If any of you are in the Bay Area, communication +1’s editor, Briankle Chang, will be speaking at the 2015 California Cognitive Science Conference at the University of California, Berkeley. The seventh annual conference will be held on Saturday May 2nd, 2015. More information here.
We continue our Dialogues series with Joanna Zylinska. Zylinska is one of the most forward looking and thoughtful theorists in media studies, visual culture, and beyond. Her work—in the past, ongoing , and to come—cuts through many of the issues communication +1 seeks to address. We are pleased to present this conversation with her in the hope that it will continue. We invite interventions and engagement in the comment section, or get in touch at communicationplusone at gmail dot com with suggestions.
Q: One of the problems that your work seems to address is how we might conceive of biopower after humanism. You draw on Agamben, for example, to look for a new ethics grounded in the material, but attentive to mediated and nonhuman influences.
If, in the modern state, according to Agamben, life and the body have become biopolitical concepts in which the materiality of life, its biological aspects, and its vegetative functions crisscross our bodies’ political and legal roles and positions, an effective bioethics that can counteract the normativity of the biopolitical regime has to be thought through the zones of indistinction between bios and zoē, matter and concept, human and nonhuman. (2009: 112)
How do you see your work in relation to the reconfigurations of the human subject in the new material approaches? Does a new, more dynamic conception of ethics have a dramatically different relationship with environment?
JZ: First of all, I should perhaps signal that I am somewhat suspicious of these so-called “new material approaches”, sometimes presented under the umbrella of “new materialism” that is posited against a number of what I see to be straw targets, such as, say, poststructuralism, or “the linguistic turn”. The problem with such articulations is that they tend to remain blind to their own articulatory gesture and the rhetorical and conceptual conditions of its possibility. More importantly – and worryingly – they are also premised on the forgetting of the conceptualizations of matter and materiality in the philosophical traditions against which they set themselves. In works of this “new materialism” matter tends to be posited as “a priori and as, allegedly, beyond culture, despite an awareness of the untenability of such claims” (Bruining 2013: 151). Yet the positing of matter in this way can only be premised on the simultaneous occlusion of the humanist values that underpin such a philosophical “positing gesture” – not to mention the reintroduction of the old-style Cartesianism, except that now the principal driver of agency is on the side of “matter” rather than “the mind” (see Bruining 2013: 158). So, while I would take a position against what Dennis Bruining terms “material foundationalism”, an approach “in which matter translates and comes to signify an exigency of life” (149), I am certainly interested in materiality, that is in the way “stuff” works, transmutes and evolves – and in how we evolve with it and as part of it. Biopolitics for me is a sphere in which the indistinction between bios and zoē, matter and concept, human and nonhuman is enacted. Bioethics, in turn, involves moving beyond this indistinction.
“…the positing of matter in this way can only be premised on the simultaneous occlusion of the humanist values that underpin such a philosophical ‘positing gesture’ – not to mention the reintroduction of the old-style Cartesianism, except that now the principal driver of agency is on the side of ‘matter’ rather than ‘the mind'”
The above hopefully explains why my work on ethics, both in its earlier guises, in Bioethics in the Age of New Media (2009), and in my most recent book, Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (2014), does not pivot on a fixed notion of an “environment” as such that would be somehow separate from the humans, and that those humans could then either damage or protect, but rather considers their mutual co-constitution and entanglement, to use Karen Barad’s term. However, it is important to highlight that this co-constitution and entanglement does not amount to supporting life continuism, or the indeterminate flow of matter: the singular instances of resolution, which I also term “cuts”, are important in the multiple processes of life – both ontologically (i.e., so that we can recognize some “temporarily stabilized beings” such as humans, dogs or rocks) and ethically (i.e., so that we can take a decision about, and make an intervention into, the “stuff” of life).
“I am certainly interested in materiality, that is in the way ‘stuff’ works, transmutes and evolves – and in how we evolve with it and as part of it. Biopolitics for me is a sphere in which the indistinction between bios and zoē, matter and concept, human and nonhuman is enacted. Bioethics, in turn, involves moving beyond this indistinction..”
Q: In your work on the ethics of enhancement you explore some of the existing positions within the philosophy of technology on the problem of enhancement. In departing from older conceptions of the human that have relied on “a singular and fixed moral entity,” (2010, 150) you move towards a new ethical framework where human and nonhuman subjects are always considered in relation to material environments and technologies. Could you say more about how “re-imagining the conceptual and material boundaries of ethical subjects,” (154) for example, carries the potential to be more attentive to the ethics of contemporary mediated cultures and political life?
JZ: As explained above, this entangled model of human-nonhuman relations provides a framework for my ethical deliberations, but it is also important to highlight moments of temporary agential resolution within this entanglement, which are also moments when those of us who call ourselves human can take responsibility for what surrounds us. My attempt to re-imagine “the conceptual and material boundaries of ethical subjects” also entails a call to us human to remain attentive to how these boundaries are instantiated and executed, and by whom, or, in other terms, a call to consider how material in-cisions become ethical de-cisions. Such reconceptualization of ethical subjectivity in terms of relationality and entanglement is not just an intellectual exercise: it allows us to develop a non-hysterical response to contemporary mediated cultures. This is not to say that “anything goes” and that all sorts of couplings or all sorts of enhancement are to be seen as morally or politically neutral. The second point is particularly important in the age of biocapitalism, when the relations of life in both their cellular and social aspects are subject to various complex processes of commodification, patenting and profiteering. Yet the consideration of the human as “always already enhanced” (an idea I develop from the notion of originary technicity outlined by the philosopher of technology Bernard Stiegler) challenges certain normative positions on what humans should do or look like with regard to issues such as plastic surgery or drugs, be it medical or recreational, positions that often rely on a certain idea of what is supposedly “natural” for us. At the same time, the ethical theory I develop differs from the Spinozist-Deleuzian ethological model, in which goodness is judged on the basis of the power it increases in the body once it has entered into a composition with other bodies. This is not to dismiss the importance on Spinoza’s part of proposing a non-moralistic, immanent, functionalist model of ethics at a time when transcendentally-justified deontological (i.e. duty-bound) frameworks reigned supreme. Yet for me that ethical subjectivity, which – like for Spinoza – is always corporeal, also exists in the form of ex-istence, i.e. as an opening of the self beyond itself. It is in responding to that opening that an ethical act takes place, I suggest.
“My attempt to re-imagine ‘the conceptual and material boundaries of ethical subjects’ also entails a call to us human to remain attentive to how these boundaries are instantiated and executed, and by whom, or, in other terms, a call to consider how material in-cisions become ethical de-cisions.”
Q: Bruining’s challenge to some of the moralizing configurations of ‘materiality’ by new materialist thinking is both a fruitful challenge and perhaps also a relevant point for segueing into a discussion of your own mixed methods practices of doing research. Can you say more about your interest in, as you put it above “the way ‘stuff’ works, transmutes and evolves”? Is this form of materiality that you describe at play in your work with and around art photography?
Yes, indeed. While my original training was been primarily textual and while I still have great fondness and respect for long-form arguments and narratives as developed in philosophy and literature, writing is only one mode through which I approach this question of ethical responsibility and human-nonhuman relations. Over the recent years, I have found myself increasingly drawn to other, less verbal, modes and methods of addressing some of these issues: those enabled by art, and, more specifically, photography and image-making. I had always had a passion for photography but in 2007 I plucked up the courage and enrolled on the MA programme in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster, from which I graduated in 2009. This has encouraged me to not just continue writing about interdisciplinarity, boundary-crossing and hybrids but actually try and enact them in my own work. I must emphasize that I didn’t want to just replace ‘theory’ with ‘practice’ in any straightforward way. I have rather started practicing philosophy as if it was art, while attempting to think of art-making and photography as ways of philosophising. What originally made me interested in photography were not its representationalist ambitions: I was trained in poststructuralism so I never really bought into photography’s supposed indexicality. Even the earliest photographic practice, that of Fox Talbot and Daguerre, was a form of an enactment of a world in a certain way. Photography has always been ontological, or world-making, for me, rather than merely representational. Yet photography has a different materiality from writing and it carries a different set of practices and affordances. I’m interested in exploring these differences in my work.
For example, in my latest book, Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (which is freely available on an open access basis), the traditional philosophical argument is accompanied by a visual track, consisting of a series of photographs that are inserted between the chapters. The book, riffing to some extent on Adorno’s Minima Moralia, is an attempt to think about life and death at a time when both human and nonhuman life has found itself under threat on a planetary scale. The Anthropocene names a new geological period, supposedly following the Holocene (although scientists are still debating whether the term should be officially accepted or not), in which the human has been identified as a significant geological agent who has had irreversible impact on the geo- and biosphere, via activities such as mining, deforestation and urbanization.
The series of images I’ve presented in the book, called Topia daedala, builds on my prior exploration of various forms of manufactured landscape. Taken from two vantage points on both sides of a window, the composite images interweave human and non-human creativity by overlaying the outer world of cloud formation with the inner space of sculptural arrangement. Remediating the tradition of the sublime, the photographs invite the viewer to question what counts as “landscape” and to challenge the conventions of its visual representation. The project also aims to raise questions for the role of “stuff” – specifically, plastic, as both construction material and debris – in the age of petrochemical urgency.
Q: Could you speak to the current and future state of media studies in some more general terms? I am thinking in particular of your suggestion, with Sarah Kember, in Life After New Media that media may be better understood as interlocking processes, rather than as discrete objects. How do “the vitalism of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze on the one hand, and the différance of Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler on the other” (2012: 71) inform this reading of media and mediation?
What Sarah and I tried to do in Life after New Media is raise questions for the oft-banded term “creativity”, with both the fuzzy buzz around it, both in academia and outside, and the negative connotations resulting from its associations with the creative industries whose sole purpose is to monetize any form of human activity. While we both have been increasingly working across the boundaries of theory and practice (with Sarah writing fiction as well as scholarly texts), we certainly did not want to proclaim in any kind of moralistic fashion that “everyone in media studies should now do practice” and that this is the way the discipline should now go. On the contrary, the book’s goal was to show the fundamental interlocking of the various practices of media creation, with language and narrative actually being some of the earliest media humans had developed. In this sense, theory itself can be a form of practice: although, sometimes in following the expectations, the routines and the trends, it is just an enactment of a program. The concept of mediation became a tool for us in trying to define this intertwined relationship between various modes of knowledge production.
We didn’t see mediation as a third term linking two stable entities (film-maker and audience, say), but rather as pointing to a different logic under which media operate. We defined mediation as “a complex and hybrid process that is simultaneously economic, social, cultural, psychological, and technical. Mediation, we suggest[ed], [wa]s all-encompassing and indivisible. This is why ‘we’ have never been separate from mediation. Yet our relationality and our entanglement with nonhuman entities continues to intensify with the ever more corporeal, ever more intimate dispersal of media and technologies into our biological and social lives”. … Broadly put, mediation became for us “a key trope for … articulating our … being in the technological world, our emergence and ways of intraacting with it, as well as the acts and processes of temporarily stabilizing the world into media, agents, relations, and networks” (2012, xv).
So, making visual work has become for me one way of enacting this dynamism and processuality of media, including photography. Curatorial practice, where the creative, or even world-making role is combined with that of order-imposition (in the philosophical sense of managing the chaos of the world which is not always of human making – and not just managing artists) has become another. Mediation has also served as a directive for my most recent project called Photomediations Machine, which is an online space I founded and co-curate with Taiwanese artist Ting Ting Cheng (http://www.photomediationsmachine.net). Photomediations Machine is an online space where the dynamic relations of mediation as performed in photography and other media can be encountered, experienced and engaged. The site adopts a process-based approach to image making by tracing the technological, biological, cultural, social and political flows of mediation that produce photographic objects. Showcasing theoretical and practical work at the intersections of art and mainstream practices, Photomediations Machine is both an archive of mediations past and a site of production of media as-we-do-not-know-them-yet.
To sum up my answer to your very important question about the future state of media studies – which is perhaps also a question about the future of scholarly investigation and experimentation, or even the future of knowledge as such – I have to say that even though I work on ethics (or maybe precisely because of it), I’m wary of issuing any kind of normative statements about how things should be, or work. So, instead of speaking in my own voice, I want to finish off by turning to this little exhortation to media scholars which Sarah and I had made, with a nod to Beckett, in the conclusion to Life after New Media:
- All of old. But ask again. Ask better.
- Cut. Cut again. Cut better.
- Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (see 2012, 2005)
Joanna Zylinska is Professor of New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University of London, writing on new technologies and new media, ethics and art. She is the author of four books – most recently, Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene (Michigan Publishing 2014), Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (with Sarah Kember; MIT Press, 2012) and Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009). She is also a translator of Stanislaw Lem’s major philosophical treatise, Summa Technologiae (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Together with Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Open Humanities Press, she runs the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life – consisting of a series of co-edited, electronic open access books about life which provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences. She combines her philosophical writings with photographic art practice.
Dialogue conducted by Wendy Pringle May-November, 2014
Works Cited in Dialogue
Bruining, Dennis. “A Somatechnics of Moralism: New Materialism or Material Foundationalism.” Somatechnics 3.1 (2013): 149–168.
Kember, Sarah and Zylinska, Joanna. Life after New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2012.
Zylinska, Joanna. “Of Swans and Ugly Ducklings: Imagining Perfection in Makeover Culture.” Bioethics in the Age of New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009.
Zylinska, Joanna. “Playing God, Playing Adam: The Politics and Ethics of Enhancement.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7, no. 2 (2010): 149–61.
Zylinska, Joanna. Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2014. An electronic version of the book is freely available under the CC licence at: http://www.openhumanitiespress.org/minimal-ethics.html
Zachary McDowell recently published a new piece in Culture Digitally:
* Guest Edited by Florian Sprenger and Christina Vagt *
Under the impression of today’s global crisis and the rise of ecological thinking, confronted with smart, ubiquitous technosystems and the impression of interconnectedness, there appears a new urge to excavate the remnants of the past. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies.
The nine contributions ask how these debates and affective states survive and live on in today’s discussions of media ecologies, environmentalism, object-oriented philosophies, computer simulations, performative art, and communication technologies. In this sense, they take the renaissance of systems thinking in the late 20th and early 21st Century as an effect of various system crisis and explore new media technologies as stabilizing ‘cures’ against the dystopian future scenarios that emerged after World War II. The articles of this issue suggest that in order to understand present technologies, we need to account the systems thinking that fostered their emergence, and that we cannot gain insight into the afterlives of systems without exploring their technologies
To the authors we extend our deep gratitude for their contributions. To the readers we extend our invitation for input and suggestions.
The following pages begin a conversation we hope will continue. And it is to those whom have spoken we shall turn.
To access this issue please visit scholarworks.umass.edu/cpo/
communication +1 is an open access journal supported by University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries and the Department of Communication
Under the heading of “dialogues,” communication +1 begins here a series of conversations between a variety of thinkers engaging the various topics we hope to explore. We invite engagement here in the comments section as well as suggestions for the future at communicationplusone at gmail dot com.
Q: Some of your earlier work, in One Nation Under Google, and Prometheus Wired: The Hope for Democracy in the Age of Network Technology focuses on network technologies and politics in an era of connectivity. More recently, with your study of the farmers of the Battle River Railway cooperative in rural Alberta, Canada political subjectivity takes on a more conventional form with laborers asserting their rights, and reclaiming access to production resources. What is to be gained in revisiting infrastructures, such as agricultural industry, through the lens of technology? Has your work taken a ‘material turn’?
DB: My early work on network technologies was always materialist in the Marxist sense, a response to the overwhelmingly idealist early promotion of digital technologies as essentially egalitarian and democratic. This discourse took it at face-value that equality meant access to information, and that democracy meant the expression and circulation of opinion. All of my work on digital technology has tried to trouble this by placing digital technologies in the material context of advanced capitalism – the political economy of information industries; the role of digital technology in production practices and work arrangements; the deployment of these technologies by the capitalist state. A second, more Heideggerian, strain in my work has focused on digital mediation and the quality of our encounters with human and non-human things, and the worlds they compose. I see this as “material” as well, albeit in a different, perhaps more phenomenological sense.
That said, my recent work on infrastructures such grain elevators, grain marketing agencies, short-line railroads and pipelines is certainly materialist in the more current fashion, insofar as it engages with the specific and situated materiality of these infrastructures, as sites and media of politics.
Q: In your work, you make use of Jacques Rancière’s ideas of disruption and dissensus. Is there something within the particularities of the technologies in question that is better poised to attend to a politics of refusal, or of reclaiming agency? Does the role in transportation of such agricultural technologies sustain something different than do digital network technologies? Do their cargo, or their primarily material status (as opposed to digital) carry different affective potential?
DB: The infrastructures in which I have become interested are all explicitly media for the movement or transportation of valuable commodities. This is what makes them potential sites of material disruption and reorganization, which I take to be the core operation of politics, especially in a context in which publicity – the circulation of information and the making of persuasive arguments – has largely lost its critical function. Digital network technologies enable all sorts of wonderful things, but (to paraphrase Jodi Dean) they also mediate a public sphere in which aesthetic and discursive disruption are almost immediately absorbed as circulating content. The disruptive character of a group of farmers who establish a short-line railroad and producer-car co-operative to resist the consolidated private grain trade (which amounts to the technological obliteration of their communities) is, while small-scale, of a different magnitude than a Facebook group. To raise another example: pipelines carry commodities that need to move to deliver value to those who have acquired the rights to them. The ability to disrupt those flows can be a powerful way to extract concessions from powerful actors and institutions that otherwise appear to be impossible. My interest is in how particular commodity infrastructures make themselves available or unavailable as media for these sorts of non-violent, disruptive political action, once all the reasoned arguments have been tried and failed.
“Digital network technologies enable all sorts of wonderful things, but (to paraphrase Jodi Dean) they also mediate a public sphere in which aesthetic and discursive disruption are almost immediately absorbed as circulating content.”
Q: What do you think of the distinction that is often made between the US and Canadian traditions in communication theory, where (among myriad other differences) McLuhan and Innis are seen as freighting Canadian theory with an inherited tendency toward spatial-temporal models, while early sociological institutes and public opinion research are seen as having shaped the US scene? Is there something about Canada—perhaps its comparatively abundant geographical space—that has fostered a fixation with reflecting on material networks of circulating culture and goods? Would it be a stretch to say that the ‘Canadian tradition,’ perhaps as John Durham Peters (2003) imagines it, has enjoyed the benefit of materialist thinking?
DB: In his preface to that lecture, Peters described Canada as “a place communication studies has always been critical, philosophical, and historical at once.” I think we still aspire to that, at least on our best days. The Canadian question has always been more about how stuff – including cultural stuff – moves (or does not move) around than it has been about how to manage large numbers of people with no common tradition to which to defer. Democracy has never been as real or as dangerous here as it is the United States, so Canadian elites never really needed to develop a science of public opinion, or even a sociology of communication. The polity has been managed more through mechanisms like patronage, equalization payments, freight rates, and hydro-electric power deals than by communication of that other sort. And we have always been constituted in and by circulatory relationships with imperial powers in relation to which we have stood as a site of branch-plants, a plentiful standing-reserve (of fish, of fur, of timber, of oil), and a residual pool of consumers. Innis saw, via his own non-Marxist brand of materialism, that the circulatory logic of the economy infused political and cultural life as well. This, combined with the properly Marxist political economy approach that was so important to the second birth of communication studies in Canada (I am thinking here of Dallas Smythe), stamped the discipline here very distinctively.
Q: In our most recent volume of Communication + 1, John W. Kim explores the status of the material in new media theory, arguing that the centrality of the virtual to media research has fluctuated, but that is it rather a conception of the material that holds potential for continued investigations into media.
“In contrast to the virtual, the material has not been given sufficient consideration as a constitutive element in our interactions with media technologies. To move beyond accounts of the disappearance of the material, its total mediation, or association with the body, we must recognize ways in which our perception of it both conditions and is influenced by our interaction with media technologies.” (9)
Could the configuration of ‘infrastructures as media’ stand to contribute further to this mode of thinking?
DB: It is not just that paying attention to infrastructure can exert some much-needed materialist correction on our study of media, but also that approaches developed in media studies can help us understand what is at stake in infrastructure. Old fashioned Innisian communication studies alerts us to questions of storage, conveyance, distribution, directionality, temporality and orientation, and the way in which these dynamics bear on the possibilities of subjectivity, culture and politics. What is exciting about so-called new materialism is that it draws renewed attention to the agency of things, and the manner in which action arises from confederacies of human and non-human things gathered in contingent assemblages. This suggests that what is contemplated as infrastructure is more much dynamic, relational and complex than we sometimes think. It forces us to rethink what infrastructures are for, the extent of their implications, and who or what has a stake in these. I think here about the contentious politics of oil sands pipeline approvals, which summon a diverse confederacy of non-human and human things from across the vast spatial and temporal territories that pipelines traverse. People are on the line and at the table, but so are whole ecologies, habitats, climates, creatures and materials. As hard as the energy industry tries to exclude it, the future itself is at the table, because this infrastructure is implicated deeply in the future and its possibilities.
“What is exciting about so-called new materialism is that it draws renewed attention to the agency of things, and the manner in which action arises from confederacies of human and non-human things gathered in contingent assemblages.”
Q: One of the goals of the current volume was to “challenge the text-centered approaches in media and communication studies.” What elements of non-discursive communication and politics are at work in your research? And what do you think is to be gained in such reconfigurations?
DB: In a recent piece I have written on pipelines as media, I steal a couple of phrases from Hans Gumbrecht to say that transportation infrastructures are media because they “produce presence” and, in so doing, communicate “what meaning cannot convey.” I think what is to be gained in a return to the materiality of communication is a way to think the relationship between communication and politics that exceeds the liberal democratic narrative of publicity. Marx said, “As individuals express their life, so they are.” This does not mean we are what we say we are; it means we are what we do. When the farmers of Alberta’s Battle River region decided to organize a major part of their productive lives co-operatively rather than competitively, they did not simply express the opinion that doing so might be a good idea: they expressed a short-line railroad. Sure, they had to persuade people to buy shares in the co-op. But their work was primarily material, not discursive, and I would say it was more robustly communicative and more political as a result.
“I think what is to be gained in a return to the materiality of communication is a way to think the relationship between communication and politics that exceeds the liberal democratic narrative of publicity.“
Sarah Ahmed’s work on the phenomenology of orientation has also been extremely helpful to me in this respect. She calls attention to the ways in which subjectivity is a matter of orientation, whereby we are oriented towards and by the objects that are placed in front of or behind us. These orientations and objects form lines of direction and horizon that establish subjective and collective possibility, and place certain things and experiences within or beyond reach. I think infrastructure is another name for the sort of objects Ahmed has in mind. And her account of the queering of orientation – the unsettling but life-affirming work of disorientation and re-orientation – is very suggestive of what becoming political might mean beyond the expression of one’s opinion. I see infrastructure as the potential site and medium for this sort of politics of orientation, disorientation and reorientation.
Q: In “Human Material in the Communication of Capital” Atle Mikkola Kjøsen considers “…how economic forms can be considered elements of the communication system that is capital” (11). In particular, Kjøsen likens capital to “value-in-transmission” (13) through an analogy to Shannon and Weaver’s model. What do you think is to be gained in thinking across communication and economics?
DB: I think we gain an appreciation for forms of action and modes of becoming subjects that are consequential precisely because they are not confined to symbolic and semantic registers. Words, sounds and images matter, but so do bodies, work, food, wealth and movement. There are good reasons to think the internet is the definitive technology of our present, but the technology that will define the possibility of our future will be an energy infrastructure. The question will be how we, as scholars of communication and as political subjects, orient ourselves to the questions such a technology will demand of us.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………..Darin Barney is Associate Professor in the Art History and Communication Studies department at McGill University and Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship. He has presented the prestigious Hart House Lecture at the University of Toronto, published in 2007 under the title One Nation Under Google: Citizenship in the Technological Republic. In 2003, he was awarded the inaugural Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Aurora Prize for outstanding contribution to Canadian intellectual life by a new researcher and was selected in 2004 as one of fifteen “Leaders of Tomorrow.” His current work investigates the politics of petrochemical pipelines in Canada. He also looks at grain-handling technology on the Canadian prairies as a form of ‘unconventional media,’ exploring the affective, political and communicative stakes in the case of the Battle River Railway cooperative. http://darinbarneyresearch.mcgill.ca/
Dialogue conducted by Wendy Pringle on February 14, 2013
Works Cited in dialogue:
Ahmed, Sarah. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.
Barney, Darin. “Pipelines.” Fueling Culture: Politics, History, Energy. Eds. Imre Szeman, Jennifer Wenzel, and Patsy Yaeger (Fordham University Press, forthcoming).
Chang, Briankle. ed. “Editorial Note.” Communication + 1 no. 2 (2013).
Dean, Jodi. Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Durham: Duke, 2009.
Gumbrecht, Hans Ulrich. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2004.
Innis, Harold Adams. The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Original 1930.
Kim, John W. 2013. “Whither The Material in New Media Studies?” Communication + 1 2.
Kjøsen, Atle Mikkola. “Human Material in the Communication of Capital.” Communication + 1 no. 2 (2013): 3.
Peters, John Durham. “Space, Time, and Communication Theory.” Canadian Journal of Communication 28 no. 4 (2003). http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/journal/article/view/1389.
Smythe, D.W. Dependency Road: Communications, Capitalism, Consciousness and Canada. New York: Ablex Publishing, 1981.
communication +1 is pleased to present our second issue: Communication and New Materialism
Given the recent emergence of new perspectives in critical theories, such as Object-Oriented Ontology, Speculative Realism, Alien Phenomenology, Flat Ontology, and associated research programs, this issue seeks to explore the implications of these perspectives for the study of communication and media. We use the term, New Materialism, broadly to include all the aforementioned as well as other related approaches in the hope to be as inclusive as possible and to encourage diverse voices and analytic angles that focus on the forms and processes of mediation across different fields. We are particularly interested in works that engage with the theoretical underpinnings of New Materialism to challenge the text-centered approaches in media and communication studies.
To the authors we extend our deep gratitude for their contributions.To the readers we extend our invitation for input and suggestions.
The following pages begin a conversation we hope will continue. And it is to those whom have spoken we shall turn.
To access this issue please visit scholarworks.umass.edu/cpo/
Call for Papers: Afterlives of Systems
communication+1, Volume 3, 2014
Guest Editors: Christina Vagt, Florian Sprenger
This issue of communication+1 investigates the afterlives of systems since the early 20th century, following Aby Warburgs and Walter Benjamins historiographical concept of afterlife as the transformations and iterations a concept traverses to become productive at a specific moment in time. Under the impression of todays global crisis phenomena and the rise of an ‘ecological paradigm’ (Erich Hörl), we ask for papers that explore these afterlives from a historical or systematic perspective. We are interested in the promises, plausibilities and argumentative resources of system-oriented thinking, holistic or vitalistic worldviews and mechanistic approaches on different fields of knowledge during the 20th century and their current revival in the 21st century.
When system-oriented thinking emerged within biological contexts in the first half of the 20th century, it came along with universal pretensions: The concepts of ecosystems (Tansley) and general systems theory (von Bertalanffy) were both immersed in longstanding struggles between materialism and holism. From this context stemmed the rise of cybernetics and neocybernetics after the Second World War, which incorporated the principles of feedback and self organization (Maturana/Varela/von Foerster/Luhmann). System-oriented thinking in the once new fields of ecology, cybernetics, or systems theory itself seemed to offer an alternative to the futile opposition of mechanistic or atomistic perspective on the one side and holistic, organicistic or vitalistic perspectives on the other side. Nonetheless, underlying this institutionalization of system-oriented thought were diverse models of the relationship between a system and its parts, and alongside with that a renaissance of holistic concepts, e.g. holocoen (Friedrichs), biosphere (Vernadsky), noosphere (Teilhard de Chardin), synergetics (Buckminster Fuller), or Gaia (Lovelock).
How do these debates and affective states survive and live on in today’s discussions on new materialisms, object-oriented philosophies, media ecologies, or environmentalisms? Was the renaissance of holism in 20th century thought an effect of various system crisis, taking new media technologies such as television, computers, satellites and space shuttles as stabilizing ‘cure’ against dystopian future scenarios after World War II? Or should we understand the afterlives of systems within a broader perspective of new media induced models of subjectivity and agency that still have to be explored? Which role does the figure of the observer play in all this? Are there notions of systems in arts and architecture that are not incorporated in the historical struggles? What does it mean when materialisms today become holistic again? What is systemic in assemblages?
Please submit short proposals of no more than 500 words by November 25th, 2013 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upon invitation, full text submissions will be due March 31st, 2014, with expected publication in July, 2014. Although there is no set word limit, suggested length for the final submission is between 4500 and 7000 words.