooms, on platforms or through apps. But there are even further developments. Nowadays, some figurations are entirely built up by media technologies. From a media and communication research point of view, we can consider each figuration as a communicative one: practices of communication are of high importance when it comes to a meaningful construction of the respective figuration.

Communicative figurations are typically cross-media patterns of interweaving through practices of communication. Members of families as collectivities, for example, are possibly separated in space but connected through multi-modal communication such as mobile phone calls, emailing, sharing on digital platforms and so on that keep family relationships alive Madianou and Miller ; Hasebrink ; Hepp et al.


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  • Or organizations as communicative figurations are kept together with the help of databases and communication across the intranet, as well as printed flyers and other media of internal and external communication. Individuals are involved in such figurations through the roles and positions they have in the respective actor constellations. An approach of media and communication research that starts with figurations, therefore, is able to link perspectives on individuals, collectivities and organizations in a productive way.

    First, a communicative figuration has a certain constellation of actors that can be regarded as its structural basis: a network of individuals who are interrelated and are communicating amongst themselves. Second, each communicative figuration has dominating frames of relevance that serve to guide its constituting practices. Third, we are dealing with specific communicative practices that are interwoven with other social practices. In their composition, these practices typically draw on and are entangled with a media ensemble. Today, we are confronted with various dynamically changing media-related figurations.

    We gain access to them by researching their actor constellations, frames of relevance and communicative practices, all of which are entangled with a media ensemble.

    Researching Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization: A Figurational Approach

    Summing up this understanding of communicative figurations and referring back to the main trends in a changing media environment, we can visualize such an analytical approach as follows see Fig. While these assumed consequences are a starting point for future research, it remains an open question as to which of them is characteristic for which social domain, how these different consequences interfere with each other and even if there might be further consequences we are not aware of at present.

    They can be supportive of such changes, for example by always appropriating the latest media. Alternatively, by rejecting certain media, they can hinder these trends.

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    For any empirical research, we need to have the dual character of possible consequences in mind. This is the case, for example, when relations in an organization change partly owing to the media that are used for communication, for instance in news rooms Loosen Detailed comparative empirical research into the communicative figurations of different social domains can offer us the chance to make more general statements about transforming communications, focusing on individuals, collectivities and organizations. By investigating communicative figurations, we therefore adopt an open analytical approach that gives us the chance to research the transformation of social domains with deep mediatization.

    Such concepts offer more general considerations of how the social world might transform with the changing media environment, and are therefore an important source for posing empirical questions about media-related changes. Yet, as we are living in the middle of the changes we capture with the term deep mediatization, it might be too early to draw conclusions about any particular communication model of media-related transformations of society. Taking into account all of the above, we still need further detailed comparative research on different social domains before we can make general claims.

    To link the detailed analysis of specific figurations with macro questions of transformation, it is important to be aware of the fact that figurations of social domains are interrelated in various ways: via their overlapping actor constellations, different figurations can be linked with each other. One example here is constituted by figurations of various organizations acting together in a certain institutional field.

    Besides that, it is important to take into account that figurations do not simply co-exist side by side, but that they are arranged with each other in a meaningful way. For example, in the majority of Western societies, the family is given some special societal meaning because of recreation and bringing up children; organizations such as schools or adult education centres are constructed with certain responsibilities for educating people; journalism organizations deal with information and entertainment, while as companies they also have the role of generating income and jobs.

    One could continue with many other examples. In contrast, we have to be aware that certain power relations, inequalities and conflicts characterize many figurations. Therefore, all the criteria which are used to describe social disparities—class, race, gender and others Norris ; Zillien ; Stegbauer ; Pollock ; Klaus ; Maier —matter when it comes to the analysis of figurations.

    When analyzing communicative figurations, we can expect to be confronted with the entirety of social disparities concerning media use and appropriation that have been researched so far, and possibly also new ones too. See for a present overview Kaun and Fast ; Krotz et al. See on this subject Finnemann : — ; Couldry and Hepp : 34— Beck See for this discussion especially: Jenkins ; Latzer ; Hohlfeld ; Jensen ; Schorb et al.

    While the assessment of a rapid pace of innovation corresponds with our everyday experience, we must be very careful not to over-emphasize this.