Review: Hartmut Winkler, Basiswissen Medien, 2008

On: September 13, 2008
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About marie-anne soyez
BA Literary, Cultural and Media Studies (University of Siegen, Germany), currently attending MA Cultural Analysis (University of Amsterdam, NL)


Basiswissen Medien explains the most common terms used in media theory and gives an idea about the relationship between them. As a student looking for a basic overview, this book can be really helpful. It is short enough to be a quick read and explicit enough to make you think about coherences.

Winkler structures the characteristics of media into seven chapters: communication, representativeness, technology, ‘form’ and ‘content’, media transcending space and time, sign and code and media being invisible. At the bottom of each page, you find a rating system on the relevance of the term and the general agreement on Winklers definition by the scientific community. While the relevance is scored by the author, his definitions are judged by two of his colleagues.

On Winklers definition of media for example the level of agreement is very low (one out of five). Winkler states that media is a symbolic try-out. Media in society would take in a position that is mainly free from having real consequences; actions in this space would be reversible. That is true for Winklers example of the dead actor who stands up again after the play. For most of the developments in new media, it is not true. Actions taking place online may be to some extent reversible, but of course they do have all kind of very real consequences. This definition is a good example how to deal with this book. If an explanation appears to be unlogical, you should check the linked terms, too. In the explanation of the ‘try-out’ you find a more detailed consideration of how real and symbolic are not divided by an insuperable gap, and also the statement that symbolic actions can have real consequences. Of course you can still criticise the ‘two world model’ Winkler presents, but this problematic also shows in the low level of agreement again. The book is not an alphabetical encyclopedia with one entry per word (there are eight on media), it is rather a handbook full of interconnections.

Some formal critique: Do not expect clear schemata, to understand some of them takes as much time as getting into a more explicit media theory introduction. And although it is a nice idea to present a fast lane to hurried readers, it makes no sense if the icon is too small to be seen while flipping the pages.

The big plus of the book is that the author practices a general thinking about media and its impact, which is encouraging to develop own ideas and connections. By not caring too much about conventions, he gives a good example. Eg he raises not only the issues of sign, symbol, communication, but also of other relating factors like geography, shame and memory. The unusual structure of the book demonstrates that it is not easy to translate the advantages of one media into another – the rather web based rating system works online as well as in print version, whereas the fast lane is quite bumpy. Beneficial is the mainly simple language Winkler uses compared to many German academics. That provides also a big advantage for readers with only basic German knowledge. The author does not see jokes as opponents to learning, which can be entertaining as well as annoying, just be prepared to meet a couple of groaners. Decide for yourself if the book is interesting for you, the author offers a German online abstract.

Hartmut Winkler (born 1953) is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Paderborn. He is the author of books on tv reception, Switching/Zapping (1991); film theory, Der filmische Raum und der Zuschauer (1992); and computers and media theory, Docuverse (1997).

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