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We have divided the essays into clusters, premised on three general approaches to media: in the first part of the book, the authors come at the question of media by way of aesthetics, which concerns the realm of the senses, the body, and the arts, and places individual human experience at the center; in the final part, with reference to society, emphasizing the place of media in making communication and collective relationships possible; and in the middle section, via technology, with a focus on the mechanical aspects of media and the way that innovations and inventions transform the condition of both individual and social experience. These categories are to some extent arbitrary, and many of the terms that appear under one rubric could easily be transferred to another. Our point is not that these approaches are sealed off from one another but just the reverse. We want to foster an integrated approach that overcomes the balkanization of the field of media studies, which makes it difficult for scholars interested in, say, politics and mass media to find common ground with the aesthetes who are concerned with the place of affect and perception.

Women and Gender Studies Videotapes in the Media Resources Center, UC Berkeley

The essays in this volume engage Kittler’s proposal. But when we posit as the inaugural proposition for our media studies that media determines our situation, the shift from media as an empirical collection of artifacts and technologies to media as a perspective for understanding allows us to reassert the crucial and highly dynamic role of mediation—social, aesthetic, technical, and (not least) critical—that appears to be suspended by Kittler. Without jettisoning the crucial finding of Kittler’s work (and of much of the archaeological work in contemporary media studies)—that media do have agency and do necessarily constrain experience—we seek to reintegrate the empirico-transcendental agency of media into the larger social domain, the domain of mediation, within which culture and life actually happen. In concert with contemporary Marxist theorists of media like Matthew Fuller, we propose that media studies names something other than an activity performed on a certain kind of object or content. As a mode of understanding, a perspective from which to engage our world, media studies rehabilitates understanding from Kittler’s antihermeneutical critique (a critique shared by others, e.g., Gumbrecht) precisely by resituating it. What is to be understood is not media in the plural, but media in the singular; and it is by understanding media in the singular—which is to say, by reconceptualizing understanding from the perspective of media—that we will discover ways to characterize the impact of media in the plural. Whether they can be considered to be modes of understanding in themselves, such characterizations will involve much more than a unidimensional account of the technics of a given medium; indeed, by pursuing a generalization of technics along the lines suggested by Stiegler (as the correlate of human life), such characterizations necessarily involve mediations among the domains we have quite artificially dissociated here: society, aesthetics, technology. That these mediations themselves require yet another kind of mediation—critical mediation—is, in the end, the very burden of this volume and its neo-McLuhanesque injunction to understand from the perspective of media. Rather than determining our situation, we might better say that media are our situation.


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This broad claim forms the motivating insight behind this volume of essays devoted to “critical terms” for the study of media. In today’s intellectual climate, it would be no exaggeration to cite media as a central topic of research in the humanities and the humanistic social sciences, and for precisely the reason indicated by Kittler. Media can no longer be dismissed as neutral or transparent, subordinate or merely supplemental to the information they convey. Rather, an explosion of work by a diverse group of scholars representing a host of fields, disciplines, and interdisciplines has attested to their social and cultural agency. Not surprisingly, in the wake of this work, “media studies” has emerged as a viable research area, under rubrics like Comparative Media Studies (at MIT) and Literature, Communication, and Culture (at Georgia Tech), and as the focus of an ever-expanding range of research initiatives across the globe.


Christopher Lee, Griffith University, ..

Though it stretches back to ancient times, where it denoted a means of dispute resolution in matters of commerce, mediation acquires the value on which we are here drawing with the development of German Idealism (Hegel) and dialectical materialism (Marx and Engels). For Hegel, mediation was the abstract operation through which the dialectic pursued its forward march. Proceeding through the sublation (Aufhebung) of individual contradictions (pairings of thesis and antithesis), the dialectic of reason or spirit (to cite The Phenomenology of Mind) itself comprises the ongoing and processural operation of mediation necessary for Absolute Knowledge to emerge triumphant as the culminating product both of philosophical logic and world history. If Marx and Engels do not actually turn this operation on its head, they do correlate it with actual reality in a manner unimaginable for Hegel: in their work, mediation designates the primary form of relation and reconciliation between contradictory forces in a society, between the material domain and culture, base and superstructure. This analysis, found in the mature work of Marx and Engels, emerges from Marx’s early understanding of mediation as labor, where labor mediates between a worker’s body and nature and, more generally, between the human realm and natural world. Following the expropriation and reification of labor power, it is capital itself which becomes the agent of mediation: the capitalist determines the exchange value of labor, thus transforming labor power into a commodity.