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First session of ASCA's Cross-Media Seminar 2021-2022 | Organizers: Sudeep Dasgupta, Abe Geil, Markus Stauff

Event details of Infrastructure and Experience 
Date 1 October 2021
Time 15:00

What can infrastructures of contemporary media culture tell us about the (im)possibility and (in)equality of experiences? The efforts to structure collective life through the creation and standardization of vast technical systems that combine material, political and symbolic elements are both powerful and fragile. The term “infrastructure” focuses on the vast systems that are often hidden from sight, used in a habitualized manner, instantiate and combat power in material and symbolic ways. A number of scholars have highlighted the fragilities and frictions that characterize infrastructures. Infrastructures that are habitualized for some become a problem for others (Susan Leigh Star); the allegedly “culture-less” qualities of infrastructures and their constant maintenance differentially distribute privileges (Lauren Berlant; Ruha Benjamin); the assumption of an invisibly working infrastructure may only hold for a small part of the world population (Paul Edwards). Instead of analysing and comparing individual infrastructures (transport vs communication, broadcast vs network, cable vs wireless etc.), it seems appropriate to focus on the ongoing “infrastructuralization” of media and culture more generally. As black-boxes they seem to withdraw themselves from experience and yet they need to be considered a constant presence in and even condition of possibility for experience. By moving beyond, though connecting with, a strict focus on media texts, infrastructures provide an increasingly important vantage point from which to approach dimensions of media experience. The substantial history of “experience” as a philosophical concept (Martin Jay), field of media study (Walter Benjamin, Raymond Williams, Miriam Hansen, Vivian Sobchack) and focus of cultural analyses (Joan Scott, Sara Ahmed, Jacques Rancière) has, and can be further enriched from the perspective of infrastructures and technology. 

The experiential side of infrastructures takes on a particular urgency now given the proliferation of discourse of the “experience economy”, affective marketing and the politics of embodied protest. Bringing the two dimensions of infrastructure and experience together from a historical perspective and in the contemporary moment can enrich our understanding of both as they loop back and forth into each other.

Dates and Readings:

We will meet three times per semester, always Fridays from 15-18h. For semester one, the dates are: October 1st; November 5th; December 3rd. In the first meeting we will start with discussing the texts below; we will then also determine further readings e.g. from the authors mentioned above but additional input is very welcome. Research MA students can earn 6 EC by participating in at least 4 of the 6 meetings and doing a presentation and/or writing a final essay. For enrolment and other questions send an email to m.stauff@uva.nl

Readings for October 1st

  • Benjamin, Walter. 2005. “Experience and Poverty.” In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2: Part 2, 1931 - 1934, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith.
  • Edwards, Paul. 2003. “Infrastructure and Modernity: Scales of Force, Time, and Social Organization in the History of Sociotechnical Systems.” In Modernity and Technology, edited by Thomas J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg, 185–225. Cambridge (Mass.); London: MIT Press.
  • Jay, Martin. 2005. Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme. Berkeley: University of California Press.