[iDC] Alan's questions about media theory/ies

Mark Edward Cote markcote at trentu.ca
Tue Jul 21 18:54:36 UTC 2009

i find this thread on mediation to be very interesting, not only because
of the diversity of provocative positions expressed but because, for me
at least, it raises a key intersection in the relationship b/n play and
labour in the digital age--namely, the relationship b/n the human and

following jodi's lead, i too will number previous comments for clarity.

"sean: Mediation is a name for the fundamental connection between (and
within) everything." 

"jodi:  I'd say that mediation is a way that humans respond/react to
fundamental division/antagonism." 

clearly the question of mediation can be vexatious because it is broadly
understood conceptually. my own feeling is more in line with
sean's--that is, mediation is a fundamental condition of existence.

jodi, i wonder if you might clarify your deployment of mediation as
something responsive to antagonism. i ask in part because i am
sympathetic to seeing things in terms of structural divisions and
antagonisms--a general terrain of struggle if you will. but how one
situates mediation-struggle is contingent upon the relationship b/n the
human and technology, especially vis-a-vis medium/media.

my recent research has taken me into the realm of contemporary media
theory which is strongly oriented by a basic understanding of 'embedded
technology.' for me this is taken up most productively in the work of
tiziana terranova, mark hansen, katheirne hayles, and bernard stiegler,
among many others. indeed, i hope to speak to this turn in media theory
at the conference.

most relevant to questions of mediation is stiegler's 'technics and
time' wherein he posits a constitutive relationship b/n the human and
technology. this is based largely on the work of french
paleo-anthropologist andre leroi-gourhan who posited that the
distinguishing characteristic of homo habilis (the first 'human' or
homo) was precisely its ability to make (not just use) rudimentary stone
tools. for leroi-gourhan this sets off a transductive relationship b/n
the tools and the distinctive neurological development of the human.
stiegler refers to this recursive relationship as epiphylogenesis, a
form of emergent causality whereby tools effect the biological process
of evolution which equally impacts upon the development of technics. in
other words, we only ever became 'human' when we became able to use

in short, tools (technics, technology) were always already part of the
process of exteriorization for the human. this brings us back to
mediation. what i find compelling about this perspective is how it
further deconstructs the human subject of modernity. as i framed it in a
recent conference paper, 'we have never been human.' that is the human
is an originary assemblage of the body and technology; a structural
coupling of the human and its environment. 

perhaps of interest to readers here is that such tools/technics also
include media artifacts, writ-large--from orality to literacy to digital
distributed networks. as such, antagonisms themselves are only ever
manifested recursively in the structural couplings of the human and
environment. from this theoretical perspective, mediation is a
constitutive element of our existence.

"jodi: I take the view that mediation isn't primary but a reaction to
antagonism. In some ways, though, this question of priority or the
axiomatic is misleading insofar as media are recursive."

i would definitely agree with your second point given what i noted
above. with the caveat that we as humans--in cooperation or
antagonism--are never exist as such outside of that mediation.

actually, mediation may be an inadequate term form this perspective as
it may denote separate pure or ideal realms of i) us as humans, and ii)
the world of things and relations out there.



Mark Coté, Ph.D
Cultural Studies Program
Trent University
markcote at trentu.ca
>>> "Dean, Jodi" <JDEAN at hws.edu> 07/21/09 1:22 PM >>>
I appreciate Sean's remarks here. My own views differ on a number of
pSean's point, my point follows)

1.  Axiomatically, there is mediation. ... Mediation is a name for the
fundamental connection between (and within) everything. 

I don't agree that mediation is prior to anything else: things which
will be mediated come before that. I'd say that mediation is a way that
humans respond/react to fundamental division/antagonism. (This entails,
then, that animals communicate but that their inter-relations are not
mediated. So, the view I suggest is one rooted in human
antagonism--mediation is a response.

2.  The biggest question for any historical theory of media is: how
come, in a universe where mediation is the law, there is such
concentration, delay, detouring, and hoarding of  it?

This seems to me to be asking why is there antagonism--it doesn't follow
well from the axiom of fundamental mediality, although it would follow
from a supposition of antagonism. But the
question would need to be more precise, looking at the relation between
economic production and different media.

3. Wealth, for example, is a form of mediation. Goods and social
obligations flow round in gift economies and in commodity economies, but
in the latter (and quite possibly in the former) they do not flow
constantly or evenly. Same thing is true of other flows like love, food,
news, words, pictures. 

Barabasi (and, now, hosts of others) analyze these inequalities in
social networks in terms of powerlaws. 

4.  There are media theories (plural) because we do not agree on what
media are. I propose that if a theory is a media theory, it should take
as axiomatic that mediation is primary, and that everything else (sex,
power, exploitation) are effects of mediation and its vicissitudes.

There are media theories because people disagree on many things--not
just on what media are. As I've mentioned, I take the view that
mediation isn't primary but a reaction to antagonism. In some ways,
though, this question of priority or the axiomatic is misleading insofar
as media are recursive.

5.   If everything from architecture to sunshine mediates, we have the
critical agenda mapped for us – issue sof reciprocation and mutuality,
solidarity, dependence and contingency. 

I don't think this follows or makes much sense. One could just as easily
say that if architecture mediates the goal is controlling architecture
by establishing myths and rituals around building (Freemasons rule the

6. ... precisely because they are no longer central arms of governance
and ideology, narrative and ilusion are once again open to innovation
and experiment, precisely in the fields where contemporary
governmentality no longer operates such as the inner life...

Living in the US, it seems to me that narrative and illusion clearly are
central arms of governance and ideology and that the biggest ideological
mystification of the present is that somehow we are
post ideology: that's the ideological form of neoliberalism.
Additionally, governmentality certainly does operate on inner
life--whether in the form of competitiveness, bodily insecurity,
compulsions to enjoy, reveal, and display, fear and the perceived need
for security, the demands placed on the individual to secure for herself
what was formerly provided by collectives, and, why not, forms of
fundamentalist religion.

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