Remediation Essay

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Remediation (Bolter & Grusin 1999) refers to a historical process through which newer media forms interact with earlier ones. On the first page of Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan noted that the “‘content’ of any medium is always another medium: the content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print.” Remediation proceeds from this insight, but understands the process as more complex and historically nuanced.

The relationship between media is not a linear process of replacement or incorporation, as McLuhan suggested; instead, the media of a given culture enter into a configuration of relationships involving cooperation as well as competition. When a new medium is introduced (e.g., film at the beginning of the twentieth century, television in the middle, or the computer at the end), the whole configuration may shift. Designers and producers working in the new medium may seek to take over the roles previously played by the established media, and their counterparts in the established media may respond either by yielding easily or by reasserting their own roles. This dual ‘process of appropriation and reappropriation’ will remain ongoing as long as the various media remain vigorous. A claim to greater authenticity (or sometimes even ‘reality’) is a defining aspect of remediation. The producers of the new form borrow representational elements from the older one, but, in refashioning those elements, they further make an implicit or explicit claim that their new form is in some way better, i.e., more authentic or more realistic.

Bolter and Grusin (1999) identified two main representational strategies of remediation. Transparency is a strategy that dates back at least to Renaissance painting, in which the artist or producer tries to make the medium disappear so that viewers feel as if they were in the presence of the object or scene represented. Hypermediacy is the opposite strategy, in which the producer acknowledges and even celebrates the process of mediation. As approaches to remediation, a focus on either transparency or hypermediacy indicates whether the producer is inclined to cover up or to acknowledge a dependence on earlier media forms.


  1. Bolter, J. D. & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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