One of the low points of architecture in 2013 was architect Zaha Hadid’s football stadium in Qatar. Designed for the forthcoming games of 2022, the main part of the discussion has been about whether it resembles a vagina or not.
Besides reducing architectural discourse to a pretend shock about female genitalia, the case is emblematic of how design is detached from the actual world conditions. Instead of engaging in any way with the reports about abusive working conditions in the construction sites of such stadiums for Qatar 2022, we are left debating the building’s pinky Freudian connotations. Despite the pseudo-feminist debate it raised, a rather sad moment for design. It actually just flags detachment of both architectural popular discourse and architects such as Hadid from a connection with things that might have some material meaning or a meaningful impact for those whose lives this has a direct lived relation.
The underbelly of star designers are: “long working hours, hazardous working conditions, the workers being unpaid for months, had their passports confiscated, forced to live in overcrowded labour camps, denied the right to form unions, and without access to free drinking water in extreme heat”.
But the creative industries backed discourse of stars and creativity demands this underbelly of grey abusive low-paid and globally displaced hard work that is sustaining the fluffy public discourse about design.
Our book-length special issue on Cultural Techniques (Kulturtechniken) is out. Co-edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and myself, the special edition in Theory, Culture & Society is a significant introduction to the term that stems from German academic discussions in cultural and media studies. One could say it offers a significant variation on themes familiar from postwar German humanities’ focus on media, technologies and epistemo-ontological questions of culture in a post-representational and post-textual mode.
By way of some significant translations as well as new articles the issue pitches a way to understand cultural reality through its techniques. The usual definition is from Thomas Macho:
“Cultural techniques – such as writing, reading, painting, counting,
making music – are always older than the concepts that are generated
from them. People wrote long before they conceptualized writing
or alphabets; millennia passed before pictures and statues gave
rise to the concept of the image; and until today, people sing or
make music without knowing anything about tones or musical notation
systems. Counting, too, is older than the notion of numbers. To
be sure, most cultures counted or performed certain mathematical
operations; but they did not necessarily derive from this a concept
of number.” (Macho, 2003: 179)
But as the issue demonstrates, there is more in this mix. The multiplicity of positions and inplications is well articulated in Winthrop-Young’s Introduction to the issue. He articulates how not only in Macho, but in different ways in Cornelia Vismann’s and Bernhard Siegert’s work the constitutive role of cultural techniques functions. In fact, could say that this is the German media theory version of the hominization-thesis: how we become humans; how agency is constituted by cultural techniques which allow us to occupy subject positions. Space, enclosures and passages between them is one way to understand the idea:
“Thus the difference between human beings and animals is one that
could not be thought without the mediation of a cultural technique.
In this not only tools and weapons . . . play an essential role; so, too,
does the invention of the door, whose first form was presumably the
gate [Gatter] . . . The door appears much more as a medium of coevolutionary
domestication of animals and human beings.” (Siegert, 2012: 8)
Key here is the way in which cultural techniques process distinctions with material and aesthetic means. In Winthrop-Young’s lucid words, “Procedural chains and connecting techniques give rise to notions and objects that are then endowed with essentialized identities.Underneath our ontological distinctions (if not even our own evolution) are constitutive, media-dependent ontic operations that need to be teased out by means of techno-material deconstruction.” The implications for a range of recent years of theory-debates are intriguing; it refers to the fact how we need to address practices of theory and techniques of theory as part of the work of concepts and philosophy of contemporary culture. Besides it also shows some early ideas that resonate with a post-textual approach to cultural analysis (for instance in Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp’s article).
I was asked to produce a short video abstract of my own contribution. In addition, find below the table of contents.
Special Issue: Cultural Techniques
Edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and
Cultural Techniques: Preliminary Remarks by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
Culture, Technology, Cultural Techniques – Moving Beyond Text by Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp
Second-Order Animals: Cultural Techniques of Identity and Identification by Thomas Macho
Cultural Techniques: Or the End of the Intellectual Postwar Era in German Media Theory by Bernhard Siegert
After Kittler: On the Cultural Techniques of Recent German Media Theory by Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan
Cultural Techniques and Sovereignty by Cornelia Vismann
The Power of Small Gestures: On the Cultural Technique of Service by Markus Krajewski
Zootechnologies: Swarming as a Cultural Technique by Sebastian Vehlken
From Media History to Zeitkritik by Wolfgang Ernst
Afterword: Cultural Techniques and Media Studies by Jussi Parikka
Files, Lists, and the Material History of the Law by Liam Cole Young
Times Higher Education has published a very good piece on the corporate university, UK. This does not refer to any particular university (despite this being a personal narrative of one person, opting to quit because “universities are killing off integrity, honesty and mutual support”) but the corporatization of the UK system.
What the piece does so well is showing the transversal links between macroeconomic policies and the microsociological everyday life at universities. The economic free market principles (which actually are not just about free markets, but to me about more meticulous wealth accumulation and political credit accumulation) are also felt in the various affective responses and moods that characterise university life.
Corporate capitalism works through a modulation of affects, and it does not feel particularly good. Read the piece to get one excellent insight to UK academia.
There are no clouds, just data centres. But suddenly they tickled the science-fictional nerve again when Google released its “inside view” to their factories of data: it has colours! The rather glitzy pictures showed this seeming transparency and the spatial sense of data management. Besides space, it’s about the elements. Air, water plays a crucial role.
In a great phrase in Andrew Blum’s book Tubes, a Facebook data centre manager (Ken Pratchett) sums it up: “This has nothing to do with clouds. It has everything to do with being cold.” Cool, cold data is not just a linguistic or visual metaphor, despite that elegant modernism that still lives inside the architectures of data places: Mondrian as data. Instead, it has to do with climate control. Ecology. Air. Coolness is not a media theoretical attitude in this context but a media management issue that ties the earth to the escape velocity of data.
Data needs air. “Cool outside air is let into the building through adjustable louvers near the roof; deionized water is sprayed into it; and fans push the conditioned air down onto the data center floor” , explains Blum. Coolness of cyberpunk transforms into coolness of building’s climate control. Fans surround the terabytes of data. Pratchett continues about the building: “The air hits this concrete floor and roils left and right. This whole building is like the Mississippi River. There’s a huge amount of air coming in, but moving really slowly.”
It’s important to notice the persistence of issues of ecology from air to the soil as well as non-cognitive work: that we still talk of factories and rather physical processes having to do with our hardware and how we manage and work with data in its material level.
Blum: “The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way and sent out.”
A different sort of steam punk for the 21st century.
Michael Dieter interviewed me for the Speculative Realities ebook (part of an earlier art exhibition that picked up on speculative realism as an inspiration for art methodologies). We talked about the posthuman, non-humanisation and labour, artistic practices — and a couple of words on my new project that itself speculates on the possibilities of crossbreeding German media theory with Italian (inspired) political theory. In the interview, I also emphasize that one needs to be quite aware about the ways in which people do tend to lump together different traditions of contemporary “realism” and “materialism” — as well as ignoring so much of the earlier work. Is for instance feminism being written out of the current debates in theory?
Michael’s first question…
Michael Dieter (MD): Is there a ‘materialist’, ‘realist’ or ‘nonhuman’ turn in contemporary
thought? If so, how would you position your work in relation to these trends and what is
at stake with such terms?
- and read the rest here! (Three different e-formats available).
A collection that looks really exciting: Depletion Design: A Glossary of Network Ecologies, edited by Carolin Wiedemann & Soenke Zehle. I was happy to be involved with a tiny text on dust and new materialism. A lot of my recent writing and interests have had to do with depletion, exhaustion, and things dead or discarded – as with zombie media. More things (texts) grim and grey forthcoming.
You can download the book here. Below a blurb about its contents.
“We, or so we are told, are running out of time, of time to develop alternatives to a new politics of emergency, as constant crisis has exhausted the means of a politics of representation too slow for the state of exception, too ignorant of the distribution of political agency, too focused on the governability of financial architectures. But new forms of individual and collective agency already emerge, as we learn to live, love, work within the horizon of depletion, to ask what it means to sustain ourselves, each other, again. Of these and other knowledges so created, there can no longer be an encyclopedia; a glossary, perhaps.”
Contributors: Marie-Luise Angerer (Cyborg), Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi (Exhaustion, Soul Work), David M. Berry (On Terminality), Zach Blas (Queer Darkness), Drew S. Burk (Grey Ecology), Gabriella Coleman (Anonymous), Heidi Rae Cooley (Ecologies of Practice), Sebastian Deter- ding (Playful Technologies, Persuasive Design), Jennifer Gabrys (Natural History, Salvage), Johannes Grenzfurthner & Frank A. Schneider (Hackerspace), Eric Kluitenberg (Sustainable Immobility), Boyan Manchev (Disorganisation, Persistence), Lev Manovich (Software), Sonia Matos (Wicked Problems), Timothy Morton (Ecology without Nature), Jason W. Moore (Cri- sis), Anna Munster (Digital Embodiment), Brett Neilson (Fracking), Sebastian Olma (Biopoli- tics, Creative Industries, Vitalism), Luciana Parisi (Algorithmic Architecture), Jussi Parikka (Dust Matter), Judith Revel (Common), Ned Rossiter (Dirt Research), Sean Smith (Informa- tion Bomb), Hito Steyerl (Spam of the Earth).
Folks at Swinburne University, Melbourne have organised quite the event — CODE – A Media, Games & Art Conference. This means my first trip to Australia ever, with that slightly surreal feeling plane trip ahead of me. It is at such moments that you better trust media technological arrangements; the radio and computer controlled cockpit media; and the entertainment media lull in the economy class (see John Johnston’s intro to the Kittler-essay collection Literature, Media, Information Systems).
My talk will be something new I wrote, on “Cultural Techniques of Cognitive Capitalism”. The idea is to do a crosswiring between two traditions; the German media studies type of undertanding of media technologies coupled with the more Italian style political theory of Post-Fordist cultures. The previous has not been so good on the political front, the latter not always been specific enough when talking of media cultures/technologies. Who knows, this talk might form a part of a bigger project that I have been drafting as well.
University of East London
Centre for Cultural Studies Research
Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste
A symposium with Jussi Parikka, Stevphen Shukaitis and Tony D. Sampson
Chair: Jeremy Gilbert, CCSR
UEL Docklands Campus
(ground ﬂoor, main building, turn left upon entering the main square after leaving Cyprus DLR
Cyprus DLR is literally situated at the campus)
Free, All welcome. No need to book.
The boundaries of capitalist workspaces are continuously stretched to new limits. Work is pushed into the home, the obsolescent and the unconscious. Focusing on affective labour, new materialism and neuromarketing, this seminar looks initially beyond the media screens of the digital industries to the wasteful ecologies of obsolescent technology. It then explores resistance to contemporary capitalism extending to, for example, the refusal of caring labour. Last, it repositions the attentive subject of cognitive capitalism in a neurological space of absorbent and mostly unconscious consumption.
Media Matters as Ecology
Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton).
This talk investigates “new materialism” through the context of media ecology – but ecology understood literally and through electronic waste, and the various temporalities and materialities of obsolescence. It argues, following Sean Cubitt’s and German media theory lead, for such a focus to technical media that accounts not only what’s on the screen, but what enables “media” as content to exist. German media theory has been successful to track this back to the engineering and scientific roots of modern entertainment media, but this talk focuses on electronic waste, and its relation to information technology work, but from a slightly alternative perspective. As such, the talk also touches discussions of “affective labour” as well as non-representational approaches to contemporary media culture.
Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). His books include Digital Contagions (2007), Insect Media (2010) and the forthcoming What is Media Archaeology? (2012). He has co-edited The Spam Book (with Tony D. Sampson, 2009) and Media Archaeology (with Erkki Huhtamo, 2011).
Learning from Affective Revolts: Social Reproduction & Political Subjectiviation
Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex / Autonomedia
Despite the importance that autonomist feminism has played in the development of autonomist politics and struggles it is commonly relegated to little more than a glorious footnotes of figures emerging out of operaisti thought (such as Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno). Organizing around gender, affective labor, and issues of reproduction posed numerous important questions to forms of class struggle that focused exclusively on the figure of the waged industrial worker. Revolts of housewives, students, the unwaged, and farm workers led to a rethinking of notions of labor, the boundaries of workplace, and effective strategies for class struggles: they enacted a critical transformation in the social imaginary of labor organizing and struggle. By drawing on the history and of these struggles (such as the various Wages for Housework Campaigns and current organizing such as Precarias a la Deriva) and ideas of those involved (such as Silvia Federici, Leopoldina Fortunati, Mariarosa Dallacosta, and Alisa Del Re) this paper will explore some lessons that can be learned from these a(e)ffective insurgency. Taking seriously the questions posed by these struggles are extremely important because as Alisa Del Re argues, attempting to refuse and reduce forms of imposed labor and exploitation without addressing the realms of social reproduction and housework amounts to building a notion of utopia upon the continued exploitation of female labor. Furthermore the often cramped positions that organizing forms of affective labor and social reproduction (housewives, sex workers, etc) occupies becomes all the more important as these processes are further integrated into the composition of contemporary capitalism. How does one refuse caring labor? Strategies for organizing around affective labor, what Precarias a la Deriva have called a “very careful strike,” are important to learn from to find ways “not a high productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle.” (Dallacosta/James)
Stevphen Shukaitis is a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Autonomedia editorial collective. He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Day (2009, Autonomedia) and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.
Following the Glint in the Eye of the Consumer
Tony D. Sampson, University of East London
New developments in marketing techniques not only aim to sidestep the self-reporting of consumer experiences, but also look beyond the explicit cognitive realm of visual representation to exploit instead the implicit, unconscious affective systems of consumption. Like this, the neuromarketer measures the streams of affect the consumer somatically absorbs in the atmosphere. As the enthusiastic CEO of one US based neuromarketing company puts it, these techniques help the marketer to go beyond conscious consumer engagement with a product and actively seek out what unconsciously attracts them. “Absorption is the ideal,” he claims. This is because it “signifies that the consumer’s brain has not only registered your marketing message or your creative content, but that the other centers of the brain that are involved with emotions and memory have been activated as well.” Along these lines, persuasion and absorption seemingly involves priming the sensory experiences of consumption so as to achieve a number of design goals intended to influence purchase intent.
Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer. He lectures on new media at UEL where he also leads the new media degree programmes. He is the co-editor (with Jussi Parikka) of The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture (Cresskill, Hampton Press, 2009) and the author of Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press) to be published later this year. His current research focuses on the latest applications of noncognitive psychology in studies of human computer interaction.
I am off to Berlin Transmediale 2012-festival soon — excited as always. Giving there two talks; the latter one on Sunday on a panel organized by Tim Druckrey on methods for media art histories — I guess an unofficial media archaeology panel with Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst and Inke Arns!
And something different already on Friday; a performance with Julio D’Escrivan, mixing media theory and live coding… part of the Uncorporated Subversion-panel! Here is a short summary, but for the whole effect…be there on Friday. Should be worth the while, I promise…even though, in terms of the theme of “cognitive capitalism” that the paper touches a bit; I am not at all uncritical towards it, and agree it misses several key points. However, the notion is good, I would say, as a way to continue such investigations as Jonathan Crary has started into the ways in which cognition in a very wide sense, embrasing embodied, affective being, perception, sensation, is constantly articulated “out of our heads” (Alva Noë) — but in our media; a media ecology of production of perceptive, thinking, remembering subject. The collaborative form between me and D’Escrivan has itself been again a great way to work together. Last year we tried out similar things with Garnet Hertz (also with our Transmediale theory prize nominated paper on Zombie Media), and now through the performance.
This presentation can be best approached as an experiment in theory-code-collaboration, through live coding (D’Escrivan) and some speculative media theory (Parikka) concerning techniques of the cognitive. With some minor notes that reflect live coding as a practice, the focus is more or less on the notion of cognitive capitalism. What the talk/performance presents are some tentative steps towards a media archaeology of cognitive capitalism. In other words, what are the supportive, sustaining and conditioning techniques that contribute to the cerebral? In this context, we propose to step away from a cognitive as understood as immaterial or as inner life, and towards a cognitive that is distributed, supported, relayed and modulated continuously in a complex information ecology. We are interested in investigating forms of collaboration between code and sonic arts, and media theory, and investigate collaboration as a form of (extra-)institutional practice in contemporary arts and education field.