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Foreword

Culture for everyone, the role of the media in popularizing knowledge
Dolores Thion Soriano-Mollá et Inmaculada Rodríguez Moranta

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1The concept of medium of communication, media, mass media, is a polysemous one in so far as it encompasses resources as diverse as the tools and platforms used to popularize knowledge and the various other means of communication which this issue of Amnis endeavours to examine. Creativity, education, technologies, public institutions, business companies and ideologies interfere to make culture accessible « to everyone », or sometimes to restrict access to culture, according to the ideas, beliefs and interests at stake. In a seminal essay entitled Understanding Media : the Extensions of Man, Marshal MacLuhan offers an anonymous but rather eloquent quote :

In modern thought, (if not in fact)

Nothing is that doesn’t act,

So that is reckoned wisdom which

  • 1 McLuhan, Marshall, Comprender los medios de comunicación: las extensiones del ser humano, Barcelona (...)

Describes the scratch, but not the itch.1

  • 2 Balle, Francis, Médias et société, Monchrestien, Lextenso éditions, 2009, pp. 9-11.

2Acting or expressing. But what is to be expressed, and how and why should it be expressed ? According to Francis Balle, the media fall into three categories ; the autonomous media, which do not require much advanced technology, such as books, newspapers, records, DVDs, videos and computer files ; the media relying on cable or satellite technology or on digital networks ; and the bilateral media which enable to connect people to other people or to a device2. Each of these categories implies a different approach to communication, which has deep repercussions on the strategies used to popularize knowledge depending on the target audience and the objectives to be achieved : informing, persuading, training, or educating people. To do so, each media category focuses on a specific register and tries to establish the appropriate kind of relationship between the emitter and the receiver (interpersonal, institutional or mediatized). In order to disseminate the information, knowledge and values they purport to convey, their communication strategy may oscillate between empathy, subjectivity and a cognitive approach. Popular, mass or learned cultures, academic knowledge, literary writing, the visual and the audiovisual arts, news reports, and political propaganda rely on a utopian discourse the purpose of which is to erase social differences. The message to be delivered is thus carefully selected and adapted according to the expectations of the target audience. Believing that everyone could have access to culture seems to be wishful thinking. Throughout history, however, many initiatives and projects have been inspired and encouraged by the belief that culture should be universal.

3First and foremost, popularizing knowledge involves making people aware that it is available for and accessible to everyone. As the modern age was dawning, the Enlightenment philosophers encouraged the popularization of knowledge in order to give people a sense of citizenship and to help them adjust to a new set of liberal values. Their project was at once political, social, educational and moral, and was backed by the publishing industry and the press alike, despite remaining opposition from the privileged elites – « culture for almost everyone ».

4The growing influence of journalism since the late 18th century, however, should not be underestimated, nor should the impact of major technological breakthrough be ignored (Lucci) or, as Liberalism was gaining ground, the many changes which affected literary and esthetic perception (Ribao). From the austere graphs and charts meant to illustrate discourses on history to romantic works of fiction, including the humanist stories of the fin de siècle, the means to popularize scientific, artistic, literary, historical, political and social knowledge became more and more diverse. The popularization of culture was facilitated by the emergence of a number of young democracies, the diversification of communication means and networks, technological advance, and the increasing number of social circles (Eiroa). The idea was to educate « new men » or modern women (Eiroa), to raise public awareness, and to share culture with the masses. To do so, it was necessary to make knowledge more attractive to foster a desire to learn among people, and to help them assimilate culture. This suggested a greater concern for a more egalitarian society, and the public institutions became increasingly committed to promoting this ideal (Lucci).

5In the early 20th century, technological breakthrough favoured the development of more and more specialized communication means and networks which extended the popularization of knowledge beyond the limits of writing and reading to the visual and the acoustic arts. New forms of rational and subjective knowledge had then to be defined and, in many instances, the media had to adopt an emotional stance to construct a new collective memory and a new sense of identity (Campos, Pérez, Lucci). Cohabitation between these new means of communication was much easier then than it is today. This is perfectly illustrated in Simó’s study on the Biblioteca de divulgación política. In Spain, during misinformation periods, a number of publishers strongly committed to popularizing knowledge became famous for promoting cultural projects which encouraged the emergence of civic and political values among citizens.

6Living in the third millennium implies accepting cultural diversity, developing and diversifying both the means and modes of expression and communication strategies, especially on the increasingly powerful online media (Equoy Hutin).

  • 3 Chaumier, Serge, L’inculture pour tous, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010, p. 21.
  • 4 Ibid., p. 51; Caune, Jean, La démocratisation culturelle. Une médiation à bout de souffle, Paris, P (...)

7To quote Serge Chaumier, « democratic perspectives have become the dominant paradigm, implying that culture is meaningless unless it is shared with others, and dismissing the old aristocratic idea that making it accessible to other social classes is a nonsense »3. The problem is not only to educate people and provide them with a set of moral references, but also to take them out of, lead them towards and enable them to reach out for something. Adopting such a strategy will enable to popularize, acquire and assimilate knowledge efficiently. Culture prospers along with the industry which serves its purpose and whose function is to facilitate its transmission, but the many regulating systems (commercial, ideological, esthetic, scientific, and so forth) which have grown tighter over time had a profound effect on art, humanist and scientific productions, as well as on their reception and their future, particularly on the Internet. Are appropriation, plagiarism, reinvention, deculturalization, and acculturation the consequences of the democratization of culture or are they simply a provisional stage in the popularization process ?4

8In this fourteenth issue of Amnis, a space is cleared for cross-disciplinary reflection and research on the past and present role of the media (printed press, literary or cultural reviews (digital or print editions), TV, movies, etc.), and the many other cultural features and institutions which played a key role in democratizing knowledge.

  • 5 Jianmin, Li, « Estudio sobre la popularización de la ciencia en las ciudades modernas », Quark, n° (...)

9A first set of articles reveals the complexity of popularizing scientific knowledge, not just for fellow researchers or to consolidate a corpus of references, but for a broader audience. Although the popularization of scientific knowledge dates back to the 18th century, its impact on society was not clearly assessed until the end of the 20th century, mostly thanks to the development of Web 2.0 which made it easier for people to interact and take an active part in an increasingly global scenario. The popularization of scientific knowledge stems from five key factors : 1) it has become a political stake ; 2) it has become a true occupation for some media experts, the number of science and technology museums has been soaring, and the scientific discourse has become more and more widespread in the various media, particularly in front of emergency situations such as health and safety alerts, and environmental or economic crises (Lorente) ; 3) science has become a source of entertainment, especially in developed countries with the highest technology ; 4) science is at the heart of all major primary or secondary education reforms, although this was already the case in the two past centuries. In this respect, Sablonnière’s article deals with the interesting transcendence of the works of Gaston Tissandier, who focused on schoolbooks published for Spanish science teachers in the early 20th century, and which encouraged learning through games ; and 5) the opinion of the general public on science has changed : 21st century scientists want to be able to communicate with the public. While the popularization of science was mostly the concern of the press in the 19th century, today other media are involved, such as social networks, science shops, conferences, science cafés, etc., as Svanidzé argues in his article on cultural transfers between Europe and Georgia in scientific publications aimed at the general public5. As for Cochand’s article, it offers an analysis of the popularization of the organ transplant technique in two Swiss medical journals published between 1950 and 1990, at a time when transplanting organs was something still rather new.

  • 6 Roqueplo, Philippe, Le partage du savoir. Science, culture, vulgarisation, Paris, Seuil, 1974.

10Beyond the accuracy, the objectivity, and the legitimacy required to popularize scientific knowledge and the necessity to build the reader’s confidence, it appears that the desire to disseminate knowledge is, in most instances, associated with some form of pedagogical discourse, however simplistic it may sometimes be, despite the fact that popularizing knowledge necessarily implies discarding any superficial or didactic considerations6.

  • 7 Moreno Herná, UNED, 2006, p. 12.

11In the early days of printing, when books were not aimed at transmitting knowledge to the general public, copyrights were not an issue. Similarly, it is hard to anticipate the impact of the new electronic media on the dissemination of culture. What is predictable, however, is that « articles and essays, for instance, will no longer be restricted to the printed media but will rather be published in a digital format »7, and considerations without which the printed media industry would have all but survived (subscription, collections, new formats) will no longer be relevant. The popularization of literature materialized in different ways in the 19th, 20th, and the early 21st century. The second group of researchers therefore endeavoured to adopt a historical perspective on the democratization of knowledge (Ribao), to measure literary reception and cross-border communication (Rozeaux), to assess the role of visual elements in the popularization of learned culture in contemporary novels (Cáliz), or to evaluate the role of weekly publications and editors in shaping social and political projects in Spain during the Franco regime (Ripoll).

12Finally, the third part focuses on the popularization of political and social history. This highly specific field of study implied a careful examination of the various forms of discourse in which it is grounded (learned, popular, populist, auditory or visual) offering a wide array of perspectives for academic research, ranging from written or visual narration, without which ideologies and values cannot be transmitted, to the various ways to interpret, represent, and even shape reality both in the present and in the past. As the various articles suggest, History has always been concerned with defining and perpetrating patterns and models, seducing, informing or misinforming people, reviewing questions, providing people with a sense of continuity and identity, and moulding public and individual opinions. Such an approach, whether you call it educational or propagandist, compelled the media to adapt to their target audience and, when they managed to achieve their highest purpose, to the citizens and to democracies.

  • 8 Cazeneuve, Jean, La télévision et ses sept procès, Paris, Buchet-Castel, 1992.

13Although the idealistic quest for the popularization of culture, at a broad and a popular level first, and then on a massive scale, for everyone and by everyone, and regardless of geographic or time limits seems to have followed a particularly intricate and winding path, new questions still arise today, highlighting the topicality of the matter discussed in this issue of Amnis. Did the popularization of culture result in a desire for immediacy ? Does it threaten the balance between unity and globalization, or knowledge and emotions ? What are the risks incurred ? Although Max Weber is partly right when he says that the media only offer a partial representation of reality, and therefore deconsecrate the world we live in, Jean Cazeneuve is equally right when he argues that today, through the modern media, humanity lives and watches the course of its own life as if it were a mere object or a performance8.

14The aim of this issue is to encourage readers as citizens to reflect on the popularization of knowledge and to enrich their reflection beyond the scope of these few pages. After all, observing the mass media is undoubtedly a means to observe and understand the society in which we live.

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Notes

1 McLuhan, Marshall, Comprender los medios de comunicación: las extensiones del ser humano, Barcelona, ed. Paidós, 1996, p. 32. (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, New York, McGraw Hill, 1964).

2 Balle, Francis, Médias et société, Monchrestien, Lextenso éditions, 2009, pp. 9-11.

3 Chaumier, Serge, L’inculture pour tous, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2010, p. 21.

4 Ibid., p. 51; Caune, Jean, La démocratisation culturelle. Une médiation à bout de souffle, Paris, Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 2006 ; Mattelart, Armand ; Delcourt, Xavier ; Mattelart, Michèle, La culture contre la démocratie ? L’audiovisuel à ‘heure transnationale, Paris, La Découverte, 1984.

5 Jianmin, Li, « Estudio sobre la popularización de la ciencia en las ciudades modernas », Quark, n° 37-38, 2005-2006, pp. 72-82.

6 Roqueplo, Philippe, Le partage du savoir. Science, culture, vulgarisation, Paris, Seuil, 1974.

7 Moreno Herná, UNED, 2006, p. 12.

8 Cazeneuve, Jean, La télévision et ses sept procès, Paris, Buchet-Castel, 1992.

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Dolores Thion Soriano-Mollá et Inmaculada Rodríguez Moranta, « Foreword », Amnis [En ligne], 14 | 2015, mis en ligne le 07 septembre 2015, consulté le 25 août 2016. URL : http://amnis.revues.org/2708

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Auteurs

Dolores Thion Soriano-Mollá

Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour, France

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Inmaculada Rodríguez Moranta

Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Espagne

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