TM7 – Media and the Constitution of the Political

Module Outline:

This module proposes to explore media and political formations in the contemporary and historically. Broadly, we invite research into the uses of print media, photography, film, television, video and digital media; an engagement with sound technologies, cultures and forms of public adress, in radio, gramophone, cassettes, compact disks and audio files, in microphones, loudspeakers and public address systems; and to research their deployment not only in formal politics, but in unexpected and unsettling irruptions of the political. A mediatized understanding of key professions, institutions, and practices –in journalism, public relations, propaganda and advertising, but also, critically, in adminstrative practice, in policing and courts of law – is one of our areas of interest.

In the contemporary we are concerned with technological emergences which facilitate heightened forms of media circulation, as with devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops, media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, Telegram and Instagram. Here, we are alert to the need to track the shifting registers and affective intensities, the flows and the ruptures and discontinuities, of the political as it is articulated through the inter-medial, the coming together and inter-reference of technologies, materialities, and sensory experience.

The field has been animated by the very diversity of approaches used to frame it, a feature we would like to promote. These include book history, often a model for how to explore the materiality, infrastructures, economy and culture of print media; film and television studies, from textual analysis through theoretical and historical research into technologies of production, distribution and exhibition, into audiences and publics, stars, celebrities and fans; media anthropology, involving explorations of media objects and their cultural uses, and their implication in colonial and post-colonial life; the field of sound studies, which intersects with music studies;  digital media research, focusing on technology, phenomenology, and philosophical anthropology; political communication; the political economy of media; and media archaeology, privileging the `cool’ perspective of machinic functioning, combination and recombination, storage and retrieval, fixed and random memory, circuits and loops in temporal organisation.

We encourage a focus on the materiality of media, a topic we believe crucial to understanding the configuration of media with the political. Thus the importance of signals and wavelengths, of printed matter, files and paper, of celluloid, video signals and cathode ray tubes, of binary files and algorithms, material forms which compose the infrastructures of communication and expression, of history and memory, of meaning and pleasure, of hatred and violence, of politics.

Moving away from normative approaches and linear histories that privilege particular sites and moments as exemplary or original templates of media/political entanglements, the module adopts a comparative and collaborative approach, engaging experiences and scholarship from different world regions. German media theory’s strong contribution to media archaeology has helped unsettle teleological accounts, drawing attention to how media have been assembled and reassembled, generating distinctive archival and temporal dynamics. South and South East Asia, the Middle East, China, and Africa are key loci for thinking of innovative media assemblages. Here ‘old’ and ‘new’ media co-exist, there are historically distinctive film and musical genres and publics, and mobile telephony has become key to all sorts of communicative, identificatory and financial practices. These media histories include photo-studio based rather than personalized photographic practice; an emphasis on media access and the potentialities of circulation; the production and circumvention of draconian forms for the regulation of intellectual property and content; the development of financial practices outside banking networks.

In the contemporary, digital media have been deployed by governments, political parties and heterogeneous publics to use data analytics, communicate information and policy positions, to generate public interventions and mobilizations. These range from the instigations of dangerous speech and writing, to the circulation of incendiary video and audio files, but also to a wider ecology involving everyday financial transactions and creative and critical practices and communities. In all this, especially in relation to media truth claims, the question of materiality comes back in the sphere of forensics, as deployed by police labs and experts to assess the authenticity of media artefacts and to present evidence and arguments to publics in and beyond the court.

While research focuses and techniques must evolve as we move forward, we encourage research into media and government archives and contemporary social media businesses, ethnographic work in media training schools and studios for film, radio, news media, in forensic companies and labs, in police stations and court rooms, in data analytics and software companies, in and through the work of media practitioners. We also call for an engagement with the legal archive as it provides a vivid deposit of the contests around media use in the longer history and contemporary transformation. We foresee with this module both an exploration of ICAS central focus on the `long 20th century’, in terms of archaeologies, histories and counter-histories, and an engagement with a radical sense of the material, cultural and political rupture occasioned by what media theorists have referred to as machine-driven 21st century media.

Module Coordinators: