[OPR] Luginbühl & Schneider: Medial Shaping from the Outset

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Medial Shaping from the Outset. On the Mediality of the Second Presidential Debate, 2016

by Martin Luginbühl & Jan Georg Schneider

In the present article we argue in a first part that all communication is medial in the sense that every human sign-based interaction is shaped by medial aspects from the outset (and not just as a secondary effect), and we propose a dynamic, semiotic concept of media that focuses on the process-related aspect of mediality and defines media as social procedures of sign processing (cf. Schneider 2017). The traditional reification of media still has strong impact not only in German linguistics and communication science, but also in the international discourse on media. We criticise the reification of media by arguing that all media are technical media, but the technical aspect cannot be reduced to materiality. Our dynamic concept takes into account the narrow link between “sign” and “medium” in social interaction and is therefore relevant as a theoretical and methodological basis of multimodal interaction analyses.

In the second part, we test the applicability of the proposed definition using as an example the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016, which shows in detail how the sign processing during the debate is continuously shaped by structural aspects of television and specific traits of political communication in television (cf. Luginbühl 2019). These structural aspects – the technical infrastructure, para-interaction, entertainment, the fourth estate, political propaganda and so on – can potentially conflict with each other, which leads to, and is exploited by, specific practices on the part of the hosts, the politicians and the studio audience. The way oral communication is processed is therefore contoured from the start by the whole medial procedure, including the ways in which turn-taking is organized, topics are introduced and avoided, face work is done and controversies are cheered on or ended, and where people move or look, i.e. how the spatial arrangement and camerawork create meaning and how the protagonists both use the affordances of this special mediality.

Therefore, it is not adequate to separate the technical aspects of the medium, the “hardware”, from the processual aspects and the structural conditions of communication. These three aspects together constitute the mediality of a medium, i.e. of a medial procedure. What German linguists call “communication form” is included in the medial procedure. If we separate these aspects from each other, it is impossible to adequately analyze the “medial traces” (cf. Krämer 1998) they leave behind. Brock and Schildhauer’s (2017) definition of communication form avoids separating these aspects by integrating the concept of medium into it. As we argue, however, the concept of communication form can be dispensed with altogether if we begin from a holistic understanding of media and then describe the specific medium in question in its specific granularity. Overall, the analysis demonstrates that, even in this staged situation, face-to-face communication must already be regarded as an inescapable medium of human communication and has a mediality from the outset.


Brock, Alexander / Schildhauer, Peter (2017): Communication Form: A Concept Revisited. In: Brock, Alexander / Schildhauer, Peter (Hg.):  Communication Forms and Communicative Practices. New Perspectives on Communication Forms, Affordances and What Users Make of Them. Bern/Berlin: Peter Lang, 13-43.

Krämer, Sybille (1998): Das Medium als Spur und als Apparat. In: Krämer, Sybille (Hg.), Medien, Computer, Realität. Wirklichkeitsvorstellungen und Neue Medien. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 73-94.

Luginbühl, Martin (2019): Mediale Durchformung: Fernsehinteraktion und Fernsehmündlichkeit in Gesprächen im Fernsehen. In: Marx, Konstanze / Schmidt, Axel (Hg.): Interaktion und Medien. Interaktionsanalytische Zugänge zu medienvermittelter Kommunikation. Heidelberg: Winter (= ORALINGUA, Bd. 17), 125-146.

Schneider, Jan Georg (2017): Medien als Verfahren der Zeichenprozessierung. Grundsätzliche Über­­legungen zum Medienbegriff und ihre Relevanz für die Gesprächsforschung. In: Gesprächs­for­schung – Online-Zeitschrift zur verbalen Interaktion 18 (2017), 34-55. Online unter: http://www.gespraechsforschung-online.de/fileadmin/dateien/heft2017/ga-schneider.pdf

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