Retheorizing Critical Media Literacy

International Critical Media Literacy Conference, Savannah, Ga., 22-23 February 2019.

ABSTRACT:  This paper addresses how theories of communication constitute the pedagogy of critical media literacy. An essentialist view of communication indebted to the philosophy of John Locke relies on a pluralist social theory in which individuals are seen as self-sufficient and aligned against what is seen as a coercive society. In this view, communication is the use of messages to transmit ideas from one person to another, with a message seen as a container in which ideas as content are deposited and transferred.

While such a view is commonsense today, the logical and historical contradictions remain unaddressed of posing people as unique but also sharing a common basis that enables communication to take place. Not only does an essentialist conception of communication lack logical coherence. It also lacks the robustness to take account of instances that do not support it. This view underlies both consensus and radical versions of critical media literacy pedagogy. For one, it provides the rationale for depoliticized media-literacy projects that seek to teach and enhance technical skills of message making. Yet it also provides the rationale for politicized critical-media-literacy projects that seek to build abilities to recognize and resist dominant ideologies seen as embedded in and transmitted by messages. In response, the paper argues that a theoretical perspective on communication informed by articulation instead of by conveyance/transmission is better equipped to take account of instances and possibilities for critical media literacy. It concludes by outlining its differences and offering some examples of how it might provide a more robust basis for critical media literacy.

Jay Hamilton