Ding to Process – Object (and Non-Object) Oriented Media Studies
(Originally a removal from the manuscript of Media Archaeology and Digital Culture, this short post reworked and posted here:)
With Bruno Latour at the forefront, several theorists in the humanities and social sciences have been pointing out that how through both scientific practices, political decision making, and media technological assemblages, non-humans play a crucial part in constituting the social. In fields such as speculative realism as well as “new materialism” there is an intensive engagement with how to renew our vocabularies of the material with philosophical, cultural and media studies tools.
Latour (2005) outlines this intertwining of matter and things as part of the body politic by the conceptual move from “object-oriented-software” to “object-oriented-democracy.” In fact, the usually non-technological, non-object body politic of modernity that we find from Hobbes onwards is actually filled with such stuff which is the assembly point of concerns, networks and themes political. Such “composite bodies” in foundational meditations of politics such as Hobbes’ are for Latour (2005: 6) actually
thick with things: clothes, a huge sword, immense castles, large cultivated fields, crowns, ships, cities, and an immensely complex technology of gathering, meeting, cohabiting, enlarging, reducing and focusing. In addition to the throng of little people, summed up in the crowned head of the Leviathan, there are objects everywhere.
Whereas Latour’s thoughts have been a crucial node in the recent debates concerning “object-oriented-philosophy” as well (see e.g. Harman 2009: 151-228), we are also able to extend such ideas to a neologism as “object-oriented-media studies.”
What would that mean? Perhaps in a Latourian spirit we could start paying more attention to how objects, or processes that are technologically defined, enable new forms of sociability and action, as well as politics and aesthetics, and for that, we need to understand much more about the circuits, switches, relays, cables, protocols, various levels of software, screen technologies, and electromagnetic fields which are the at times neglected “media” in the middle of our media relations. Such are the “phantoms” (cf. Latour 2005: 28, 31) that constitute, ontologies and conditions for knowledge of technical modernity, but also the way politics and the public is constituted in the liminal zone of objects, things and constructions of the social. Hence, similarly as we for Latour need to include our objects in our politics – and move from Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – perhaps we need more object and technology focused media studies?
And yes, objects do not need to be objects only. Increasingly, this is the way in which we need to rethink materiality – post-objects, post-object vocabularies, and more for instance in terms of processes, or for instance events (I am here thinking of the temporality of the calculational machine called computer, it’s cycles, halts and interrupts).
Media archaeology has been one rich curiosity cabinet collection, but how do we approach the non-object worlds of waves and streams, flows and cycles, oscillations and vibrations? Instead of things, it’s these materialities that we should turn to – both in terms of new materialist epistemology, aesthetics, as well as the political task of understanding the aesthetico-technicalities of cognitive capitalism.
Harman, Graham (2009) Prince of Networks. Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Melbourne: re.press).
Latour, Bruno (2005) “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public, in Making Things Public – Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 4-31”
ps. check out the recent-ish Mark Hansen talk, relates to process-oriented-media studies.