Annual Conference 2018
Media in the Wild.
University of Siegen | 25-26 September 2018
Michael Dieter, Carolin Gerlitz, Anne Helmond, Nathaniel Tkacz, Fernando van der Vlist, Esther Weltevrede
Store, Interface, Package, Connection: Methods and Propositions for Multisituated App Studies
This presentation discusses methodological approaches to app studies, focussing on their embeddedness and situatedness within multiple infrastructural settings. Our approach arises by paying close attention to the multivalent affordances of apps as software packages, particularly their capacity to enter into diverse groupings and relations depending on different infrastructural situations. The changing situations they evoke and participate in, accordingly, makes apps visible and accountable in a variety of unique ways. Engaging with and even staging these situations, therefore, allows for political-economic, social and cultural dynamics associated with apps and their infrastructures can be investigated through a style of research we describe as multisituated app studies. The piece offers an overview of four different entry points of enquiry that are exemplary of this overarching framework, focussing on app stores, app interfaces, app packages and app connections. We conclude with nine propositions that develop out of these studies as prompts for further research.
Tacit Intelligence, Or, the Taming of Cognition in a Dashboard Society
Much has been made of the fact that cognition doesn’t readily equate with the kind of ‘thinking’ that humans do (Hayles; Hutchins; Clark). Rather, thinking is ow considered to be just one kind of higher-level cognitive activity within a broader cognitive milieu, understood to ‘extend’ beyond the brain (embodied), the individual (collective) and the human (non-human, artificial). We are equally aware that the timescales of thought are not those of cognition (Libet), which makes thought vulnerable when operating within the distributed cognitive arrangements of 21st-century media (Hansen). In this presentation, I am less interested in theorising what counts as cognition or indeed thought, and instead focus on the increasingly standardised and everyday relations established between humans and their cognitive media. In addition to accounting for speed (Hansen) and the general rise of a ‘cognitive nonconscious’ (Hayles), we also need to understand the historically specific distributions of cognition and accompanying formatting of thought that takes place when different cognitive actors converge. In particular, I am interested in the kind of thinking, or cognitive activity, that goes on when humans encounter interfaces designed specifically to augment their cognitive capacity. How to understand this relation between non-cognitive cognition and cognitively augmented thinking? I will draw on ongoing research into dashboard interfaces and business intelligence software to explore these ideas.
Thinking through the Digital: From Mechanical Systems to Recursive Agency
Harkening back to Raymond Williams’ Television: Technology and Social Form, Lisa Gitelman reminds us that media exist at the intersection of technological platforms and social protocols, and that their identities refract these two axes as historically specific utterances. The genealogies, taxonomies, and cases for specificity that attend media are in this sense situational and context bound. And as contexts change and as new media enter the mix, the borders and fault lines that demarcate older media reveal their provisional characters … and stimulate new definitional logics. Many of our histories have taken the form of skirmishes over binary oppositions: media of storage vs media of connection; media as extensions of the sensorium vs media as conditions of the sensorium’s construction; media as transmission vs as inscription; and so on. But discussions of analog vs digital media have a different character. They tend to be rooted in the implicit particularities of the analog, and to flatten and essentialise the digital. I’d like to complicate the history of the digital, first, by disaggregating it from the specific instantiations we’ve come to know in the computer age and by considering its materialities, both in the historical sense of mechanical-digital systems and the linguistic sense of what contemporary uses of the term entail. Second, I’d like to pull on one of those disaggregated elements, the algorithm, to re-read the larger arc of the long modern (15th C plus) vis a vis media and representation, and to situate emergent concerns regarding agency, contingency, and intelligence. And finally, I’d like to consider one of the media deployments of the algorithmic (within the Matryoshka doll of Artificial Intelligence, and ultimately, the ‘digital’) through one of its manifestations: responsive and recursive forms of narrative. These emergent story forms will help to illustrate a distinctive relationship between ‘human’ and ‘digital’ systems, while serving as a heuristic for the larger questions of how we imagine digital media and their affordances.
Digital Faces in Computational Environments
The physical human face plays an intrinsic role in our interactions with computing devices. Computational screens tend to be designed as surfaces to be looked at, whereas the face is captured with cameras of various sorts, to be rendered visible on these screens, and possibly edited, modified and corrected to fit existing models, standards or expectations. This digital face is increasingly part and parcel of a range of social practices that are, to some extent, digitally mediated.
This paper presents major reasons for their widespread collection, including individuation, social sorting, and detection of situational mood or intent. These uses fall broadly into the domains of control and care, and are strictly visually regulated. But digital faces also allow for subverting common sense understandings of how a face should look like. These subversions take various forms, such as the grotesque, aimed at other humans, and the non-decipherable, aimed at humans or machines. Digital faces, while being tightly connected to our physical ones, permeate different ninfrastructures than our physical faces, expanding the facial reach of the latter.
Non-Representational Theories and Their Relevance for Researching Media in Quotidian Cultures: On the Primacy of Movement, ‘Storied Knowledge’ and Narrative
What are ‘non-representational theories’? What is their relevance for researching media in quotidian cultures? These are the questions that I will seek to answer in my talk.
The term ‘non-representational theory’ is most closely associated today with the work of Nigel Thrift and with the writings of a wider group of contemporary geographers, but it has also come to be associated with Tim Ingold’s anthropology of the line and that notion of the ‘nonrepresentational’ has a longer history of use, too, in the discipline of philosophy. I will argue that, when looking across this range of academic work, non-representational theories can be seen as an important challenge to any assumed centrality of representations to life, whether that is the assumed primacy of mental picturing or of symbolic systems. To put it another way, the non-representational approaches advocated by Thrift and several others are both anti-rationalist and anti-structuralist, involving a bold assertion of the primacy of practice or movement.
The implications of a non-representational theoretical emphasis, for what have been called ‘nonmedia-centric media studies’ or for what might be thought of as an emerging field of ‘everyday-life studies’, are, in my view, profound. Non-representational theories, I propose, are an invitation to reimagine research on everyday media use, and, more widely, on the weave or texture of quotidian fabrics, mainly as investigations of orientation and habitation, or of inhabitants’ knowing-whilegoing and place-making practices. However, as I will attempt to show with particular reference to the concept of ‘storied knowledge’, such a reimagining does not require concerns with textuality, and especially with narrative, to be left behind entirely. On the contrary, Ingold’s discussion of ‘lines’ and ‘meshwork’ suggests an innovative way forward for the analysis of media narratives, broadly conceived, and for a consideration of the peripatetic experiences of readers or users, indicating how text analysis could be helpfully integrated into the study of everyday lives.
Patricia Prieto Blanco
Visual Mediations, Affordances and Social Capital
The digitisation process and the expanded context of new media has given rise to myriad mediation tools or platforms, media in short, from which prosumers choose. Specific media forms are employed at certain times. In the development of these routines, both the distinct affordances of each media are taken into account, as well as particular experiences to be thereby enabled. For transnational families the material and technological aspects of singular media come under scrutiny insofar as they promote social co-presence and the generation of social capital. Photography is used not only to record and build memories for the future but to extend the present. Skype affords meeting significant others for coffee. Snapchat photographs are employed as mirrors to check hairstyles and apparel before a night out. The emphasis on recording for the future vanished along with the magical meaning associated with analogue visual media. The definition of picture-worthiness changes and networked images become instruments of socialization.
Why Haptic Media Studies?
The ‘haptic moment’ we were waiting for since the tail end of the twentieth century never quite arrived. Perhaps we expected something like Rheingold’s “tactile realism” (1991), but in the meantime something more profound has emerged. This is not the moment as a singular event of transformation, but rather the definition from physics of an applied pressure from a distance, a slow unfolding, in the wake of a distinct series of technological changes. The more advanced technological changes have mostly gone under the radar of media scholars, as they occur in specialized areas of engineering, healthcare and robotics. Yet, even in the everyday realm of consumer technologies, numerous incremental changes have blinded us to the cumulative materializations of haptic habit, shifts in the patterning of haptic practices. This talk is a celebration of the slow unfolding, and of the possibilities it affords for studying the changing materiality of tactile relationships to mediation systems.
The Idea of the Mediant: Agency and Technology in the Financial World
In an earlier essay (2016), I proposed the idea of the “mediant” as a more specific category of “actants”, which might be batter suited to account for the relationship between materiality and mediation. In this essay, i will develop this argument by taking a closer at contemporary financial forms, such as the derivative, whose materiality cannot be separated from their mediating capacities. Furthermore, financial mediants not only link various materialities, they also produce new surplus value, something which is not a feature of conventional actants. This capacity encourages us to think more deeply about the generativity of mediants.
The Drone and I: Aerial Sensibilities and Cooperation on the Fly
A new mobile medium is entering everyday spaces, and it flies. Consumer drones are here to stay, not only initiating a variety of applications in commerce and science, but also inspiring a growing number of hobbyists to fly for recreation. This newly gained access to the sky for leisure and creative expression is further manifested online in tens of thousands of drone-generated still and moving images live-streamed, shared, and stored across social media platforms. While the smartphone continues to reign supreme as portable platform, consumer drones as increasingly popular and similarly personal, interactive, internet-enabled, and user-controlled mobile medium raise new questions about how we conceptualize digital practices in motion. Besides engendering aerial sensibilities to physical and hybrid spaces via augmented place making, consumer drones offer cooperation on the fly through connected presence and shifting mobile autonomy. Drawing on participant observations in Philadelphia, in-depth interviews with drone hobbyists, and auto-technographic drone practices, I discuss how particularly the three concepts of intermediality, spatiality, and mobility come into play in personal drone use. As such, the analysis engages literature from mobile communication, critical media studies, and mobilities research to illuminate how the aerial technology conceptually aligns with but also goes beyond more traditional mobile media.
Filming through the Milieu. On Sensory Documentary Practices.
The paper discusses recent works of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University by focusing on the notion of sensory experience in documentary media produced by the lab. In works like Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel 2012) experience and the embedded reflection on digital media practices are entangled practices. The milieu is not only an object but a method to explore from inside perspectives. Experience becomes key in this: Although it might seem different at first sight sensory experience is not unmediated but embedded in the very media practices of filming. Additionally, experience might be perceived as moving beyond the realm of the phenomenological as it was so prominently discussed in papers in sensory ethnography and anthropology in general during the last years. Assemblage of media and milieu (object and method) can be framed in a larger movement of the undoing of the nature technology division in STS, media studies as well as in the broader field of Anthropology.
»Filming through the milieu« thereby refers to Isabell Stenger’s text »Ecology of Practices« shedding light on the technique of not only thinking but doing camera work and audio as an immanent and situated practice (Donna Haraway). Following media theorist Andrew Murphie Leviathan is an epiphenomenon of new sense making practices facing the sensual impact of digital media in which the media itself becomes the object. I perceive this as a turn in which methods are deeply impacted by the interdependence of theory and practice as well as how sense and meaning figure in a more immanent, processual and relational way in documentary film research and beyond.
Julia Bee is assistant professor for image theory at Bauhaus University Weimar. She works on perception and desire, visual anthropology and images based research practices. Recent publications: „Erfahrungsbilder und Fabulationen. Im Archiv der Visuellen Anthropology“, in: Lena Stölzl/Vrääth Öhner (Hg.): Sichtbar-machen. Politiken des Dokumentarischen. Berlin: Vorwerk 8 2017, (transl.: „Experience-Images and Fabulation. In the Archive of Visual Anthropology“, in: Lena Stölzl/Vrääth Öhner: Making Visible. Politics of the Documentary, Berlin Vorwerk 8,); Waves of Experience Atmosphere and Leviathan, with Gerko Egert, in: : Exploring Atmospheres Ethnographically, hrsg. v. Susanne Schmidt und Sara Asu Schroer. London: Routledge 2018; „‚Die Welt spielt‘. Spiel, Animation und Wahrnehmung“, in: Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky/Reinhold Görling (Hg.): Denkweisen des Spiels, Berlin/Wien: Turia und Kant 2017 („The World Plays. Play, Animation and Perception“, in: Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky/Reinhold Görling: Modes of Thinking Play); „Gewalt, Begehren Differenz. Zu einer Politik der Wahrnehmung“ („Violence, Desire, Difference. Toward a Politics of Perception“), in: Jochem Kotthaus (Hg.): Sexuelle Gewalt im Film, Weinheim/Basel: Bertz& Fischer 2015.