Imaginaries, Media Technologies, Politics

From digital detox clinics to offline locations, from unplugged classrooms to anti-tracking-apps: spaces, practices and devices of disconnection as well as political struggles around the right to be disconnected are beginning to shape digital cultures. This project empirically and theoretically investigates the proliferating imaginaries, technologies and politics of organizing disconnectivity.

Digital cultures are significantly shaped by media-technological connectivity. This connectivity takes many different forms, among them social media, texting, corporate networks or streaming services. The early utopias of net culture, but also contemporary semantics, often express euphoric ideas of universal inclusion and the promises of connection. There is a trust in the general desirability of expanding networks, as if such an expansion of connectivity would by default embody and offer a democratic promise. This kind of trust does not only accompany the ubiquity of digital media and their embedding in everyday practices; it also characterizes the reflection of digital media’s ubiquity and pervasiveness in the main theories of networks and communication. Either implicitly or explicitly, then, such theorizing is based on a normative notion of, or belief in, connectivity. Until recently, inn the fields of sociology of media and sociology of organization as well as media studies, little attention has been given to connectivity’s flipside, namely different forms of dis/connectivity (Entnetzung).

We understand dis/connectivity to be a discreet and original (and in no way secondary or »deficit-ridden«) social and media-technological praxis. Structured into three work areas, the project investigates the imaginaries, technologies and politics that emerge with the tactical and strategic production of situations of dis/connectivity. Dis/connectivity here does neither imply an absolute state (as a complete opt-out of networks) nor a mere restriction of the reach of digital media, but rather a temporary and situational practice that serves to reduce availability. We are thus interested in temporally and spatially precarious moments and arrangements in and through which connectivity is reduced within networks. Practices of dis/connectivity therefore do not lead to a dissipation of networks; they produce »zones« of disconnection within them. Thus, dis/connection is not subversive by default. It can just as possible become the basis for new and alternative forms of connecting.

The project yields the first systematic investigation of dis/connectivity as well as case study based analyses of its imaginaries, technologies and politics. Conceptually, the phenomena of dis/connectivity problematize the analytical reach of relational theories and call for the development of new concepts and analytical strategies. The assumption that dis/connectivity can only be thought in and through connectivity situates our project theoretically; it requires to critically connect (!) to actor-network-theory (ANT) and related theories of connectivity in order to further develop them into a sociological theory of disconnectivity.

„Disconnecivity“ is a German Research Council (DFG) funded research project, led by Prof. Dr. Urs Stäheli (University of Hamburg) and Prof. Dr. Timon Beyes (Leuphana University Lüneburg). It is part of the Centre for Digital Cultures.


Prof. Dr. Timon Beyes
Universitätsallee 1, C5.236
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-2781

Prof. Dr. Urs Stäheli
Universität Hamburg
Fakultät für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften
Allende-Platz 1
20146 Hamburg
Fon +49.40.42838-3638

Lea Paula Zierott
Am Sande 5
21335 Lüneburg