Media Theory and Media History

Media Theory and Media History at the ICAM researches the media-related possibilities and conditions of cognition, representation and research, or, more generally, of cultural practices—with a special interest in technological interconnections.

This perspective stands in the tradition of technologically informed discourse analyses following Michel Foucault and Friedrich Kittler. Aware of the limitations and in part justified critique of the techno-deterministic forms of this approach, we conduct research and teach in the frame of theoretical further developments of cultural studies-oriented media research. In exchange with other disciplines, we not only place a greater focus on aspects such as actors, concrete locations or networks, it is also important for us to reflect upon the historical genealogy of concepts and methods applied in media studies themselves. This results in an orientation one can best designate with the term of media-historical epistemology.

The aim is not to advance an own type of “media philosophy,” but to conduct historical studies on (media) technologies that are of interest from a media-theoretical point of view in that they lead to epistemological consequences. We therefore grasp the Media Theory and Media History not as two separate fields that are to be researched and taught at the university independently of each other. Instead, we find that grasping media theory and media history as a dynamic relationship of exchange leads to much more productive ideas and questions in research and teaching. For us, media-historical epistemology is therefore not a discipline in the classical sense. To speak with Ludwik Fleck, it is a form of a “thinking collective” or “style of thinking” chosen for quite pragmatic reasons. Such a style of thinking enables second-order observations that aim at retracing misunderstandings, disruptions, breaks, caesuras, or, in short, “epistemological obstacles” (Bachelard) that characterize the history of media. The strengths of a media-historical epistemology understood in this way lies in its compatibility with other current approaches in cultural studies, e.g., the research of cultural technologies, the research of laboratories and science, or the history of science.

To this end, a media-historical epistemology must be well informed not only about the disciplines whose media-related methods it addresses, but also about the current methodological standards of neighboring approaches, such as science studies, musicology, Science, Technology and Society (STS), visual studies, or technological and cultural history. For the purpose of a specific media epistemology, they are taken up, examined, and reformulated in view of their subject matter. Such a combination of media theory and media history makes no problem-solving promises of enhanced media technologies or more successful conveyance of science, but offers itself as a method to problematize science, society, and culture.