McLuhan and the Notion of Retribalization


Recently I was introduced to the first season of the A&E television show, Longmire, which is currently streaming on Netflix. I have only had the privilege of watching several episodes (I’m afraid my schedule just doesn’t allow for regular television viewing) and what I’ve seen so far is quite compelling. Alas- although the show is excellent, I’m not writing today to provide a program review but rather to revisit a segment I wrote and presented at the Western States Humanities Conference last year.

One of the more notable elements of the show is the immersive depiction of modern American Indians (the show is specific to the Cheyenne). This leads me to consider media’s influence portraying marginalized, indigenous communities. Interestingly, Marshall McLuhan, the visionary educator of communications, media, technology and humanity provided a powerful framework in which to analyze media. He wrote on media’s influence in constructing a “global village” and of the powerful process of “retribalization.” This post briefly defines McLuhan’s retribalization, while posing additional questions of the concept’s application.

karsh-portrait Throughout history, indigenous peoples have adapted and adjusted to the disruption of their native ways by outside settlers and innovation in a process referred to as “detribalization.” McLuhan asserted that modern man suffered this fate, as well, in particular with the advent of the printing press. No longer relying on the communities for conveying news and cultural lore, the printed word allowed for solitary consumption of information (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967; McLuhan, 2012).

As electronic media filled the airwaves and dominated our living rooms, the relationships between man, information and each other have become intertwined. McLuhan stated, “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village” (McLuhan & Fiore, 1967). It was through this global village that McLuhan identified the retribalization process, the reconnection of man in, “a new state of multitudinous tribal existences” (McLuhan, 1969, 2004).

Remarkably, McLuhan’s contention is nearly prophetic. Indeed, current technological advances, the World Wide Web specifically, have enhanced global communications in profound ways for individuals and communities. We now have the ability to be in touch with people from all over the world, instantly and constantly, if we choose.  This interpersonal process of global, ‘real time’ communication speaks to an instinctive and pervasive need for connection.

So what was happening for indigenous people during the dawning of the media age? According to McLuhan, detribalization was occurring (Norden, 1969, 2004). McLuhan asserted, in one interview, the following:

“…thnativeamhistorye Indian seem to always get a bad deal; they suffered first because they were tribal men in a mechanical world, and now as they try to detribalize and structure themselves within the values of the mechanical culture, they find the gulf between them and a suddenly retribalizing society widening rather than narrowing” (Norden, 1969, 2004).

It is an interesting paradox that as the majority culture seeks to retribalize through connective media, that tribal communities, once marked by their powerful connections, are relegated to oppressive detribalization. Or are they?

retribeimagesAmerican Indians were forced into detribalization, which is a critical point in understanding modern dynamics facing indigenous people. A pressing question raised, in part, by McLuhan’s writing, is whether retribalization of people through media will help or hinder the retribalization of displaced American Indians. What role does media – and the global village- have in American Indian communities?

Many American Indians continue to be displaced from their native lands, receive substandard housing, education and employment and face other, challenging social costs of being an oppressed group. Where does media fit? Certainly, there’s the representation of American Indians in film and television. Regrettably, however, the Hollywood depictions of American Indians are often inaccurate, insulting and do nothing more than reinforce negative stereotypes (Diamond, 2009).

What about the World Wide Web? What form of retribalization is occurring or can occur through the Internet? Unfortunately, this information is currently limited, yet open for consideration. Since there are many reservations that have little to no Internet connectivity, it is difficult to assess the full influence of the Internet. Recent changes made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prove hopeful for tribal communities, with regard to Internet connectivity. On Friday, November 18, 2011, the FCC released its “Connect America Fund” Order to foster Broadband deployment in underserved areas (Dunstan, 2011).

Other technological advances certainly emerge in Native communities. Chris Mercier (2011), an elder with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde recently wrote about his experience at the National Congress of American Indians,

TribalFlags“What was the most pervasive symbol I saw at NCAI? Feathers? Dreamcatchers? Turtles? Try none of the aforementioned. The symbol that haunts my mind the most has little to do with Native American culture, the Apple apple. Everywhere I looked there were iPhones and iPads. Owners were using them frequently as well, which is how I know because the logo is very distinct.”

What would McLuhan make of this? How do the media advances and current technology affect our native communities, as well as the global village?

The tribe, you see, is not conformist just because it’s inclusive; after all, there is far morglobalvillagee diversity and less conformity within a family group than there is within an urban conglomerate housing thousands of families. Uniformity and tranquility are not hallmarks of the global village; far more likely are conflict and discord as well as love and harmony — the customary life mode of any tribal people” (Norden, 1969, 2004).

As a media psychologist, “conflict and discord as well as love and harmony” are necessary provisions for continued observation, integration and understanding of technology. Through this process, one can seek McLuhan’s vision as well as synthesize the constantly evolving state of media effects on individuals, tribes and the global village.


At the feet of the master. (2011). Retrieved from

Dunstan, J. (2011). FCC releases connect America fund order: A potential huge step forward for tribal deployment of broadband [Web log post]. Retrieved from

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage: An inventory of effects. Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press.

Marshall McLuhan speaks. (2012). Retrieved from

Mercier, C. (2011). NCAI in the Rose City [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Morrison, J.C. (2006). Marshall McLuhan: No prophet without honor. In Saleem Ali & Robert F. Barsky (Eds.), Quests Beyond the Ivory Tower: Public Intellectuals, Academia and the Media, 3(2), 20 p. Retrieved from

Norden, E. (1969, 2004). The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan. Playboy Magazine. Retrieved from The Marshall McLuhan Center on Global Communications.

Wolfe, T. (1968). The pump house gang. New York: Bantam Books.


The author with her sister and mother, 1977


McLuhan and the Global Membrane of Communication


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“We remake the world through our technologies, and these in turn remake and extend us, in ever spiraling lattices of complexity. McLuhan uncannily foresaw the future, where electronic technology would shape and expand cultures and societies into a global membrane of communications.” – B.W. Powe, York University



Media Psychology: What IS engagement?



Media Psychology: What is engagement?What is engagement? Despite the fact that I work with clients everyday to track ENGAGEMENT metrics, I haven’t taken the time to reflect on a working definition. There appears to be two distinct camps approaching this question; 1) psychologists and 2) marketing professionals and academics. As a disclaimer, I have worked for almost a decade as a digital marketing strategist and therefore the latter approach to defining engagement is more familiar to me.

These dual approaches are outlined by Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G. in their work entitled ‘The Concept of Engagement’. Psychologists have defined engagement as a ‘sort of ongoing emotional, cognitive and behavioral activation state in individuals’, whereas advertising professionals ‘see it as the turning on of a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context’ (Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G., 2010, p. 4). Their work goes further to uncover contradictory definitions for the term ‘engagement’ and confusion around its actual meaning (Gambetti, R. and Graffigna, G., 2010). Continue reading

Does Facebook Make You Feel Like a Guinea Pig?


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Guest post by Liza Persson.

Recently Facebook conducted an experimental study exploring online “emotional contagion”; the emotional bias or “tone” (negative or positive) of the content of what people see online and whether it affects the emotional “tone” of content they create online afterwards. Emotional bias or tone of content was inferred using an algorithm developed for this purpose, which in itself is a good tool for analyzing content (Kramer, Guillory, & Hancock, 2014).

What Facebook was doing was not psychology or science in any other area though. Facebook violated procedures and principles in regard to conducting research scientifically. It didn’t live up to the ethical safeguards of protecting those participating in the study, although it did get consent via its terms and services policy which is probably sufficient enough to protect itself in the case of lawsuits (American Psychological Association, 2010). The goal of raising ad revenue is not the rationale for scientific research; serving the good of humanity is (Riley, 2014; Nisen, 2014).
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Personalized Pricing Brought to You by the Internet and now Facebook!


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Discrimination deemed legal, product pricing based on data collected about an individual is slowly coming to the public’s attention, although the practice came into being long before the Internet did. It appears that corporations are regularly using what they know about their customers – their income and personal purchasing habits – to make adjustments to the price points for items that appear on computer screens (Fertik, 2013; Shpanya, 2013; Valentino-DeVries, Singer-Vine, & Soltani, 2012). In effect, what you are charged for an item may not be what your friend sitting next to you is being asked to pay while shopping at the same online store for the same product. According to an unidentified programmer most of these alterations are based on your location, browsing history and your preferred operating system (Shpanya, 2013). Computer cookies pick up this information and transmit them to the store fronts (Potter, 2013). So what’s new? Do you use Facebook? If so, your preferences are about to be sold globally to enhance your mobile advertising experience using the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) (Beer, 2014).
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Beyond Advertisement: RePinning for Safety


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As the newest team member that contributes to this blog, I join with a slightly different background. Before working with media psychology, specifically, I worked with crime victims. Needless to say, headlines like this one -

“Police reunite stolen items with owners using Pinterest”

- definitely catch my eye. The advent of law enforcement using social networking sites as an extension of enforcement efforts is not necessarily new. The emergence of Pinterest as a key player in that paradigm, however, is fascinating, to be sure.

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Psychology and Advertising


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“Psychology has been at the heart of advertising since its invention, although, academically, advertising and psychology have long since gone their separate ways. For advertisers, the ability to manipulate consumer impressions and decision making has been the key to success. If product sales increase following a carefully orchestrated campaign, the persuasive tactics have evidently worked, although as with any natural experiment it is hard to establish cause and effect due to the lack of control over confounding variables” (Giles, p. 106).


Giles, D., 2003. Media Psychology. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Media Psychology and Transmedia Storytelling Case Study: The Power Inside


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‘The Power Inside’ is the third social film in a series created by Pereria & O’Dell for Toshiba and Intel. The series, which launched in 2011 with the film ‘Inside’, has been proclaimed as ‘groundbreaking’ by Fast Company and won multiple awards.

This third installment launched August 15, 2013 with a six episode web series featuring a strong ensemble cast including Harvey Keitel. The campaign was aimed at tech-savvy MillenTrnials and was hoping to promote Toshiba laptops that housed the Intel Core 15 Processor. Campaign assets included six ten minute webisodes featured on a sleek website, an active Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel.
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Repurposing Classic Soviet Propaganda Imagery for the Moscow Olympics


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The Moscow Olympics, like so many before it, provides the opportunity for political statements to be made, this time one focusing on Russia’s stance against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities (Reuters, 2013). One voice against this discrimination is an artist who uses classic Soviet propaganda images and gives them new life and meaning. Posting the work on, a microblogging and social networking site owned by Yahoo, #PridePropaganda has redefined an array of images using the colors of the rainbow which can often be seen in other LGBT support events. A comparison can be seen below.
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