Matthew Hockenberry Former Research Fellow

Matthew Hockenberry
December 2017 - March 2018


Matthew Hockenberry is a media historian whose work examines critical developments in the epistemology of assembly and the mediation of production. His research on the history of logistics, tracing the impact of media forms and material practices on decentralized production throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has been supported by an IHR-Mellon Fellowship from the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research, the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center Fellowship with the National Museum of American History, and the Society for the History of Technology’s Kranzberg Fellowship.

As a visiting scientist with the MIT Center for Civic Media and Tangible Media Group he developed Sourcemap, a collaborative platform for mapping supply chains and sharing “where things come from.” He is currently a Research Associate in New York University's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication.

Dated from 2018; please click here for current information on Matthew Hockenberry.

Fields of research

Media History, Epistemology of Mediation, Supply Studies, History of Telecommunication, History of Technology, Anthropology of Mobile Media, Media Archaeology

IKKM Research Project

Methods of Remote Control

This is a remote controlled world—and not only because of the device we use to adjust our televisions, stereos, and media systems. It is a world with skies occupied by drones capable of delivering anything—even death—from disturbingly distant geographies, with lights, locks, and all manner of networked things that can be clicked and commanded by apps, automated assistants, and the marvelously mobile devices that house them. Even the privileged and private spaces of human bodies are equipped for sensing and signaling, fit with firmware capable of control by far-flung functionaries. How did the world become something that could be shown to be so accessible, so actionable, and so small?

Nearly one hundred years ago the economist John Maynard Keynes prefigured this very condition as he considered some of the new technologies and techniques for organizing remote operation. It was a time, he explained, where a "man of capacity or character” could “order by telephone…the various products of the whole earth…and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” Indeed, the domestic devices of these very few might have now been controlled by telephone call or radio receiver, but look back just a few hundred years more and one would find much the same in the hands of servants and slaves.

Control, I suggest, is not only about the immediate effect of interaction, but about establishing the position and hierarchy of elements and addressing the system they form. While the gestural interaction of the remote control seems to be the private domain of man and machine, I demonstrate that it has a broader gesture of demonstration—the domination of master over servant. The remote, be it television control, plantation overseer, or satellite screen, becomes the anaphoric index of the rules of the system, reinforcing and reaffirming the structures of control to all of its connected constituents. Structures that we now find extended to every sort of operation, apparatus, and application imaginable.

Recent Publications

“Material Epistemologies of the (Mobile) Telephone,” Anthropology Quarterly (forthcoming; 2018)

“マイコンソフト FRAMEMEISTER アップスケーラーユニット XRGB-mini” in Our Lives With Electric Things, Cultural Anthropology (forthcoming; 2017)

“Inkonvensional Pathways: Soldered Supply Chains From Indonesia's Tin Islands,” in Objects in Motion: Globalizing Technology. Washington DC: Smithsonian Scholarly Press (2016)