Technological Materiality and Assumptions About 'Active' Human Agency

Author(s): Bollmer, Grant


One of the most notable challenges to emerge from the materialist turn in media studies is the rejection of the ‘active audience’ paradigm of British cultural studies. And yet, in spite of the increasing attention to materiality, many of the problems associated with the split between German media studies traditions and those derived from cultural studies persist today. While no longer concerned with representation, privilege is nonetheless often granted to the material agency of ‘real people’ as that which shapes and determines the materiality of technology. This article is primarily a theoretical and methodological reflection on how materiality challenges – but sometimes relies on – long standing and often veiled traditions from cultural studies, especially as they move out of academic discussion and into the popular imaginary of social media and its ‘usergenerated content.’ I focus on some deliberate attempts at excluding materiality found in cultural studies’ history, arguing that an emphasis on the agency of ‘real people’ can only happen through the deliberate erasure of the materiality of technology. Drawing on Ien Ang’s DESPERATELY SEEKING THE AUDIENCE (1991), which argued that television ‘audiences’ must themselves be understood as produced in relation to the demands and interests of broadcasting institutions, I suggest that digital media ‘audiences’ are produced in relationship to the infrastructural power of servers, algorithms, and software. This demonstrates that any attempt to identify ‘human agency’ must also look at how this agency is co-produced with and by technological materiality.

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Preferred Citation
Bollmer, Grant: Technological Materiality and Assumptions About 'Active' Human Agency. In: Digital Culture & Society, Jg. 1 (2015), Nr. 1, S. 95-110. DOI: 10.25969/mediarep/735.
 author = {Bollmer, Grant},
 title = {Technological Materiality and Assumptions About 'Active' Human Agency},
 year = 2015,
 doi = {10.25969/mediarep/735},
 volume = 1,
 address = {Bielefeld},
 journal = {Digital Culture & Society},
 number = 1,
 pages = {95--110},
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