Technologies of Bureaucracy: Before and After the Digital Turn

2021-12-13 Stanford–Leuphana Summer Academy 2021 , December 13–18, 2021

Media invariably have organizational effects: They shape the ordering of the social. Yet to become operative as media, they need to become part of institutional, organizational, managerial, or entrepreneurial contexts. While a very old story, this intimate relation between media and organization has been updated and exacerbated by the so-called »digital turn«. In organizations and in the socio-technical organization of economic, social, political and cultural life, what counts can increasingly (and literally) be digitally stored, distributed, replayed, augmented, and switched.

Contemporary debates around »social media« and the »digital economy«, »digital labor«, »platform capitalism«, »surveillance capitalism«, or »algorithmic governance« therefore tend to present a new organizational landscape that is conditioned by digital technologies. Similarly, popular debates on technology and organization are largely framed in terms of ahistorical and presentist notions of »innovation«, »disruption«, »flexibility«, and »post-bureaucracy«.

The second Stanford – Leuphana Summer Academy on Humanities and Media poses the question of how media technologies do the work of organization. In doing so, however, the Summer Academy seeks to take a step back from familiar terms and images of epochal change and radical newness. For instance, in addition to its supposedly novel powers of sociotechnical disruption, the computer can be understood in much more traditional terms: it can be seen as a fundamentally bureau­cratic medium, its logics as primarily administrative ones. In Cornelia Vismann’s words, »the computer implements the basic law of bureaucracy according to which administrative techniques are transferred from the state to the individual«.

To understand how »technologies of bureaucracy« have shaped organization before and after the digital turn, the Summer Academy specifically invites historical studies of the relation between media and organization, technology and bureaucracy. How do genealogies of media and organization allow us to understand the digital turn, its pasts, presents, and potential futures? What were the main institutional contexts, figures of thought, and thinkers that came to shape the organizational prehistory of »digital cultures«? What might inquiries into pre-modern or early modern entanglements of media technologies and social ordering teach us about the present condition? Are there other historical and non-western cultures of organizational technologies that allow us to understand the present, such as the long tradition of Chinese bureaucracy (and the way it might shape contemporary »social credit systems«), medieval and ecclesiastic European bureaucracies formed by specific material technologies of the codex or cartularies, or the administration of colonial empires and the vagaries of translation? How can we then decenter and rethink presentist and often hyperbolic notions of »social media«? Moreover, the Summer Academy invites »grounded« investigations of the very materialities and immaterialities that shape technological ordering before and after the normalization of digital technologies. What were, have been and are the specific, and specifically mediating, objects that determine the practices and effects of organization?


New date: December 13–18, 2021


Stanford H.G. Will Center, Berlin, »Haus Cramer«, Pacelliallee 18, 14195 Berlin

Faculty and guest speakers

  1. Timon Beyes (Sociology of Organisation and Culture, Leuphana)
  2. Wendy Chun (New Media, Vancouver)
  3. Shane Denson (Film and Media Studies, Stanford)
  4. Monika Dommann (History, Zurich)
  5. Marisa Galvez (French, Italian, and German Studies, Stanford)
  6. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Comparative Literature, Stanford)
  7. Robin Holt (Organization Studies, Copenhagen)
  8. Karla Oeler (Film and Media Studies, Stanford)
  9. Claus Pias (History and Epistemology of Media, Leuphana)
  10. Hito Steyerl (Experimental Film and Video, Berlin)
  11. Peter Stohschneider (Medieval Studies, Munich) tbc
  12. Fred Turner (Communication, Stanford)


Marisa Galvez (

Claus Pias (

Timon Beyes (