Elena Esposito Former Senior Fellow

Elena Esposito
October 2013 - March 2014


Elena Esposito, born 1960, is an Associate Professor of Sociology of Communication at the Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia since 2001. Having studied Political Sciences and Philosophy with Umberto Eco at the Università di Bologna, Esposito received a scholarship from the DAAD for the Fakultät für Soziologie at the Universität Bielefeld (1986-1990). In 1990, she gained her doctorate with Niklas Luhmann for her dissertation entitled “Die Operation der Beobachtung”. From 1990 to 1992, Esposito worked as a research assistant, from 1993 to 2000 as a researcher and lecturer at the Facoltà di Sociologia at the Università degli Studi di Urbino. She held a research fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung at the Institut für Philosophie at the Freie Universität Berlin (1998-1999) and a position as visiting pro-fessor at the Institut für Soziologie of the Universität Wien (2000). In 2001, she habilitated at the Universität Bielefeld and received her Italian “idoneità” in Sociology. Professor Esposito was a visiting scholar at the Universidad de Oviedo (2005) and the Università di Scienze Gastronomiche in Pollenzo (2007-2009). Additionally, Esposito served as an editor of the magazines Teoria sociologica (1992-1995) as well as Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift für soziologische Theorie (2000-2006) and still holds positions as an advisory board member of the magazines Erwägen Wissen Ethik, Trivium and Teoria sociale. Her current research focuses on the ‘social memory’ and traces the process of memorization in digital media such as the web from a systems-theoretical perspective.

Dated from 2014

IKKM Research Project

Ars oblivionalis – digital techniques of remembering and forgetting Recent experiences show that rather than releasing from the past and following the path of modern semantics, communication through the web seems to bind to the past in a much more restrictive and difficult way than in previous social formations. The use of machines that do not think and do not remember seems to produce a different weight of remembrance, which becomes particularly onerous. The web remembers everything: clear evidence are recent experiences on Facebook or other social networks, the rapid spread of profiling practices in commercial, organizational and even legal field, privacy issues and many other thorny and difficult problems. It is in all cases an issue of management/ construction of memory and of remembrance, drastically different from the already familiar forms.

First of all because the problem has moved from the excess of forgetting (to be limited with mnemotechnics in ancient societies, with writing and archiving techniques later) to the excess of memory of present society, for which we still lack the required conceptual (and even operational) tools. The project aims at giving a contribution in this direction and proposes:

  • To investigate the ways in which the web, relying on more and more virtualized relocated machines (cloud), produces an equivalent of memory - or offers the society the tools to produce it. From the point of view of the machine, in fact, the issue is not to remember, that is to reconstruct the past from the (inevitably different) perspective of the current present, but to read data from the synchronic perspective of a network that does not distinguish between past and present.
  • To study the processes inside the web that allow to realize an equivalent for remembrance and also to achieve forms of anticipation (an equivalent for the future): e.g. the sophisticated Google procedures to complete users’ questions before they were formulated (and possibly even before they were thought) - Google instant - or to predict the choices of purchase, or the construction of scenarios (widespread in finance) that promise to anticipate an open future on the basis of the management of past uncertainty.
  • To interpret these practices in the broader framework of a Web Intelligence that has definitely abandoned the effort to reproduce and simulate the forms of human consciousness and intelligence. It does not try to reproduce the orientation to alternatives and open possibilities, but rather uses the way users do it in order to refine its own procedures. Web Intelligence relies on users’ interpretations to direct its own selections.
  • To reflect on the social consequences of these techniques for the management of memory and history, for example in the political sphere (transformations of public opinion), in the media (forms of generalization and personalization of communication), in the economic and financial field (projection and management of scenarios based on computational models) and generally in the perception and communication of risk and of the uncertainty of the future.



Il futuro dei futures: Il tempo del denaro nella finanza e nella società. Pisa: ETS 2009 (dt. Die Zukunft der Futures: Die Zeit des Geldes in Finanzwelt und Gesellschaft, Heidelberg: Carl Auer 2010).
Die Fiktion der wahrscheinlichen Realität. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 2007.
I paradossi della moda: Originalità e transitorietà nella società moderna. Bologna: Baskerville 2004 (dt: Die Verbindlichkeit des Vorübergehenden: Paradoxien der Mode. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 2004).
La memoria sociale: Mezzi per comunicare e modi di dimenticare. Roma/Bari: Laterza 2001 (dt. Soziales Vergessen: Formen und Medien des Gedächtnisses der Gesell-schaft, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 2002).

Edited Books

with Giancarlo Corsi: Reform und Innovation in einer unstabilen Gesellschaft. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius 2005.


“Neuheit und Evolution”. In: Thomas Kisser (ed.): Ereignis und System: Niklas Luhmann und die Geschichtsschreibung. Zürich: diaphanes (forthcoming).
“Die Formen des Web-Gedächtnisses”. In: Christian Brunnert, René Lehmann, Florian Öchsner and Gerd Sebald (eds.): Formen und Funktionen sozialer Gedächtnisse: Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven. Bielefeld: Transcript (forthcoming).
“Die Realität des Virtuellen”. In: Susanne Knaller, Harro Müller (eds.): Realitätskonzepte in der Moderne: Beiträge zu Literatur, Kunst, Philosophie und Wissenschaft. München: Fink 2011, pp. 265-283.
“Zwischen Komplexität und Beobachtung: Entscheidungen in der Systemtheorie”. In: Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift für soziologische Theorie, 15, 2009/1, pp. 54-61.
“Social Forgetting: A Systems-Theory Approach”. In: Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning (eds.): Cultural Memory Studies: An Interdisciplinary and International Handbook. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter 2008, pp. 181-189.
“Vom Modell zur Mode: Formen und Medien der Nachahmung”. In: Soziale Systeme: Zeitschrift für soziologische Theorie, 9/1, 2003, pp. 88-104.