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The French journal of


Communication and mediation

Josiane Jouët, Liz Libbrecht

Summary: Throughout the Cold War two types of radio stations broadcast to the Communist countries: 'sovereign' radio (e.g.
BBC, RFI) and 'substitute' radio (e.g. Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). They developed, from the same sources of information,
two distinct styles of production and relations with listeners. These radio stations were both a political instrument and a cultural
vector, a link with the West and a medium for local communications, until broadcasting finally gained its freedom through
political change.

Citer ce document / Cite this document :

Jouët Josiane, Libbrecht Liz. Communication and mediation. In: Réseaux. The French journal of communication, volume 2,
n°1, 1994. pp. 71-90;

doi :

Fichier pdf généré le 12/04/2018




Translated by Liz Libbrecht

Summary: How can communication practices, transformed by

the emergence of computerized technologies and the evolution of
the televisual system, be analysed? This article considers both
technical and social mediation. The influence of technology is
manifest in the modelling of practices on its logic and
performance and in the increasing technicality of the
communication process. That of society is seen in an
individualization and personalization of uses, a combination of
technical rationality and subjectivity. Yet the social link remains
of the framework of reference which gives meaning to practices.

devices, but their functioning is often

4 COMMUNICATION based on numeric commands. The term
'computer-based technologies' has been
chosen here to denote all of these new
AND communication tools.
The evolution of communication practices
cannot however be limited to the use of
such devices, for it is also reaching the
sphere of traditional mass media.
Television-viewing is undergoing profound
change due to the use of peripheral
equipment such as video-cassette recorders or
remote control devices, but also as a
result of technical changes in the televisual
system and the proliferation of the choice
of programmes offered over the past
Communication practices are often
JosianeJOUËT analysed as being the product of changes in
communication systems and equipment,
which are thought to define de facto the
way in which individuals use them. Such
The centrality of mediatized technical determinism, however, should
communication tools, which have be avoided. The same can be said of the
become standard in all aspects of limiting model of social determinism
daily life, is one of the most which ignores the role of technical objects
significant features of social change in and rather sees social change as the
advanced industrial societies. The use of principal factor determining usage.
these devices extends from leisure-
oriented activities to the working Nowadays communication practices
environment and daily tasks. Concurrently, all involve dual mediation which is both
uses of the media are proliferating forms technical and social, since the device used
of new 'communicationaT behaviour are structures the practice and since the
emerging. practice structures itself through the
rules, meanings and motives found in the
social environment. Technical
The extended use of communication tools developments and social change meet, and these
has coincided with the arrival in the practices provide a highly favourable field
typical home, of a new range of equipment, for observing and defining this
commonly referred to as 'new information convergence.
and communication technologies' (NICT),
including microcomputers, the Minitel, This article examines first those social
video games, VCRs, CD players, facts which bear witness to the
telephones with a memory and special significance of technology, and secondly those
functions, answering machines and faxes. which demonstrate social dynamics. The
These technologies vary considerably infiltration of technological and social
both in their technical components and in mediation into the formation of
their functions. Some are computer- communication practices is then defined through
based, such as microcomputers or the changes in the lifestyle and discourse of
Minitel, whereas others remain analogue users.
Josiane JOUĚT

Technical mediation tivity influences the construction of use

for it requires the continuing and active
Man-machine dialogue has become presence of the user if the machine is to
common in this latter part of our century as function.
homes are filled with communication
The interactive situation is therefore very
devices used to converse in natural or coded different from the use of 'digital' devices
language. The drop in prices, which carry out their 'programme' alone
miniaturization of equipment and simplification of
at the touch of one or two buttons (e.g.
their use have popularized such devices
VCRs or CD players). These electronic
and made the most advanced
non-computer-based devices function in
technologies available to the uninitiated. Their
the analogue mode but do nevertheless
role in daily life raises a series of questions
include a numeric component (e.g. for
on the evolution of the communication
display or programming), which directs
process and on its social impact. It in fact
the use of the machine. Users must
creates a link between the architecture of
accept the machine's logic and follow the
technical objects on the one hand and the
operating order if their instructions are to
construction of social practices on the
be carried out.
other. Computer-based tools are leading
to an evolution in communication which 'Digital technologies' are in fact
is also seen in the use of established significantly different from former household
media such as television. appliances. They often offer a wide range
of uses which, because of their
complexity, require a certain degree of know-how.
An increasingly technical Users, put off by the difficulty of operating
communication process instructions, only rarely use all the
Today's computer-based communication possible functions. However, they have
devices can be operated only if the the possibility of programming their
architecture of the technology is respected. An machines, for example the VCR to record
increasingly technical communication selected TV programmes, or of selecting
process is therefore being combined with specific information such as a sequence
the computer paradigm and being of a film or a message on the answering
integrated into daily life. machine. The principles of programming
and sequential logic are henceforth
The relationship between users and inscribed in the operation of everyday
communication tools functions in different appliances and have become, through
ways, depending on the technical makeup experience, an integral part of the mental
of the devices and their level of schema of a large number of users (Jouet,
interactivity. Whereas microcomputers are the 1990).
most interactive domestic machines, the
Minitel is less interactive, and other Traditional mass media are also gradually
household communication technologies moving towards interactivity even if
such as VCRs even less so. It is therefore interactive television remains experimental.
more appropriate to talk of interaction Cable television is making money out of
than of interactivity as such. Interactivity the pay-per-view system, and viewers can
is, in effect, man-machine dialogue which react directly by means of telematic polls
is not only based on a continuing during the broadcasting of programmes.
exchange of commands and replies, but With the development of video games, the
which also gives users the possibility of status of television sets is changing
intervening in natural or coded language rapidly. P. Chambat and A. Ehrenberg
in the contents of this exchange. announce the emergence of a screen cul-

ture based on new ways of consuming do not of course constitute a technical

television, such as the transformation of culture as such, but which are gradually
TV screens Into display terminals for permeating people's habitual frameworks
interactive processes (Chambat & Ehren- of reference.
berg, 1988). Interactivity thus appears to
If the use of computer-based technologies
be one of the future dimensions of the
is becoming unavoidably 'technical', that
television set.
of any other media also requires
The dominance of the computer-based familiarity with the codes and language of the
model is not therefore bound to the use of technology. Thus the subjective
the computer alone, but permeates the construction of meaning in televisual reception
'digital technologies' that surround does not exclude the 'technical'
everybody. Users of NICT develop a new interpretation of the contents even if the latter are
relationship with communication tools and finally reinterpreted in relation to the
acquire, in an informal way, computer- social, cultural and personal references of
type skills which become part of their each person. Users acquire the ability to
usual communication practices. These understand the language of broadcasting
skills are in most cases rudimentary and and of images and to interpret messages
limited to basic operating procedures, which allow them, for example, to
since the everyday use of computer-based anticipate the outcome of fiction scenarios
tools is essentially dependent on an (Bertrand, de Gournay & Mercier, 1988). This
empirical approach which includes de facto ability reveals familiarization with the
a familiarization with procedures codes of the medium.
required by the machine.
Yet with interactive or digital
This informal learning of a technology's technologies, a break in the relationship with the
codes is however not necessarily a source machine can be observed. The communi-
of knowledge about the technology itself. cational skills that are applied are not of
There are significant differences between, the same nature since they are based on
on the one hand, a minority of individuals the concrete and physical experience of
who are interested in a technology as technical materiality. These tools require
such and who acquire theoretical the user's participation, not simply in
knowledge about it, like computer hacks, and interpreting messages, but also in
on the other hand the vast majority of operating the technical system. The user
users who have a purely instrumental dictates his or her commands to the machine
approach to their machines. For the which, in turn, imposes the technical
uninitiated the technology remains a black logic of its operation.
box, although with practical use its
materiality can be grasped, and operating
skills - and sometimes even some
theoretical knowledge - acquired. The diffusion of technical values into
Familiarization with the operating instructions
provides access to the Junction but not to Whilst computer-based tools make the
theJimctioning of the technology and even act of communication more technical,
less so to a thorough knowledge of it. they also convey values of rationality and
Nevertheless, a phenomenon of performance which permeate practices.
superficial acculturation to the technology and New models of action emerge which
logic of the computer can now be channel individual and collective expression
witnessed spreading throughout the and become part of a large number of
different strata of society. The user-culture is daily activities, given the increasing use
thereby gaining technical features, which of this equipment. They therefore appear
Josiane JOUĚT

as the organizers of action. The machines are given the task of storing
applications of all computer tools well illustrate personal and professional information
this diffusion of technical values into the such as the most frequently dialled
elaboration of practices. The numbers on telephones with special functions,
programming of action is the same as that of a or appointments on electronic pocket
technology ... the mere use of digital diaries with an alarm. The technical
technologies conforms to the model that object becomes a partner guaranteeing
celebrates performance. The execution of order, while life-styles integrate its values
separate operations composed of orders, of performance such as time-savings,
selection, sequential follow-up and productivity and rigour. Even uses such as
storing becomes a habit. Operating a machine video games are inspired by the attraction
puts to work a paradigm of formal logic, of performance.
rapidity and efficiency that invades daily
professional and private life. The practice The entire media system is steeped in
integrates the technology's principles of these values. The current emphasis on
rationality, order and coherence, which the technical achievement of live satellite
shape ways of doing things and new broadcasting of events taking place
behavioural patterns' (Jouet, 1990). anywhere in the world, is the result of this
striving for information in its entirety.
Computers are often considered as Nothing must escape the eye of television
teachers of rigour, order and method for cameras or that of the TV viewer. Even
they require a step-by-step and rigid viewers' attitudes bear witness to this
approach. The professional applications of attraction, shown by ardent zappers who
these tools, for example, lead to the try to watch all programmes at the same
reorganization of work methods around their time (Bertrand, de Gournay & Mercier,
formal procedures. A growth of 1988). With the VCR and the creation of
productivity can be seen to result, and the private vidéothèques, technology again
rationalization of tasks within jobs would seem acts as a memory as TV viewers
to be related to the rationale of the themselves become efficient managers of their
machine itself. The setting of a professional viewing 'programme' even if they never
performance standard is often linked to watch all the cassettes recorded. The
the use of computers. values of performance and order which
are integral to advanced technologies
With telematics, information-processing therefore also become part of audiovisual
activities within a domestic and personal communication practices. This
context such as enquiries, reservations technological influence does not however mean
on public transport, banking that practices correspond to rational
transactions, etc. are henceforth formatted models of use.
within the framework of operating
procedures, and the interactivity of the
technique is expected to produce maximal The singularity of ways of doing
efficiency in man-machine dialogue. things
Time-saving and the optimization of
services are essential motives for using the Communicational practices bring out
Minitel. particular patterns of behaviour which
reveal how each person adapts to the
Furthermore, the memory functions of technical object. The encounter with a
technical devices ae increasingly used in communication tool is the source of a
the management of people's daily lives. specific communicational experience that
Databanks such as the electronic involves not only the knowledge of the
telephone directory are commonly used, and technology's codes and the acquisition of

operating skills, but also the elaboration the codes and operating functions of any
of particular ways of doing things. This communication tool, as well as particular
experience is essentially that of the user's ways of dealing with the technical object,
concrete relationship with the technology. both of which constitute the construction
It represents the processes by which of the practice.
users devote themselves to mental and
practical operations in their utilization of
such tools, and by which they also create, Social mediation
empirically, their own ways of using them.
Whilst the mediation of technology is not
As an example, the use of a neutral in the elaboration of
word-proces or requires a minimum knowledge of the communication practices, these are equally
software and of certain operating influenced by the dynamics of social
procedures, but each person nevertheless change. The emergence of 'active and
develops his own way of utilizing it. Thus autonomous' users has become a common
besides being 'forced' to respect the feature of the evolution of communication
architecture of the machine's language, the systems. Nevertheless, a distinction must
user is granted a large degree of flexibility be made between the different levels of
allowing him to raid the computer's this autonomy. There is indeed an indi-
memory, to recreate texts, to combine diverse vidualization of the use of all types of
elements and think spontaneously, media, and communication practices
without necessarily being limited by technical comprise, de facto, a subjective
rationality. An adjustment takes place dimension for they are based on individual ways
between the disorder of intuitive thinking of doing things, respond to specific
and the ordering of ideas favoured by the expectations and are linked to individual
technology. This can moreover be related representations which draw from the
to the feeling that one is playing a kind of imagination. But subjectivity is brought
game when using a computer (Proulx, into play to varying degrees, depending on
1988). Furthermore, the mediation of the the activity. Whereas it is marked in
machine produces a distancing from watching television, particularly fiction, it
intellectual production which makes this is far less evident in the functional usage
activity both freer and more efficient. of the media, such as the consultation of
Each user of the word-processor therefore the Minitel for practical purposes, and is
has 'his way' of employing the functions dominant in the use of computer-based
of the software and of writing on the technologies that demand personal
screen. involvement and are highly charged
The use of any communication
technology involves personal behavioural Furthermore, the autonomy of practices
patterns. The diversity of ways of watching is relative, for subjective approaches do
television indicates of this not take place in a vacuum filled only by
personalization. Any TV viewer chooses his the mediation of the technical object; they
relationship with the supply of messages and has, are inscribed in the reference to society as
for example, his own way of using his a whole and in the search for a new social
remote control device to select the screens link.
of his unique choice. Thus individuals
create their own modes of using the media
From the individualization to the
and integrating them into their life-styles.
personalization of practices
The communicatlonal experience
therefore includes the skills acquired by In the broadcasting sector, the 1980s
individuals through their familiarization with inaugurated a tendency towards increasing 77
Josiane JOUĚT

fragmentation of viewing and an individ- diversification of the use of mass media.

ualization of practices. Faced with an Thus the VCR, found in nearly half of all
abundance of programmes, users today French homes in 1993, enables viewers to
tend to adopt autonomous behaviour that free themselves from the constraints of
is not unrelated to the new cult of set times and to watch rented or bought
individualism. Television is particularly films of their own choice. Furthermore,
indicative of this evolution, as noted by Pierre the tendency towards the individualiza-
Chambat and Alain Ehrenberg: tion of usage is growing today as more
homes are equipped with more than one
'.. our society's individualistic set. This reduces the practice of family
tendency is also influencing the viewing, and points to a repetition of the
common base of our televisual phenomonon of fragmentation of radio
experience. In short, the listening produced by transistor radios.
transformation of our cultural models is The broadcasting media, in spite of their
characterized by a threefold 'massifying' nature, have moreover
displacement: from the mass to the always given rise to personalized use.
individual, from passiveness to ac- Research on use and gratification has
tiveness, from spectacle to treated media consumption as a 'finalized
communication ... For television, this activity', responding to intentions based
representation of the future is seen on the psychological and social needs of
in new stereotypes under the aegis individuals (Blunder & Katz, 1974).
of communication values. It tends, Cultural studies in Britain and America also
in effect, to switch from a show the complexity of reception, seen as
conception of force-feeding, where 'the' an activity that mobilizes the individual
viewer is imagined as an and sets into action a series of
impressionable and fragile child, incapable psychological and social processes related to his or
of any judgement, to a conception her personal experience and cultural
of autonomy where the technology milieu (Hall, 1980). This approach was
makes an adult of him and the continued in ethnographic studies of
numerous channels give him audiences (Morley, 1980). Furthermore,
freedom of choice and even control of research on reception recently took an
his judgement' (Chambat & interest in the inter-cultural dimension as
Ehrenberg, 1988). a structuring element of the
interpretation of media products (Liebes & Katz,
TV viewers are in fact freeing themselves 1986). In particular these studies
from their dependence on the media. emphasize the process by which viewers
Rather than remaining glued to a single interpret messages, as well as the
programme, as in the past, they react to productive activity of a reader, listener or
the multiplication of channels by televiewer. Reception is understood as a
selecting, and increasing use of remote control. subjective construction of A
'Zapping appears as a massive qualitative survey (Bertrand, de Gournay
phenomenon. A household TV set changes its & Mercier, 1988) shows how ardent zap-
status on average nearly 23 times a day pers recreate their own programme from
(switching on, plus channel changes). a mosaic of sequences that they glance at
This corresponds to over five changes per fleetingly, with television becoming the
hour's viewing' (Chabrol & Périn, 1991). medium for subjective fiction. The
conceptualization of reception has thus
This active behavioural pattern can be
allowed us to rethink the use of mass
identified in the mobility, selection and
* For a synthesis of this work see Dayan, 1992.

media and to highlight the subjectivity of ment and who in a sense shapes the
televisual practices. technology. The quality of autonomy that
is incorporated in the architecture of
In the case of interactive technologies, the these devices shifts from the technology
construction of usage corresponds to a to the user; users appropriate the
different model, based on different machine's qualities of performance and
principles. The interactivity of these machines independence for their own fulfilment (Jouet,
demands the participation of individuals 1989).
in the communication process, and their
versatility requires that they construct The expression of subjectivity takes
their own use. There is therefore a break different forms depending on the individual's
with the mass media model; usage is no relationship to the technical object. Three
longer measured as a free activity of typical practices illustrate the way in
selection and interpretation of messages. which subjectivity is born in the use of
The reception model cannot apply to these computers or the Minitel.
technologies because they do not
broadcast programmes, they only talk through (a) Professional applications of home
their technical potential which conveys a computers are modelled on the rationality of
code of rationality and 'performativity'. the technology and may also be
Software states nothing; it dialogues. accompanied by subjective behaviour related to an
Usage is combined with a predetermined aspiration for personal accomplishment.
technical potential which forms an Individuals then appropriate the qualities
unavoidable framework of reference. Users of the machine to increase their
choose an application and construct their independence and the efficiency of their
use with reference to the possibilities and individual production. Having the machine at
limits of the services and programmes home gives them the advantage, amongst
utilized. others, of not being assigned to a place of
Interactive technologies are characterized work and of being free from institutional
by a high degree of individualization of constraints. Thus for executives, certain
professionals and intellectuals, who are
practices. Versatility is the interactive
component that allows for considerable the main users of home computers for
variety in the use of these tools. Thus, use professional purposes, the use of these
of the Minitel includes inquiries, machines often arises from a desire for
transactions and interpersonal communication, independence and individual control of
the work process, which is a form of self-
and microcomputers can be used for
games, office management, information management of their production. The
processing, and the design of microcomputer is adopted with the aim of
programmes to meet specific requirements. increasing professional efficiency and
It is the user who, with his input, productivity, but also for the flexibility
constructs the final product. that it provides since it makes it possible
to work at the desired pace and time. In
this model, the value of computers is first
Rationality and subjectivity and foremost that of promoting an
individual's professional success. The
Computer-based technologies lend practice of using them therefore corresponds
themselves particularly well to personal to a response to an approach dictated by
involvement which favours subjectivity. Their the primacy of personal initiative,
principles of order and efficiency individual production or even creativity.
permeate usage and then co-exist with the
emergence of this marked subjectivity. It (b) Personal programming originates in
is the user who becomes the nodal the will to master the technology and the
Josiane JOUĚT

pleasure of subjective communication order and rationality of the technology

with the machine. (Computer hacks take that mediates it. Yet, there is a close
the rivalry between their own intelligence interrelation between the architecture of
and that of their computer very seriously.) the technology and the construction of
It therefore integrates the rationality of the electronic social link. An analysis of
the machine and moulds itself to its logic, modes of communication built around
but the relational value of the technology message services makes it possible to
replaces the usage value that prevails in overcome the main antinomy between the
the professional self-management model. technical and the social processes, and to
In man-machine interaction, the identify the structural homology between
technology is in effect the only referent which the principles of the operational device
fulfils the function of mirroring the and forms of interpersonal exchange.
programmer's mental activity. However, this
First, the configuration of the technical
dialogue does not only take place through
the mobilization of the intellect but system defines the meeting place. The
through a psychic and emotional Minitel screen fulfils a dual function: it is
projection onto the machine, which enables a shield that encourages anonymity and
Sherry Turkle (1986) to talk of 'the Rors- the use of pseudonyms (to be protected);
chach computer'. Computer hacks often but also a mirror that reflects the
regard their hobby as a passion and fantasies and narcissism which pave the way
describe the narcissistic pleasure of for the intimacy of interchange (it is
thought). Secondly, the communication
interaction with the machine. Personal
software appears as the technical speaker
programming is characterized by a
solitary and largely self-taught practice that leads the friendly dialogue. The
which aims at self-assertion and isomorphism that results between the
consolidation of the ego. It displays subjective technical and conversational structures can
behaviour and is founded on the quest for be seen on several levels. Dialogue is
personal achievement. punctuated by technical interactivity and
is woven around a continual coming and
(c) The approach is very different when it going between speakers. The computer
comes to the use of telematics for logic, moreover, dictates the modes of the
interpersonal exchange of messages with practice and users must accept the
strangers. The prescribed finality of the software's codes. They must therefore
technology as a practical and functional demonstrate skills based on knowledge of the
instrument is diverted for the purpose of technical procedure of the interchange,
games with a large element of fantasy, the ability to write on the machine and
usually of a sexual nature. Being dexterity in the required manipulations.
anonymous and using pseudonyms encourages
the elaboration of a new form of social With the loss of traditional referents in
interchange which frees itself from social electronic communication, words provide
norms and codes. Message services all the piquancy in the messages. They
inaugurate the construction of interpersonal reveal identities and are agents of
electronic communication where selection based on spelling, humour, style and
subjectivity and narcissism are deployed at will. the contents of messages. Users develop
personal tactics and become specialists in
Nothing is apriori rational in this practice, managing dialogue, choose their
so often described as an 'electronic correspondents, exchange messages with
carnival', a vast social disorder which several interlocutors and initiate interaction
functions at the level of imagination and that corresponds to their desires. The use
desire. Everything therefore seems to of message services thus bears witness to
oppose message services to the model of a particularly rich communication expert-

ence which includes and skilled the dox of fantasy regression and
elaboration of specific ways of doing things technological advance.
in the dual management of technical and
Message services appear to be an epiphe-
social interaction.
nomenon which reveals the profound
The use of message services thus upheavals in our society. On the one hand,
implements a certain control of social interplay electronic encounters are inscribed in the
which matches the performance of the model of technical performance; on the
software. The mediation of telematics other hand, users indulge in their drives
influences modes of interaction and tele- and elaborate a mode of interchange
matic encounters are not devoid of an based mainly on the imaginary which
instrumental dimension. Electronic transgresses principles of rationality. The
exchange is operational first through the result is an interrelation between the
technical device and then through the social and technical and these two poles
social link. Social organization and concurrently construct the social
technical syntax are the result of a close inscription of the message service.
Nevertheless, whereas message services The social link
integrate the rules of the technology, the The personalization of practices and the
contents of the messages originate in the implementation of subjectivity, by way of
pleasure of social transgression and the interactive technologies, are however in
expression of the imaginary. The game of no way devoid of social projections.
love on a screen is innovative and Subjective practices, whilst being the basis of
liberating for it provides freedom from social self-procreation, of a 'production of the
conventions and reintroduces the central self, only have their meaning in and
position of sex in social interchange, through the social dimension.
although it is also profoundly traditional
and regressive. According to Marc In the use of message services, this
Guillaume these practices inaugurate 'post- dimension imposes itself from the start
modem tinkering based on a mixture of through the search for a new mode of
hyper-functional devices and archaic interchange, but this quest, based as it is
(Guillaume, 1989). On the Minitel on fantasy, appears as an artifice which
screen one can finally play out one's also masks a desire for real experiences.
sexual identity, escape the overwhelming Users moreover consider that the
blurring of gender identity and relive the relationships established through telematics,
archaic models of relationships between including those that lead to common
the sexes. Convivial dialogue does not activities, cannot be likened to traditional
only permit one to affirm one's sex, it also ones which for them remain 'the norm' of
offers the possibility of changing it. emotional commitment and true
Disguising oneself is a way of discovering relationships. The electronic link is evaluated
others, but also of gaining access to one's against the yardstick of the traditional
own otherness. Thus message services social link which remains the reference.
reveal both the permanence of the major On the other hand these practices can be
archaic figures of primary oneness and the occasion for constructing
sexual differentiation (Jouet, 1991). micro-communities where Individuals, confronted
Strangely, it is the mediation of the with urban anonymity and
technology, a cold and disincarnated al -encompas ing anomie, reconstitute friendships and
prosthesis, that serves as a channel to reveal social relations, as Axe's study on
the contents of the unsaid. This game of message services shows (Jouet, 1989). Social
electronic love is thus based on the autonomy thus operates on a double
Josiane JOUĚT

level; that of the quest for the self shown shown how viewing often remains a family
by the deployment of subjectivity, and activity and provides topics for
that of the quest for the other expressed conversation in social life. There is evidence to
in the search for new social relationships. suggest that this social dimension of
The collective identity lies in the weaving television is particularly marked in the case
of micro-social links. of serials, be these programmes for prime-
time viewing, like Dallas, or soap-operas
With the use of computers, professional broadcast during the day' (Pasquier,
self-management is based on the finality 1991). Furthermore the personalized
of personal production. But the latter also reading of messages is based on an
corresponds to a project of investment in interpretation which uses references anchored
the professional field. Expectations of in the cultural resources of the viewer.
personal gratification are strong, whether 'Interpretation communities' govern the
this consists of peer recognition, construction of reception, as is clearly
promotion or financial gains. There is effectively shown by the different ways in which
self-finalization of the action, but its Dallas is received, and which depend on
origin and its rewards are, in contrast, the viewers' ethnic milieu.
situated in the social game.
But the social dimension of reception is
As for computer hacks, they often belong also manifest on another level. D. Dayan
to a micro-network of informal sociability remarks that reception is accompanied by
where they meet, share a common a participative context which refers to the
computer culture and exchange advice, identity of other members of the public
knowledge and software. As 'asocial' as it whose status is imagined: 'Viewing a
may be, this practice therefore includes a programme means entering into 'parasocial'
collective dimension where these interaction, not only with the seen, but
individualistic approaches meet around the also with the unseen; it is recognizing
mediation of the technology. Moreover, oneself as a 'guest*. Television is not there
the high social value attributed to just for one to see; it is there for one to see
computer-related activities contributes 'with' ... If seeing was 'seeing with', such
towards strengthening the computer hack's an appropriation would lead to the
image, whatever his or her socio-profes- potential appearance of new collective
sional background. The desire for social identities' (Dayan, 1992).
recognition is therefore not foreign to
investment in the technology. The autonomy of the 'free and active'
viewer, put forward by a large number of
Thus the significance of the social studies since the 1970s, should therefore
dimension is not only to be found in the not mask his or her identity as a member
expression of subjectivity or the display of of the public. Similarly, the tendency
social imagination through technology; it towards an individualization of TV viewing,
can also be identified in the meaning accentuated when households are
attributed to the practice. The search for equipped with more than one set, does not
a social link is always eminently present exclude its social dimension based on
in the use of new technologies (Jouet, representations of collective
1989). The individualization and participation. Physical isolation is not always
subjective nature of the use of computer-based synonymous with social isolation.
technologies have often concealed the way Reception is an activity built into the
in which they also produce a social link, social link.
whereas the social dimension of the use
of mass media has been amply covered by Thus the social mediation that governs
research. Thus studies on television have the elaboration of communication prac-

tices, around traditional media or people spend nearly a quarter of their

computer-based technologies, leads to a time at home (sleep included) on
social link which combines the expression communication Television remains
of subjectivity and attachment to the the main form of entertainment and is
community. constantly increasing, with the average
viewing-time now being three hours per
day. But an INSEE [Institut national de la
Interrelationship between the statistique et des études économiques)
technological and social survey on 'leisure' (Arnal, Dumontier &
Jouet, 1989), also shows that
dimensions of usage micro-computers, for example, are in constant use
and interpersonal communication by
The use of communication devices means of the telephone has become a
appears to be a phenomenon that is
daily practice.
increasingly structuring social action. This
position occupied by communication in Computer-based technologies thus
the life-styles of advanced industrial undergird the role of the home as the
countries cannot be analysed as a mere centre of leisure-time and information
product of the diffusion and adoption of activities through the use of radio and
new technologies; it is also linked to television, and extend interpersonal
economic and social changes and to the longdistance communication by telephone.
renewal of values which produce the ferment Access to information and
of social practices. Since the communication from home is being broadened, by the
communication sphere is not a closed field, changes videotext, to the consultation of
in the use of the media are intimately databanks and the carrying out of many
linked to the upheavals of society as a different types of inquiries and transactions.
whole. These developments confirm the growing
role of home-based technology in the
User representations similarly attest to evolution of lifestyles.
current changes. Their discourse is built
on references to values of the Interaction with communication tools
technological paradigm and to the referential and embraces all spheres of activity: leisure,
symbolic framework of 'modern' society work, services, social life. The entry of
which does not seem to have disappeared computer-based technologies into
entirely. Technological and social change lifestyles is partly seen in the changed
are therefore interrelated and relations of the public and private spheres,
communication practices are situated at the point and in the emergence of a new temporal
at which they converge. and spatial dimension of action. The
professional use of computers at home,
which blurs the division between work
Life-styles and leisure (Bidou, Guillaume & Prévost,
Communication tools have today become 1988), clearly illustrates the erosion of
inseparable from daily activities. Rising borders between the public and private
living standards and increased free time spheres. Furthermore, with the videotext,
have contributed to mass ownership of a great deal of information and many
communication devices and to the transactions of a public nature are
development of highly diversified spare-time entering into homes to be used for professional
and communication practices. A recent and domestic purposes. In contrast,
survey on media use shows that French convivial message services are breaking up
* Charpin, Forsé, Périn, 1989. Survey on television, VCRs, radio, press, books, music, telephone,
Minitel and microcomputers.
Josiane JOUĚT

the private sphere and making public the The development of the media, new and
most intimate fantasies. This evolution is, old, therefore leads to an extension of
moreover, found throughout the entire frameworks of action. In many ways,
media system. The advent of an informal communication tools influence common
type of television is thus accompanied by references of time and space and
a profusion of programmes where structure daily life.
individuals talk about themselves and their most
These changes concretely influence
intimate emotions. Events from private
lifestyles but should not lead us to a
life similarly provide material for reality
show scenarios. mechanistic interpretation whereby
communication technologies become the
causal factor. They are closely linked to
This intermingling of different spheres is current changes in the productive sector
also seen in the use of portable and private sphere, for transformations to
technologies such as the walkman (Kouloumd-
economic and social structures affect
jian, 1985), or mobiles, i.e. pocket or car work, leisure and social and family
telephones (Combes & Sammer, 1992; de relations.
Gournay, 1992). Research has shown
how the use of these technologies is at the Amongst these changes, the evolution of
intersection of both the public and private structures of production seems pivotal.
spheres. Nomadic communication frees The decline in industrial jobs together
individuals from the constraints of a set with the increase in the tertiary sector
place. Furthermore, remote control favour the use of communication
devices are used to operate domestic technologies both at work and at home.
appliances such as heating and security. On According to a recent survey, 30 per cent of the
the other hand, the videotext and working population works off-site at least
microcomputer make it possible to carry out part of the The validity of these
certain operations from home. There is results must be treated with caution, but
therefore a dual spatial movement of the they nevertheless point to a tendency.
private world into the public sphere, and Furthermore, job insecurity and
access to the public sphere from home. incentives to small enterprises encourage
independent work.
The breaking up of spatial boundaries is There has been a considerable
echoed in that of temporal ones. increase in people becoming
Computer-based technologies produce a new
self-employed; better qualified executives,
temporality since it is possible to access students or young people with all
a network at any moment. Interpersonal types of qualifications ... In all, it is
communication, whether direct or estimated that between 1980 and
deferred, is becoming frozen by means of 1985, over half a million people
answering machines and electronic mail became self-employed, a third more
(Jouet & Toussaint, 1991). Social action than during the period from 1965 to
is freed from time constraints (opening 1970' (Seibel, 1991).
hours of services, unavailability of
correspondents) for it is henceforth possible For these people working independently,
when and where required. Similarly, with often with limited resources, their homes
the extension of TV times, viewers have are generally used as an office and are
access to programmes at any time of the equipped with various communication
day or night. The show is becoming devices (videotext, answering machine,
continuous. fax) whilst the mobile telephone makes it
* Survey carried out by Canon, in France, with 500 respondents, quoted In Les Echos
informatique, 21 May 1992.

possible to move about and remain ing of ideologies is accompanied by a

available. New values and 'the taste for focus on individual happiness, on leisure
autonomy' are becoming prevalent in the and even a new hedonism. The erosion of
professional world, as Jean-Daniel Rey- traditional frameworks of reference is
naud noted: 'In both inter-individual and completed by the emergence of the
individual who becomes his own finality, and
group (Reynaud,
keyword' relationships,
The spirit
is the
by immersion in subjectivity (Lipovetsky,
individual enterprise is becoming a 1983). The importance of self-realization
recognized value, and personal success is results in the cult of the ego and
an essential motivation. The sometimes narcissism. But we are also
reappearance of economic liberalism is witnessing the birth of a 'new psychological
accompanied by admiration for the image of the culture', according to Robert Cas tel,
entrepreneur, the self-made man and which is opening this culture of self-
personal effort, as Alain Ehrenberg shows advancement to the search for new forms
in his book 'Le culte de la performance' of otherness:
(Ehrenberg, 1991). The use of
micro-computers and remote communication 'A great relational dream arches
technologies provides the autonomy needed to over it: contacts, encounters, group
satisfy aspirations for independence and life, networks, conviviality,
professional performance. interchange ... this means that, even if it
fails to become a society, it
Finally, transformations in the structure
effectively exists as an intention of
of households also favour the adoption of
communication technologies. The sociability, and(Castel,
intimacy' not only1981).
as overwhelming
marked increase in small, single-parent
homes continues. According to Claude Thus the subjective approaches which are
Seibel, five million people live alone today, woven around the use of communication
of whom a considerable percentage is tools are expressed in a wish for personal
elderly. But the same author notes 'the accomplishment; but they are often
increasing fragility of relationships and accompanied, as we have seen, by the
more significantly as it affects couples search for, or the formation of, new forms
(whether married or not) which leads to a of social interchange.
growing number of small households'
(Seibel, 1991). The break-up of families, The processes underway are however
like geographical mobility due to shaped by multiple contradictions and do
employment problems, are all factors which not constitute a linear and homogeneous
contribute to the increase in practices linking evolution. Changes are accompanied by
individuals to their environment. Many resistance and the structures of
adepts of convivial message services traditional society, although weakened, have
explain their hobby by the break-up of the not disappeared. Values are dispersed
home, loneliness and the search for a between former beliefs - which, in spite of
everything, persist - and attachment to
social link.
the new creed of the emancipation of the
Abundant literature on the subject shows individual.
that since the 1970s traditional
structures of belonging have been weakened
and strong beliefs which constituted the
bedrock of modem societies, their User discourse is consistent with
symbolic references, are disintegrating. These communication practices. It attests to
upheavals are partly seen in the representations which are connected, on the
elaboration of new social relations. The one hand, to social discourse on modern-
Josiane JOUĚT

ity, and rooted, on the other hand, in the cation tools into their lifestyles. It reveals
concrete experience of communication the role they attribute to these objects in
technologies. their spare-time activities, their daily
tasks, their social lives or their work, and
Representational modes are forged is therefore a statement of values, ideals
through the confrontation of the and symbols which reveal the internal
individual with the technical peculiarities and meaning of practices.
the actual usage of the communicational
tools. Individuals' statements on their
actual use of machines reveal their On another level, user discourse also
expresses expectations and
relationships with objects. They are expressed in
a language which is often sprinkled with disappointments with respect to these objects, and
technical terms specific to the tools used, brings into play a conception of the
but also with their own terms which possibilities and limits of the technology.
Representations therefore draw upon a set of
reveal the peculiar forms of their
negotiation with these tools. They show the forms beliefs and values which link the
of appropriation of the object. The practices. In surveys this discourse bears
witness to the split of referents between
communicational experience is always
accompanied by a representation of the attachment to values of technical ideology
on the one hand, and the persistence of
technology, peculiar to each individual
and his or her practice. traditional values of Western humanism
on the other. Communication tools, and
The socio-linguistic approach also particularly computer-based
emphasizes the importance of discourse. technologies, convey the symbols of modernity
Louis Quéré, whose theoretical and progress which accompany their
framework is that of a co-belonging of practices diffusion in society (Scardigli, 1992). We are
and technical objects, based on an moreover witnessing the emergence of a
internal-type connection, stresses the communication ideology around values of
importance of discursive entities. He shows how transparency and social interchange,
communication practices are based not analysed by Serge Proulx and Philippe
only on practical skills, but on the Breton (Breton & Proulx, 1989), which is
used by all social agents. Communication
'... mastery of a language, that is of objects are not neutral but related to a
a conceptual network, a social conception, which impregnates
vocabulary, a system of categorization and collective representations.
of criteria for distinction, evaluation
and hierarchical arrangement,
which enable us to organize the field User discourse does include in more ways
than one the creed of technology as a
of communication and account for
our practices. This language is not source of scientific and social progress,
first and foremost representative or and as a means of overcoming the
economic crisis. Users state their belief in the
descriptive; it is constituent. It is
not only used to categorize, name omnipotence of technological advances
and report accurately what we do; which, they believe, correspond to a
universal, and in any case irreversible,
it articulates our practices, provides
them with depth and with an movement. The Ideology of a technological
horizon, justifies them and gives them paradigm is indeed present and confirms
a character of desirability' (Quéré, Philippe Roqueplo's theory: ' that it is
1992). an apology for science, a builder of our
environment, an arsenal of models of
But the discourse of users also shows how reality and principles justifying the division
they perceive the insertion of of work, technology exercises in our civi-

lization a fundamental ideological approach, P.Flichy also tries to go beyond

function' (Roqueplo, 1983). this dichotomy:
But this ideological halo which fulfils a 'When we follow the course of
reasuring function is nevertheless called innovation, we note that there is no clear
into question by the pre-eminence of cut between the technical and the
traditional humanist values. User social construction of an object ...
discourse expresses the consciousness of technology and usage evolve. This
risks involved in the growing expansion of construction is collective., it takes
technologies. The basic values of modern shape through the dispersal of the
society seem to them to be threatened by technical object' (Flichy, 1991).
the dehumanization produced by
The study of communication practices is
subjection to technical efficiency, the isolation not situated on the level of technological
of individuals withdrawn behind their invention alone, nor does it dispense with
domestic machines, the replacement of the the necessity to carry out a retrospective
human interface by man-machine
analysis of the uses of communication
dialogue, the pre-eminence of technical over long periods. It observes the social
rationality over the value of intuition and
implementation of communication
common sense, and the dangers of social technologies in situ and shows that the incur-
control by machines. sion of technical order into the
communication process does not
The image of the future connected to
necessarily exclude the social contents of action.
computer technology is furthermore
associated with that of radical social upheaval. Computer-based technologies initiate
Social representations of new techniques new types of behaviour with regard to
incorporate the perception of an upheaval communication tools, and these affect
throughout society. The technological even the broadcasting media. Since the
ideology coexists with the pre-eminence mediation of technical objects is not
of a social conscience grafted onto the neutral it results in the action itself becoming
normative framework of modern society. technical. This can be identified in all the
Practices are thus accompanied by a ordinary activities carried out by means
social reflexivity and discourse is loaded of digital technologies. It is shown by
with an ambivalence in which the cognitive structures and the elaboration
interrelation between the technical and the of new ways of doing things, including the
social can be seen. The result is cross- most unspecialized uses. The rationality
fertilization between the technical creed of the technology structures the practice
and values of modern humanism. which in turn adopts the performance
values of the object.

Return to mediation On the other hand, the incorporation of

technical skill is accompanied by a
Various theoretical models have multiplicity of practices and gives rise to
attempted to identify the relationship subjectivity. The co-existence of operational
between technology and society. The rationality and personalization seems
anthropology of the sciences denies 'the common to the various uses of old and
great divide' between scientific discoveries new media. Even so-called 'rational*
and social processes. M.Callon and B. La- usage, like that of computers, is not
tour develop the model of translation and devoid of subjectivity. According to L. Quéré
analyse the series of alliances which are it bears witness to the correlation
formed between human and non-human introduced by the technological society
actors (Callon, 1981). In his historical between subjectivity and technicality.
Josiane JOUĚT

Technological mediation henceforth Although communication technologies

replaces mediation by the cognitive and play an organizing role in social
normative otherness of modern society: production, there is at the same time a
'In the technical society only the socialization of these tools which shapes them.
mediation of technology remains (machines and Faced with the technical model, society
formalized procedures)'. We witness the reacts and manifests itself through
emergence of the 'operative subject' and innovating practices, which in turn act on the
the representation crisis is shown by 'the socio-technical set-up. Faced with the
end of mediation by an objective third societal model, technology shows its hold
parly allowing for the formation of over modes of action. The construction of
motivation and orientation of action' and by social use of these technologies is based
'the 'subjectivation' of social action' on complex processes in which
(Quéré, 1982). technological and social innovation meet. This
results in a dialectic relationship between
The emergence of subjectivity cannot these two poles which, because of the
however be generated by technological newness of the practices, remains largely
mediation alone; it is part of social unknown. It does however open a
change, of the lack of social values, norms particularly promising field for research' (Jouet,
and references, which opens the way to 1993).
the search for self. But practices also
show, including in the most individual Communication practices provide social
approaches, the wish to redefine the material suited to observation for
individual's relationship with society; attempting to identify the relationship
practices are penetrated by social influences between the technological and social
and the latter often constitute a dimensions. They are situated at the
framework of reference for the motivations and heart of this encounter and are, in a
desires which fill actions with their sense, the product of it. Although the
dynamism. Even though actions are resulting synergy arises from highly
characterized by subjectivity, the regulating complex and opaque phenomena which defy
frameworks of action are situated in the construction of a global explicative
society. Subjectivity is generated by social model, sociological observation and
interaction. analysis do make it possible to identify the
indicators and relevant features which
Similarly, the ways in which reveal the way in which communication
communication tools and life-styles act together, like practices are constructed around the dual
the ambivalence of discursive referents, mediation of 'the technical' and 'the
reveal the complexity of the dynamics social'.
between communication technologies
and social action.



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