Excerpt from: López, A. (2021). Ecomedia literacy: Integrating ecology into media education. Routledge. pp. 253-256
Ecomedia literacy incorporates environmental themes and concepts to encourage eco-ethical cultural behaviors and attitudes by extending the concept of ethics and civic responsibility beyond an anthropocentric gaze to expand empathy and care to the living planet. Ecomedia literacy allows students to evaluate familiar materials from an unfamiliar perspective, thereby activating students to defamiliarize the world and to make it strange. Ecomedia literacy also incorporates modes of inquiry that have been excluded by conventional media literacy practices, such as the exploration of affect, medium, systems thinking, ecology, and alternative media, all of which are important sites of inquiry in ecomedia studies. As a starting point, I propose that ecomedia literacy incorporate several learning objectives so that students learn to:
- Comprehend how ecomedia are materially interconnected with living systems by how they affect biodiversity loss, water and soil contamination, climate change, and the health of workers.
- Analyze how ICTs are interdependent with the global economy and development models, and how the current model of globalization correlates with the history of colonialism and its impacts on living systems and ecojustice.
- Distinguish between anthropocentric and ecocentric discourses.
- Analyze how media form symbolic associations and discourses that promote environmental ideologies and ethics.
- Evaluate media’s phenomenological influence (affect) on the perception of time, space, and place.
- Apply emerging and alternative uses of media that promote eco-ethics and eco-citizenship.
Conventional media literacy tends to be atomized and too focused on messages as the primary unit of analysis. Students need a holistic, systemic approach so they can map [media’s environmental impacts]. For example, climate science and climate reporting are complex, so analyzing climate coverage necessitates understanding the political ecology of media and carbon capitalism. It’s also important to develop metacognition skills to help deal with confirmation bias (presenting facts is not enough). As discussed above, ecomedia literacy promotes a range of literacies, media literacy principles, and research methodologies, including the ability to:
- Research media organizations (information literacy)
- Calculate environmental impacts (environmental and science literacy)
- Analyze/deconstruct media texts (content, semiotic, narrative, and discourse analysis)
- Explore aesthetic language (visual language, audio literacy)
- Holistically inventory ecomediasystems (systems literacy)
- Mindfully engage ecomedia ecomediasystems (ecomedia mindfulness, medium literacy)
For programs required to justify themselves based on skills-oriented outcomes, this list should at least be useful within that particular kind of framework. For example, you can build in information literacy assignments to help them develop their research skills and meet designated institutional learning objectives.
In terms of getting started, there are several areas already covered by media literacy practitioners that can be tweaked to incorporate ecomedia themes. These includes critically analyzing news coverage of climate change and environmental justice movements; studying climate change disinformation/fake news; applying critical thinking and deconstruction techniques to advertising that specifically identify environmental ideologies and rhetoric; applying critical information literacy to determine the validity of environmental claims in media; learning to identify false environmental claims (“greenwashing”) in packaging, advertising, or “fake climate news”; studying the role of social media to promote or obfuscate climate crisis discourses; engaging in media making practices that reflect real-world environmental problems and solutions; extending ethics and discussions of rights and responsibilities to the living planet and workers; connecting the concept of the digital commons to environmental commons (air, water, etc.); applying alternative media practices to environmental change; analyzing media corporations and their sustainability policies; designing regenerative media ecosystems; mapmaking of local environments and digital storytelling; and encouraging outdoor education by reducing screen time and unplugging.
In addition to classic reading/textual analysis, there are diverse activities that can be utilized in ecomedia literacy, many of which are inspired by Buckingham (2019). Research and production tasks could include studying newspaper front-pages, headlines, photos, captions, case studies (compare how a particular issue was covered by different news organizations), and simulated reporting. For writing and creative production students can give briefs and take into consideration specific medium constraints, media languages, and target audiences … For multimedia production they can do blogging, video essays, or simulated news reports. When students need background information (conceptual models and theories) for contextual analysis, active approaches include first hand research (interviews, surveys, participant observation) and web-based research on media companies, such as researching corporate responsibility reports or sustainability policies of media organizations or tech companies, and verifying their accountability mechanisms for ethics breaches. They can explore climate debate policies of news organizations around language use and fairness. For strategic communication, students can do simulations of environmentally oriented media campaigns.
Ecologically oriented education promotes an alternative paradigm based on systems thinking and an ecocentric belief in the interconnectedness of life, humans, technology, and economics grounded in eco-ethics. Some methods to achieve this include backwards curriculum design based on problem-solving and solutions-generating outcomes (such as building a lesson or courses around answering essential questions like, “What characterizes a regenerative media ecosystem?”); scenario and world building to envision different futures; problematizing human-nature binaries; moving away from abstract knowledge to experiential learning grounded in local ecosystems; transitioning to a model of political ecology based on ecological economics; and remediating ecology metaphors to encourage learners to perceive media as embedded within living ecomediasystems. These approaches seek to rebalance and promote ecocentric worldviews.
For lifeworld students can track their experience of space, place, and time with self-reflective practices, such as slow media approaches advocated by Rauch (2018), such as dong digital sabbaths, fasts, or detoxes that are meant to help reduce media usage but renegotiating media habits through mindfulness. Doing comparative analysis by experiencing places with and without media is another approach. For example, a learner can compare walking through a neighborhood or forest with no media device with the experience of doing the same route through the view of a video camera or smartphone. Students can engage how media impact a variety of emotional responses and physiological phenomena, such as alienation, biophilia (love of nature), biophobia (fear of nature), technophilia (love of technology), sense of place, sublime, technology addiction, disrupted natural biophysical rhythms, cognitive dispositions that drive responses to media (such as selective exposure or confirmation bias), and mental health. Students can investigate how sound, color, shape, form, and light are in fact nervous system stimuli and can be understood as physiological phenomena. This approach can broadly be defined as cultivating “media mindfulness,” which is the ability to be conscious of how our cognition interacts with media. Phenomenological inquiry (Parks, 2016, p. 148) and auto-ethnography are other methods. Sara Pink (2015) has developed sensory ethnography by exploring ways smell, taste, touch and vision can be interconnected and interrelated within research.
Buckingham, D. (2019). The media education manifesto. Polity.
Rauch, J. (2018). Slow media: Toward a sustainable future. Oxford University Press.
Parks, L. (2016). Earth observation and signal territories. In S. Rust, S. Monani, & S. Cubitt (Eds.), Ecomedia: Key issues (pp. 141–161). Routledge.
Pink, S. (2015). Doing sensory ethnography (Second edition). Sage Publications.