MediaX Intermedia Research @ the Studio for Cultural Studies and Critical Theory
The Intermedia Research Studio at the University of Alberta is engaged in a collective program of research carried out through several different kinds of events and ongoing probes.
The concept of intermediation is central to the studio’s research and the roots of this problematic go back to the major social transformations that followed the fall of the British Empire, the rise of U.S. hegemony and to the consequent emergence of what the social theorist-artist Guy Debord called the “society of the spectacle”. The core of Debord’s argument entailed a brilliant interpretation of Marx’s account of commodity fetishism in relation to Keynesian and Fordist responses to the crises of late nineteenth century capitalist accumulation. Keynesian reforms entailed that the production of desire —and therefore the production of images— were from now on going to be integral to the processes of capital accumulation. Debord drew the lesson that in such a society of the spectacle, all ways people are able to negotiate the problem of belonging or not belonging to each other or to this or that institution was now going to be MEDIATED by the production of desire, images and the various new kinds of communication technologies that were rapidly appearing during the postwar boom.
The works of two Canadian communication theorists —Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan— enable us to add an important refinement to the issues at hand here by arguing first that all technology is in one way or another communication technology and second that it makes no sense to study them in isolation because they constitute a media ecology or a field of intermediation.
The next step in the emergence of this problematic is the wide range of subsequent historical and social transformations that all loosely and imprecisely have been designated by the term globalization and a new politics of resistance against new enclosures. The main significance of this expanded struggle for commons of all kinds for the studio’s research is that these changes in the world has made apparent the inescapable contingency that any and all kinds of social scientific and humanistic research either explicitly or implicitly says something about the contingent processes of capitalist social reproduction.
Consequently, all kinds of research in the social sciences and humanities in some way or another then confront the issue of describing contradictions that people embody, inhabit and that make up the defining characteristics of our historical moment. However, the prospect of describing contradictions raises all kinds of representational problems. How do you describe contradictions when, for example, ideological depoliticization makes contradictions disappear into thin air? How do you describe them since they are, on the one hand systemic, and on the other, never one but always a tangle of many? How do you represent contradictions when they intermediate the politics of belonging or not belonging. How do you describe contradictions when they are as affective as they are meaningful, as embodied as they are phantasmatic or prosthetic, when they are distributed through a space or a time between the visible and the intelligible? Lastly, how do you describe thickly, as the ethnographers among us say, contradictions when social contradictions are not reducible to logical ones since they involve temporalities and emplacements and dislocations? These then are the very broad terms of the research problematic that the Intermedia Studio is currently pursuing. This research problematic is meant to provide an ongoing context of intermedia studies for students and faculty to collaborate in, interrogate, critique, deconstruct or displace through specific research probes.
The Intermedia Research Studio mediates collaborative research. Like any research project, the core program of research at the Intermedia Research Studio takes place amidst an expansive intellectual context from which it takes provocation and to which it offers intervention, critique, argument and counter-provocations. To this end, the studio invites research collaboration that takes its point of departure from any of the following traditions or fields:
Participatory Action Research
Social Practice Art
New Media Studies
Critical Race Studies
Critical Globalization Studies
Critical University Studies
Intermedia Research Studio supports research and art practice that engages the use of new media, environments, sound and performance. Research creation may involve newer or older spatial, networked and time-based media such as video, radio, computer technologies or the internet. They may involve performance or discussion, straddle a variety of media, or even fuse media in the creation of new hybrid, intermedia forms. The Studio has an aptly interdisicplinary theoretical interest in hybridity, liminality and interfaces – the betwixt and between – and in emergence, flow and mobilities. The Studio programme also hosts reflexive work that explores the social and political implications of research, art practices, and technologies. The Studio supports experimental forms of research that challenge reified social science and commodified art; including work that is process-driven, participatory or interactive. The Intermedia Research Studio supports the use and critical assessment of new tools, media and methods as well as new modes of distribution and engagement.
Recent Research Probes
The last few years at the Intermedia Research Studio have been especially eventful and busy as the Studio has rolled out several new research programs:
This one-day symposium held on March 14th 2015 explored the intersections of creative practices and scholarly work. It examined how a wide range of genres and media create capacities for innovative approaches to research processes, the sharing of findings, and theorizing. Fundamentally, the symposium responds to the now long unfolding crisis of representation, only deepened by innumerable contemporary social crises, including that of the university itself. We sought to interrogate the cultural politics of representation, as well as our assumptions about and relationships with audiences, publics, readers, users, stakeholders, constituencies, etc. To do so, the symposium provided a venue for critical discussions on traditional hierarchies of knowledge production and consumption. It encouraged an investigation of scholarly work that crosses disciplinary boundaries, as well as modes of inquiry that range from amateur to expert making.
Time Bias Poems
These on-going research probes take their point of departure from communication theorist/economic historian Harold Innis’ ideas regarding a “strategy of culture” for negotiating passages between empires. For Innis, this passage was the rise of the American empire as the British Empire crumbled. His bias of communication theory sought to draw out the implications of an emergent, modern political order hegemonized by a world scale system of nation-states, a world scale economy dominated by the new institutional form of multinational corporations and a new medium of communication —information— mediating cultural and economic flows through each other. All this has condemned us, Innis argued, to an “obsession with presented-mindedness”: or, the dominance of informational space over time biased media of social poesis. Today, our conjunctural passage is perhaps between what Hardt and Negri theorize as Empire and its numerous replicants, ranging from various meta-terrorisms and micro-fascisms through the proliferating dialectics of debt and distinction. Does not Innis’ “plea for time” then become even more urgent as a strategy of cultural politics in our time in the face of a global society of the spectacle? These research probes then seek to generate from within the space bias of our times new spatialized temporalities out of the very koan-like refuse of this contradictory situation.
Radical Social Imaginaries
Another ongoing series of research probes, Radical Social Imaginaries, involve investigations of cultural spaces of resistance and protest in response to the convergent crises of the new enclosures and capitalist development dispossession on the one hand and ecological destruction on the other. We are interested in exploring how critique, resistance and transformation today draws inspiration, insight and courage from cultural spaces and histories of protest and revolt in the past. Thus far this probe has convened a five week series of seminars, Decolonize!, on poetry and decolonization (October-November 2015), and an eight week film festival, Cinema and Social Imaginaries: Representing Capitalism and Beyond (January- February 2015)
The Intermedia Research Studio also regularly mounts both major thematic exhibitions exploring research questions such as Alleyways: Patchwork Capillaries of Urban Living (January 2015), (Re)Markable Time (January 2014), both curated by Janine Muster and Sourayan Mookerjea, Sensing Alberta: Encounters with Place (September 2014), curated by Liz Lawson and Dr. Anne Winkler and The Suburban Imaginary (March 2014) curated by Dr. Ondine Park. The Intermedia Research Studio has also pioneered the pop-up exhibit as a research methodology through a regular series of exhibits: Stirred, Memories and Dreams (September 2015), The Postcard (November 2013) and The Vertical (November 2012) all curated by Dr. Elena Siemens.
Probes in development include a memorial research exhibition examining the legacy of Eduardo Galeano and a symposium, Toxic Media Ecologies both in the Winter semester in 2016.
Ways to Get Involved
Researchers can bring their work to the studio at any of the following key turning points of their research process:
Discovery and formation: explorations through which research questions are conjured and crystallized.
Investigation: methodological innovation enabling one to pursue the trail of research questions.
Critical Reflection: data analysis, immersion in the object, material saturation from which one searches for an arc of an argument.
Knowledge Mobilization: when you need to develop strategies and media for communicating your research to colleagues, peers, constituencies, stakeholders and publics.
For more details on how to pitch a project at the Intermedia Research Studio see our website: http://www.artsrn.ualberta.ca/irs/?page_id=536
Dr. Sourayan Mookerjea
Director, Intermedia Research Studio
Department of Sociology
University of Alberta