Why materiality?

I was at NCA yesterday to present paper at the ‘post-humanist ethnography and materialist methodology’ session. As we handled few weeks ago in the class, post-humanist philosophies problematize the anthropocentrism of social science and decenters the human, which is considered as a historically contingent category that must be understood relationally, as a product of natural, institutional, technological, and discursive forces. Along the line with this, materialist media studies demonstrates the ways in which historically specific technical apparatuses produce the conditions for human knowledge, action, and memory. We’ve read this approach some points (Kittler, Latour, Kirschenbaum…) and this week’s readings are also the part of or the extension of the post-humanist approach (media ecologies).

With the theoretical overview of materialist approach to media studies, we discussed about how we can methodologically study materiality in media studies. Our discussion problematizes the anthropocentric assumptions of ethnography and qualitative methods in general, opening up the possibilities that study human and nonhuman in the same ontological and analytical sense.

After presentations, one panel raised one question to us. She said that we are already colonized by science, technology, and media; materialist media studies not liberalize but re-colonizes us. According to the panel, through studying (semiotic) meaning, ethnography or qualitative research liberates us (human) from the colonization. Then, her question became why do we need to focus on things other than meaning and what materialist study do other than recolonization?

Looking back our class discussion, we’ve never studied contents when we study media history. It is definitely different moment of what I had done in my undergraduate and the early work of master’s program majored in mass communication. At the end of the conference session, the panel agrees the philosophical assumption of materialist approach; but the question encourages me to think about why to study materiality. In media studies and media history, why materiality rather than meanings?




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