By Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter
During the first decade of the 21st century the academic discipline of media studies failed to develop a compelling agenda. Media turned out to be empty containers, individualizing people rather than imagining collective agendas. The growth of ‘media’ could lead to its ultimate implosion. If ‘media’ have gone digital and become the network glue between devices, there is a danger of defining the boundaries of media studies purely for the sake of the discipline itself. Media studies then becomes self-referential, defined solely in terms of its self-defense against predatory competitors. For instance, if media cannot be distinguished anymore from urban life, geography and location-based services, then what is the task of media studies? Public Relations is a trap here: to study media is not identical to its promotion. We need media researchers to reflect on how they use their object of study in the research methodology itself. In a media society of compulsive immersion, this is no easy task. Indeed, many would charge such a call as regressive, harking back to the Cartesian myth of critical detachment. But as we will argue, we consider the work of reflexive mediation – of concept production – necessary if such a thing as media critique is to exist at all.
For the past decade media studies has struggled to keep up with the pace of techno-cultural change. The methodologies and concepts of the broadcast era of ‘mass media’ are of little use when analyzing networked digital cultures. The globalization of higher education and the increasing competition between disciplines over diminishing funds and international students has further exacerbated the unconscious crisis of media studies. With a push towards vocational training, stagnating cultural studies and a distaste for theory in general, film and television studies can only make defensive gestures towards the ever-expanding digital realm.
The future of media studies rests on its capacity to avoid forced synergies towards ‘screen cultures’ or ‘visual studies’ and instead to invent new institutional forms that connect with the trans-media, collaborative and self-organizational culture of teaching and research networks. Unless media studies makes such a move, it will join the vanishing objects it assumes as constitutive of media in society. In this essay we want to go beyond an inventory on the state of the art and use the example of organizing networks as a concept in development that might revitalize education and research in this field. The work of organizing networks, a concept proposed by us in 2005, involves the invention of new institutional forms immanent to communications media.1 Such a collaborative process mediated through network culture conditions the possibility of disciplinary transmutation.
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