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Communication, Culture and Hegemony
From the Media to the Mediations
Jesús Martín-Barbero
Introduction to the Spanish Edition (Translated by Elizabeth Fox and Robert A. White, Sage Publications, 1993)

« This is how communication began to be seen more as a process of mediations than of media, a question of culture and, therefore, not just a matter of cognitions but of re-cognition. The processes of recognition were at the heart of a new methodological approach which enabled us to perceive communication from a quite different perspective, from its ‘other’ side, namely, reception. This revealed to us the resistances and the varied ways people appropriate media content according to manner of use. This changing perspective, however, was not just a reaction to an earlier overemphasis on the powerful media or a passing theoretical fashion. It involved a recognition of history, a historical reappropriation of Latin American modernity as, yes, very much part of the present moment of our evolution but also as somehow out of phase with our Latin American identity. This enabled us to break out of the circle of false logic which made it appear that capitalistic homogenization is the only meaning of our contemporary modernity. »

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What you have before you bears the marks of a long journey. I came from the field of philosophy, and moved along the paths of linguistic studies until finally I met up with communication. Coming down from the Heideggerian contemplation of being, I now found myself in the slum shacks of man, built of clay and reeds but nevertheless with a radio and television set. Ever since, I have worked in this field of mass mediation, this environment of cultural production, with its rituals of consumption, and its love of new technological gadgets. Increasingly, I have become immersed in the world of performance made possible by the media, a world with its special codes of montage, perception and recognition of identities. During much of this time, I was especially interested in how the mass media manipulates us with a discourse that somehow brings the public to accept its fraudulent claims. My research was, above all, concerned with how ideology pervades messages and imposes on this process of communication the logic of domination. Thus, I diverted my journey through sociolinguistics and semiotics to find the tools for an ideological analysis of texts and cultural practices. I left evidence of my journeys, not concealing my debts, in a book entitled Comunicación Masiva: Discurso y Poder (Mass Communication: Discourse and Power). That was ten years ago. Already, at that time, some of us were beginning to have doubts about a conception of the media process which left room for nothing but the stratagems of domination, a process defined simply as a few powerful message senders controlling passive receivers
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without the slightest indication of seduction or resistance. Did these messages not reveal some internal conflicts or contradictions? Were there not some struggles at the origins of these messages? It was precisely in those years that something shook the foundations of our sociopolitical reality – earthquakes are common things in these latitudes – and opened to clear visibility the profound gap between our method and the situation in which we live. We suddenly became aware that virtually nothing of the way people work out the meaning of their lives the way they communicate and use the media, could fit into our predetermined schema. Put in another way, the social and political processes of those years – authoritarian regimes in almost all of South America, continuous liberation movements in Central America, enormous migrations of the leaders of politics, the arts and social research fleeing into exile – all tended to undermine the old certainties. For the first time, many people came out of the world of academia and government planning offices and had to confront the cultural reality of these countries: the new combinations and syntheses – the mestizajes – that reveal not just the racial mixture that we come from but the interweaving of modernity and the residues of various cultural periods, the mixture of social structures and sentiments. We became aware of the memories and images that blend together the indigenous Indian roots with a campesino culture, the rural with the urban, the folkloric with popular culture, and the popular with the new mass culture. This is how communication began to be seen more as a process of mediations than of media, a question of culture and, therefore, not just a matter of cognitions but of recognition. The processes of recognition were at the heart of a new methodological approach, which enabled us to perceive communication from a quite different perspective,
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4 from its ‘other’ side, namely, reception. This revealed to us the resistances and the varied ways people appropriate media content according to manner of use. This changing perspective, however, was not just a reaction to an earlier overemphasis on the powerful media or a passing theoretical fashion. It involved a recognition of history, a historical reappropriation of Latin American modernity as, yes, very much part of the present moment of our evolution but also as somehow out of phase with our Latin American identity. This enabled us to break out of the circle of false logic which made it appear that capitalistic homogenization is the only meaning of our contemporary modernity. For, in Latin America, cultural differences do not imply – as perhaps they do in Europe or in the United States – countercultural dissidence or antiquated relics fit only for museums but, rather, a dense variety of strong, living popular cultures which provide a space for profound conflict and unstoppable cultural dynamism. We are also recognizing in recent years that the term ‘popular’ does not apply just to native American or peasant cultures, but also to the thick layers of mestizajes or mixtures and in that deformed evolution of urban, mass culture, found in the enormous new settlements surrounding Latin American cities. In Latin America, at least, we are discovering that, contrary to the predictions of a social implosion and depoliticization, the masses still ‘contain’ – in the double sense of control and conserve within – the people. We cannot think of the popular as an actor relegated to the margins of the historical process creating mass society. Nor can we think of the popular as unrelated to the masses gaining visibility and active social presence through the processes of massification that constitute mass culture. We cannot continue to construct a critique which separates massification of culture from the political reality that generates the historical emergence of the masses. And we cannot separate this from the
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conflictive movement which produces in this historical process the intimate linking of the realities of mass culture and popular culture. The phenomenon of mass becomes one of the modes of existence of the popular. Note carefully that the trap lies both in confusing the popular memory with the cultural imagination – like confusing the mask and the face behind it – and in believing that there might exist a memory without a fund of cultural imagination in which to anchor this memory in the present and inspire it toward the future. The clear separation between memory and cultural imagination is as important as understanding the links which produce these cultural mestizajes. This has been the challenge of this book: to change the point of view from which questions are raised, to study the processes creating mass culture without being influenced by the culturalist blackmail that inevitably transforms these into a process of cultural degradation. This has meant studying these processes from the perspective of mediations and the protagonists of culture. In other words, we are interested in the articulation between practices of communication and social movements. This perspective has suggested the three parts of the book –the situation, the processes and the debate– and the inversion of these three parts in the order of the book. Although the Latin American situation is the logical point of departure, it is placed at the end, the process we are eventually aiming to explain. I am hoping that the sign posts that I have set up along the development of the argument in the earlier parts of the book will activate the reader’s complicity in the argument and allow the reader to recognize this complicity during the journey toward our understanding of the present cultural processes in Latin America. At the beginning, I spoke of the marks or scars left by the journey that became this book. I want to point out a few of
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6 these. In Part I, it was difficult to present a philosophical and historical discussion without distancing myself from the issues and experiences I was trying to decipher. This left the unsatisfactory sensation of dallying half way between analysis and commitment. Other pages left me an uncomfortable feeling of trying to settle old accounts. In Part II, I fear that I may be taken for an archaeologist searching the layers of the past for those elusive authentic modes and practices of communication. In fact, what I am searching for is something radically different, not what has survived from another era, but rather those forces operating at the present time which enable certain cultural values to continue their influence and which link an anachronistic narrative with the contemporary life of the people. In Part III, I am plagued with the doubt that by studying the forms in which the people are present in the masses, I am abandoning the criticism of social inequality cloaked by the concept of mass and making the concept an instrument of ideological integration. These scars are perhaps the price of daring to break with a dualistic logic and recognize the different logics within mass culture. It is the price of accepting that mass culture has accommodated both the requirements of the marketplace and a cultural matrix, a sensorium, which nauseates the elites while at the same time it constitutes a site of appeal and recognition for the popular classes. Many people and institutions have supported the research for this book. Among them I owe a special thanks to the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, which gave me a research commission to set up the project and collect the necessary documentation, and several years to carry out the research. I am grateful to the communication professors and
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researchers of the Universidad de Lima, Peru and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana de Xochimilco, Mexico, who believed the study was possible when still in outline form and invited me several times to discuss its development. I thank the Instituto Para América Latina (IPAL) for making it possible for me to visit various research centres to discuss the project and collect documentation. My sincere thanks to those who helped me with my intellectual debate and supported me with their affection: Patricia Anzola, Luis Ramiro Beltrán, Héctor Schmucler, Anamaría Fadul, Rosa María Alfaro, Néstor García Canclini and Luis Peirano. And to Elvira Maldonado who each day suffered my work in companionship.

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