Media@McGill is a hub of interdisciplinary research, scholarship and public outreach on issues in media, technology and culture. Its main focus is the study of contemporary media. Media@McGill is based in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, but its projects are interdisciplinary in nature and involve scholars from other fields as well as non-academics. Media@McGill’s activities are supported by McGill University and most notably by the Beaverbrook Fund for Media@McGill, created by a generous gift from the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation.
Media@McGill approaches media as historical materialities — as modes of representation, communication channels, broadcasting/narrowcasting mediums (including newspapers, magazines, prints, radio, TV, mail, the telephone, the internet, and new media), but also as the compound of information providers, journalists, industries and institutions which is at the core of democratic public culture. Media encompass practices of transmission, circulation, storage, memory and meaning—and, importantly, media materialize the failure of all of these as well. This is a complex terrain into which Media@McGill intervenes.
Media@McGill defines media as social practices and social structures of communication, “where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation,” as media historian Lisa Gitelman puts it (Always Already New, 2006, 14). It insists on the fact that the properties of media are never self-defined: designers, engineers, programmers, journalists, artists, investors and audiences produce and consume media within specific social contexts that make these very practices of production and consumption possible. Critical of any deterministic understanding of media, it nevertheless attends to how the materiality of media (their physicality, structure, form, aesthetics and processing of data) offers new possibilities for communication, circulation, connection, collocation, community formation, politics, policy, and art, while foreclosing others.
Media@McGill thus seeks to provide an interdisciplinary environment in which ideas that challenge prevailing orthodoxies, lead public debate, engage decision-makers and inform public policy about media, can be generated and put into wide circulation in the most influential venues of national and international opinion formation. To do so, it draws on a variety of disciplines. It supports the cultivation of new generations of scholars, citizens and educators committed to driving public engagement and innovation in this area.
From 2012-2017, Media@McGill focused on the question of Media and Democracy, following a five-year program structured around the following themes:
The theme of 2017-2018 was Media, Art, and Politics. In the context of the neo-fascist turn in regional and global politics, ongoing eruptions of white supremacist violence, “alternative facts” and attacks on scientific discourse and research, the entrenchment of irreconcilable political positions, the crises of gender-based violence directed at people of colour and Indigenous people, and the countless other events that make despair seem like a viable option, we redirected our attention. Media@McGill’s programming for that year focused on dissent, mobilization, politicized art practice, and insurgent media. Toward that end, Media@McGill organized events to stimulate discussion about the oppositional and generative potential of artist and activist collectives, storytelling and satire, direct action (on and offline), alternative media networks, dialogue across echo chambers, and anti-violence agitation.