OBSERVARE
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, . 2 (November 2016-April 2017), pp. 90-103
THE SOCIAL PRODUCTION OF COMMUNICATION WHEN THE WORLD BECOMES
GLOBALIZED
Olivia Velarde Hermida
ovelarde@ucm.es
Dr. in communication science from the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). Professor of
the UCM. Area of knowledge: Sociology. Her publications include "The communicative mediation
of personal and collective identities" Latina magazine of Social Communication, 70, pp 552 to
565. (2015) (With Martin Serrano, M.) and Paradigms of the Impacts of ICT on culture and
knowledge "in Latina Magazine of Social Communication, 70, pp. 347 to 379. (2015) (With
Bernete, F. and Franco, D.)
Francisco Bernete García
fbernete@ucm.es
Dr. in communication science from the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). Professor of
the UCM. Area of knowledge: Sociology. Coordinator of the universitymaster on Social
Communication. His publications include: Content Analysis" in Lucas, A. and Noboa, A (editors):
Knowing the social: building strategies and techniques and data analysis. Madrid: Fragua
Editorial, 2014 and "Designs for Social Science Study of Globalized Future Scenarios".
International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Vol 4 No. 11 (1).; September 2014 ISSN
2220-8488 (Print) 2221-0989 (Online); pp 93-108 (with O. Velarde).
Abstract
This work is framed within the context of the researches and papers on the changes arising
from the convergence of globalization and the ICTs that enable globalization. It resumes the
theoretical approaches of Manuel Martín Serrano to study some of the transformations in the
mediating function of the public communication linked to the technology advancements
introduced in the Communication System. It tackles the technical developments that enable
the access to more information in many cases immediately, which does not necessarily
imply that users have a better undersanding of what is happening in the world. The current
use of ICTs may lead to a reproduction of stereotypes within affinity groups making each
group more closed rather than opening them to different groups with whom they may discuss
or share interpretations of the change in the environment.
Keywords
Globalization; Knowledge; Representations; Humanization; Use of ICTs
How to cite this article
Hermida, Olivia Velarde; García, Francisco Bernete (2016). "The social production of
communication when the world becomes globalized". JANUS.NET e-journal of International
Relations, Vol. 7, . 2, November 2016-April 2017. Consulted [online] on the date of last
consultation, observare.autonoma.pt/janus.net/en_vol7_n2_art6
(http://hdl.handle.net/11144/2785)
Article received on February 11, 2016 and accepted for publication on September, 21
2016
JANUS.NET, e-journal of International Relations
e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, . 2 (November 2016-April 2017), pp. 90-103
The social production of communication when the world becomes globalized
Olivia Velarde Hermida; Francisco Bernete García
91
THE SOCIAL PRODUCTION OF COMMUNICATION WHEN THE WORLD BECOMES
GLOBALIZED
1
Olivia Velarde Hermida
Francisco Bernete García
Introduction
In 1986, it was published The Social Production of Communication, in which Manuel
Martín Serrano develops the Social Theory of Communication, the foundations of which
are to remodel the communicative analysis from a socio-historic and macro-sociological
approach. These analyses are based on the existing links between the historical changes
of societies and the modalities of public communication that have appeared and
disappeared, from assembly communication to communication through computer-
communicative networks (Bernete, 2011).
The work abovementioned introduces the successive transformations of public
communication in the field of technologies, the organizations in charge of providing
communities with information, and its use in each community as a necessary component
to analyse the historical changes in societies. The scenario in which the list of adjustments
and imbalances between what happens to communities and the news about what has
happened is opened with the first social organizations, in which the social production of
communication is institutionalized when the agrarian and militaristic societies stabilize;
and has remained open for four thousand years until our times. Now, it is necessary to
understand the ongoing historical transformation related to the computer-communicative
revolution, which will eventually reshape the different forms of social action at a global
level, as well as the role of information and organizations (see Bernete, 2011).
In the third edition of The Social Production of Communication, published in 2004, the
author incorporates the results of the successive researches specifically designed to
verify the theory, following the dramatic changes in communication and information
mentioned above. In the text, it is provided an interpretation of the leap from the
audiovisual era to a computer-virtual era. The collective representations are related to
the current ways to obtain, distribute and use the information; and both, with their order
and disorder, find and confront groups and societies. This socio-historical mark which
distinguishes the author of The Social Mediation demonstrates once again its theoretical
and clarifying power. Especially when it integrates the systematic study of the social and
communicative changes in predicting alternative scenarios that may arise from the
current computer-communicative abilities. Therefore, we deem it relevant to review
some of the key ideas used to plan the analysis of the existing relations between the
1
The translation of the article is the responsibility of their authors.
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production and the reproduction of public communication and the production and
reproduction of social communication (see Bernete, 2011). We start this presentation by
referring to the construction processes of the social representations required for the social
reproduction.
As is known, social subjects create representations of the world on the basis of beliefs,
principles and values. Such beliefs are not only valid for the groups to give meaning to
their past and build a future, but also to understand their present. The collective
imaginations embrace the continuous and endless change of the social, material or ideal
environment to assume any novelty. In every society, incorporating in a cognitive
manner what erupts in reality or understanding what disappears is an institutional task
aimed at social control. The meaning of such intervention is contained in the following
quote:
“With the recourse to mediation, the community tries to achieve a
certain degree of consensus in the representations of the world
made by the different members of the group. Here is the reason
why all societies need subjects (such as the shaman) or institutions
(such as informative companies) specialized in the production and
reproduction of collective representations a certain event
occurring and affecting all members of a group does not have one
single representation, nor the consequent agreement to severally
react to the event”. (Martín Serrano, 2004: 142).
The production and transmission of public information plays a mediating role when it
establishes a link between the transformations of the world and the knowledge of the
changes by the recipients of the information. This function involves the selection of
reference objects
2
and the provision of a number of data and assessments about such
objects; all this represents a representation of what is being communicated. By offering
the community representations of what already exists and occurs, the public
communication contributes along with other mediating instances to a proper
adequacy between the changes of the environment, behaviour patterns supported by
shared beliefs, and the institutions of the Social System. The public communication may
offer this congruence by either suggesting the reprocessing of collective representations,
or by providing an interpretation of the event to replenish the representations and
legitimize the existing order. In any case, the adjustment is aimed at stopping the social
action from exceeding the frameworks established.
The public communication influences the social action inasmuch as it allows members to
share a vision of what occurs; or, if preferred, as it exercises control over the social
representations shared by a collective. If it provides an acceptable interpretation for the
group, it favours a certain vision of reality and of what is more convenient to do in the
face of a created new situation. That is to say, it proposes a certain social action and
gives sense for the members of the collective.
2
The term reference objects refers to what two or more living beings communicate about a provision, a
need, a hazard or a sports event may be considered reference objects if communicators exchange data
about them.
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As is well known, the communicative mediations carried out in this historical moment
differ from the ones used just some decades ago. The following paragraphs set forth
some of the transformations occurring in public communication (its production,
distribution, reception and use) and the way such transformations affect the cognitive
representations of citizens in an era of transition between institutional communication
systems; nowadays, together with the “Mass Communication System” operate other
systems of information exchange through techno-computer networks.
This article deals with the ways to provide indications on what occurs and its impact in
our perception of reality which are characteristics of the current networks of exchange
of information. We will do so by recalling that some of the features of their ways to
produce and distribute information have not emerged with the new ICTs they have
accelerated certain lines of the “communicative progress” that were born long before the
advent of the internet.
The goal of this analysis is to prove that some of the technological developments of
modernity which may confer advantages to recipients (for instance, more information
about more things, higher reliability or more possibilities to react in less time), started
to give rise to contradictions with certain mediating functions, such as providing
interpretations of the events narrated. And such contradictions have grown more acute
over the last decades.
We refer below to what Professor Martín Serrano (2004) described as “great conquests
by the Capitalist Social Structure in the development of referential communication”
(synchrony, iconicity, extension of the referential universe) and the way in which their
development hinders the function to offer representations of the event that are
compatible with the principles and values shared.
1. The function to provide interpretation of the event when it is
synchronically transmitted
The time between the communicative product is produced and its reception by part of
the recipients was being reduced until the synchronic dissemination of the information
was achieved.
“The conquest of communicative synchrony has made it possible
that more people are potentially concerned by public events in a
useful period of time (Martín Serrano, 2004: 112).
In fact, it represents a benefit for recipients since knowing beforehand about the event
may imply advance in their decision about the facts. If they receive the information at
the time the narrated facts are occurring, their reaction capacity would be as immediate
as the eyewitnesses’ of the event.
However, this technological development may hamper the mediating function of
providing an interpretation of the event, since the mediator, in this circumstance,
essentially works to give an immediate account of what is observed in the place and
present moment. (Many times, it is not about what is observed, but about the expressions
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e-ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, . 2 (November 2016-April 2017), pp. 90-103
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Olivia Velarde Hermida; Francisco Bernete García
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of other mediators). Other tasks, such as selecting pertinent data, check them, or finding
different points of view for the building of a narration that makes it possible to relate the
facts if this present with previous ones, are subordinated to the goal of providing
information as soon as possible. Usually the narrator accompanies the listener or the
viewer in their access to the events, when they may be seen.
The story is believed to have a culturizing character, since it contributes to “introducing
new generations in the cultural patters of society and prepare them for their recreation”
(Echevarría, 2003), but the fact of transmitting the information of the event in real time
makes this function extremely difficult.
2. The function to provide interpretations of the event when pictures of
the reference objects are shown
Technical developments resulted in a constant increase in the number of images, in the
genesis of which participates the same object of the communication. From the recipient’s
point of view, knowing that the image directly comes from the object confers a degree
of reliability, regardless of the sender’s reliability. When means of iconic or synchronic
information are used, the possibilities to avoid mediators are greater for the benefit of
the autonomous interpretation of users. Recipients may configure a representation of the
event transmitted by themselves if they have the cognitive capacity to process the iconic
narration. However,
“the ability to express in images everything that has a shape
confronts the need that every interpretation must respond to a
particular rule or code, only shared by the members of a same
group” (Martín Serrano, 2004: 128).
The contradiction pointed out in the quote leads to the following thought either verbal
indications are introduced (necessarily in a particular code) to channel the wide repertoire
of individual interpretations towards the interpretative framework of the mediator, or
they relinquish to the control over the interpretation of what was shown and it is allowed
that the meaning given to the information depends on the perceptive and cognitive
capacities of recipients.
The reception and recognition of images (fixed and in motion) require different
information processing habits from the ones required to process oral expressions, aligned
in a space or time sequence and more monosemic than images. If our culturization is
based on particular codes (languages learnt), the narrated descriptions and assessments
of the event in those same expressive models will be better understood than those
narrated with iconic codes. Working with these codes would mean a new way of learning
for a vast part of the population.
Only when recipients may unequivocally identify the object and the context in which the
images are taken, the iconic narration can be sufficient to recognize the status or the
activity of a reference object (for instance, a sports competition with which recipients are
familiar), with no written or oral presence of a mediator.
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Additionally, even when it is recognized what the images show, showing does not mean
explaining the sense of what happens; many times it just means a way of constructing a
show with that event. The mere vision of things may produce a feeling of knowledge, but
the iconicity that supposedly makes facts transparent, usually produces the effect of
making them more opaque
3
.
3. The function of providing interpretations of the event when the
information is overabundant
One of the conquests inherited from current technological systems is that the information
about the events concerning to a specific community are made permanently available to
all member of such community. The features of ICTs have accelerated the dynamics to
expand the universe of reference objects any emerging object may become a public
event and any assessment may be part of a point of view about what is occurring, the
manifestation of which is deemed legitimate (Martín Serrano, 2004: 127).
Theoretically, this expansion of what is referentially controlled may help to learn more
data about more objects, more different perspectives, expressed with more freedom. If
the increase of the information available was in accordance with what is more convenient
for users to know, they would be able to improve their understanding of the changes
occurring in their environment, and to know with stronger foundations what is possible
and impossible to do to adapt to changes, to push to make what they consider desirable
thrive, and to avoid what they consider undesirable.
As is known, the information overload of our times is incomparably greater that the one
announced by Alvín Toffler in his book Future shock (1970)
4
, but the effect is not
necessarily having more true information that could allow us to assess the facts and
participate in the public sphere with a great deal of information. The increase of
communicative interactions does not change one bit its character of “process that may
be used to tell the truth or to lie, to construct or destroy, to unite or separate, to educate
or diseducate” (Díaz Bordenave, 2012).
The amount of information accessible to user citizens to ICTs is not offered to meet their
needs for knowledge and is not the result of a so-called equality of opportunities to
publish on the internet their personal narrations and participate in the public sphere.
Indeed, the technical features make it possible that every user of networks may offer
reference data and assessments about any matter of interest. But not all users have the
same economic and technical capacities. Therefore, they do not have the same
possibilities to appear in networks or to influence in the social representations of the
collective with their personal view of things. Social, economic, political, etc. inequalities
are also taken into consideration in the order of the communicative production.
The applications allowing current ICTs have accelerated the elimination of two dividing
lines: a) the one distinguishing between agents and communicants, and b) the one
distinguishing between senders and recipients within the Communication System.
3
Please refer to La sociedad de la transparencia [The Society of Transparency] (Han, 2013) to find out more
on the sense of “more exposure” in contemporary societies.
4
Toffler perceived “too many changes in a too short period of time”.
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a) Among the actors of the Social System, the functional separation between social
agents (those who produce, sell or buy things) and communicants (those that
exchange information about things) still exists, although the information and the
knowledge (resources for social reproduction) have become resources of the
productive system and have strengthened ties between production and
communication. Public and private interactions are organized from the information
and the knowledge.
One of the consequences that all agents (political, economic, etc.) are communicants
is reflected in the informative overflow of the internet. Large corporations have the
ability to plan it in a way that the information provided in the technological networks
(all of them equally legitimate) hampers the access to knowledge.
This new form of opacity has been observed as “information intoxication”, which
hides truth under the excess of narrations. This is another way to censor instead
of (in addition to) silencing or prohibiting, words, images, sounds and number are
provided. This is how the so-called “knowledge-based society” also becomes the
“uncertainty-based society”, since paradoxically it hinders knowledge by providing
a flood of information.
b) The separation between senders and recipients in mass communication was
functional; on the one hand, the subjects authorized to perform the role of informant
to produce and distribute the communicative products to the mass and, on the
other hand, the potential recipients of such products (for instance, according to their
age, working spaces or times and leisure). This distinction has been blurred. Although
the institutional communication has not been diminished, many other informative
exchanges are produced alongside comments about news or opinion columns, or
sometimes just isolated words, photographs, emoticons or directions that refer to
another informative space. The subjects that publicly interpret the event have
multiplied and, consequently, the views of the world.
4. The function to provide interpretations of the event with fragmented
narrations
The increase of information abovementioned is linked to certain innovations in the format
and in the use of communicative practices. In the past decades, there have been changes
in the way we see (for instance, zapping or narrative grammar that mix genders), the
way we write (for instance, hypertexts) or the way we read (for instance, instant
messaging or microblogging short stories).
In the new narrative formats communication modalities proliferate (or simply, connection
modalities). They tend to reduce narration as much as possible. There are more
exchanges of images and short-length texts. After micro-stories and blogs, “social
networks” emerged, where anything is said or shown with no connection to other things.
Later, microblogging services, such as Twitter, through which users exchange texts that
are obligatorily short, frequently used to announce the existence of more informative
load in other internet space.
Although there are still large narrations, (for instance, some very successful TV series),
micro-stories have multiplied, with almost no narrative structure at all (except from
advertisements). Given their nature, they are not ordered narrations that offer a certain
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e-ISSN: 1647-7251
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representation of a reference object, but pieces of narratives, flows of images, sounds
and words that leave the mental construction of references to each user.
Inasmuch as current ICTs are applied to the educational system, especially in online
courses, it is evidenced a break in the sequentiality that has characterised the structure
and the use of textbooks. Instead, fragments from different texts are introduced with
links to others. This composition seems to avoid a closing of the narration. Regarding
their use, the discontinuity of reading, exercises, etc. is facilitated in different times and
places. As we say, the effect is to leave knowledge structuring in the hands of students
by using their many and portable technical devices they must decide where and when
to do each thing.
5. The absence of collective representation provided by mediators and
the difficulty to build up consensus on the basis of shared knowledge
Between producing and disseminating narrations, and doing so with fragments, headings,
tweets or simple emoticons, there is something else than a difference of length the first
ones are elaborated by knowledge mediators (for instance, writers, teachers or
journalists) that choose the references, data and the order to build a product for their
community. The second ones are usually disseminated with no order, so the members of
the receiving community must assess their informative value and create some
representation. It seems clear that in this way the existence of shared representations is
difficult.
Here is the following paradox on the one hand, globalization is supposed to lie on the
use of shared information and knowledge at a global level; on the other hand, there are
more and more ICT applications aimed at offering informative fragments instead of
providing structured representations that contribute to diminish the level of lack of
knowledge of what happens in the world.
Uncertainty grows while the information dumped in the net by the marked increase of
communicative mediations that, instead of improving our knowledge of the world, our
own and others’ life, feeds prejudices and misunderstanding, they create confusion and
promote endless conflicts.
Nevertheless, it may not be inferred from the points above that the social reproduction
is at risk due to a decline of consensus. In fact, consensus is promoted, but not from all
citizens and, surely, not at a global scale. “Theoretically, globalization and the ICTs that
make it possible provide a possibility to know more about the culture of other countries
and regions of the world; which theoretically may also extend the possibilities to reach
better understanding between people from different parts of the planet” (Bernete, 2010).
The consensus based on the control of networks may reach unprecedented levels.
Because the consensus based on obedience to the own group is being promoted,
strengthening some identities before others, the consensus of the local or nationalist
glorification; the consensus based on the reproduction of stereotypes of any nature that
networks quickly and easily amplify national and local stereotypes, gender or sexual
orientation, Jews, Muslims or Christians, just like hundreds of years ago.
The same technologies that allow the dismantling of knowledge, also allow a use aimed
at prioritizing certain stereotyped representations of reality and their reproduction with