From Garden to Global Village: A Comparative Analysis of Ihde's Postphenomenology and McLuhan's Philosophy of Media

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paper


Throughout the rise of Philosophy of Technology as a substantive discipline since the 1980s, the work of Marshall McLuhan has been largely neglected or forgotten. Yet retrospectively, we can now recognize McLuhan, in a sense, as one of its predecessors - for he developed insights very much in line with concepts elaborated by contemporary Anglo-American exponents of "PhilTech." The present paper investigates how both media theory and Philosophy of Technology could benefit from a mutual rapprochement, specifically by comparing the work of one of PhilTech's preeminent proponents, Don Ihde, with McLuhan's media philosophy. First of all, McLuhanite media theory and Ihde's 'postphenomenology' share crucial starting points. Both regard the use of technology as a non-neutral process, and seek to understand how our perceptions change within technical surroundings. Second, their methodologies coalesce, as both ground their approach on a phenomenological base - either acknowledged or not - and from there proceed to analyze the cultural repercussions of and interactions among technologies. Third, since their theoretical frameworks have crucial foundations in common, they eventually wind up with similar analytical concepts. Ihde's twofold scheme of amplification and reduction - brought forth by every technology - resembles McLuhan's beloved definition of technology as enhancing (extending) but also obsolescing something. In assessing the characteristics of technologies throughout history, both notice a sea change, a qualitative difference between mechanical, industrial technology and contemporary, 'electric' technology (although their eventual treatments differ notably). Fourth, and finally, their "ultimate" aim can be said to be a shared passion for understanding, and perhaps controlling - particularly in McLuhan's case - the inconspicuous meanderings of technological dynamics. Yet, inasmuch as the similarities between these two perspectives interest us, the differences might even be more helpful. As these revolve around the predetermined effects of technology, they can enlighten us on the much contested topic of "technological determinism vs. political-technological change." Hence, Ihde's and McLuhan's frameworks might be able to complete each other, and combining them may shed new light on both contemporary PhilTech and media theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMcLuhan's Philosophy of Media - Centennial Conference (Contactforum)
EditorsYoni Van Den Eede, Joke Bauwens, Joke Beyl, Marc Van Den Bossche, Karl Verstrynge
Place of PublicationBrussel
PublisherKoninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)978-90-6569-116-3
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventMcLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference - Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts
Duration: 26 Oct 201128 Oct 2011

Publication series

NameHandelingen contactfora


OtherMcLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference
OtherMarshall McLuhan (1911-1980): media theorist, cultural critic, provoker. But undoubtedly influential. In 2011, McLuhan would have celebrated his 100th birthday. A perfect moment to look back as well as ahead. During this interdisciplinary conference, we will discuss McLuhan's ideas from different perspectives and traditions, but at the same time highlight an aspect of McLuhan that until now has been underexposed: his philosophy of media.
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Yoni Van Den Eede, Joke Bauwens, Joke Beyl, Marc Van den Bossche, Karl Verstrynge


  • Marshall McLuhan
  • Don Ihde
  • postphenomenology


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