To Media Study

I was invited to contribute a short text for the inaugural issue of the new journal MAST – The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory. The whole issue is a great compilation of interesting and insightful texts that you can access as direct PDF here.

My text was a brief take on media studies – both media studies as a discipline and media study as an activity. Here’s the beginning of the text that can be accessed through the PDF link above.

To Media Study: Media Studies and Beyond

To study media is to study more than what we already recognize as media. The beauty of media study should involve the possibility of methodological and theoretical labor that investigates what even constitutes its object of knowledge and the process through which such objects of knowledge are stabilised as the thing that circulates as “media” in academia. It even includes the possibility of considering academia as an institution and its practices as “media,” a proposition made by Friedrich Kittler (2004). Indeed, universities consist of a changing set of practices and techniques programmed into students and future staff, hardware from libraries to mail systems and objects of knowledge that provide one operating system for a range of contemporary operations—mathematics to philosophy as well as computing. Not that we need to accept all the details and specifics of the story (and its European bias, as Kittler also stated) but the methodology of realising that media relates not to “communication,” but to material architectures, cultural techniques, and infrastructures from hardware to standards is the key takeaway. In short, even the academic study itself is, well, media.

To study media is to study what then even becomes media in the first place, and how mediation is much more than what counts as media as such. Hence, media study and its stabilized version in academia, Media Studies, can be in a privileged position to understand how the question of media shifts from the human scale of interface to large-scale networks, infrastructure, and logistics. Some of the greyest things are the most exciting when it comes to understanding the powers of media: administration, logistics, infrastructural arrangement and territorial governance. Media is placed in actual spatial, material, and institutional realities.

Not that the academia is the sole place of media study – media study also happens outside Media Studies. Indeed, to radicalize Kittler’s point about media at the university, we need to recognise the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – mechanisms of economic power that enable and disable the possibilities of study. To study media is also to recognise, as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013) importantly argue, that it happens in contemporary contexts of debt and governance that are, one might add, part of the “media” and cultural techniques of the university and of how it produces experience and habit. To study should not be about the reproduction of misery as part of the policy of the current academic institutional landscapes, or as Moten puts it: “I think that a huge part of it has to do simply with, let’s call it, a certain reduction of intellectual life – to reduce study into critique, and then at the same time, a really, really horrific, brutal reduction of critique to debunking, which operates under the general assumption that naturalised academic misery loves company in its isolation, like some kind of warped communal alienation in which people are tied together not by blood or a common language but by the bad feeling they compete over.” (Harney and Moten 120).

[…continues: here. PDF]

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