Kompetenzzentrum Medienanthropologie

The Media Anthropology Center of Excellence (KOMA) was funded by the “Pro-Exzellenz” program of the state of Thuringia and advances an innovative and interdisciplinary media anthropology, focusing on the study of mediality and the conditions and constitution of human existence by media. Research was centered on the concept of anthropomediality, referring to the acknowledgement of humans and media being fundamentally entangled, prior to any distinction between them. This view replaced both the media apriori and the anthropological apriori, which, in their opposition, have historically determined much of the discourse.
The exploration of the possibilities and limits of the concept of anthropomediality requires an interdisciplinary approach. The Media Anthropology Center of Excellence hence integrated methods and perspectives from philosophy, media studies, sociology, art history and criticism, cultural studies, and architectural studies. Within this framework, aspiring scholars were given the opportunity to gain expertise in the field of media anthropology and, working closely with the professors, to develop and carry out promising research projects of their own.

1. Concept

Media anthropology aims at developing concepts and perspectives that no longer assume a static and given nature of the human being or of media, but instead engage with their more operative and relational aspects. As humans do not exist per se, an emphasis lies on examining forms of human existence that are always already (a) deeply temporal processes and (b) inexorably plural. Interest thus shifts to the various cultural, topographical, technical, historical, social, discursive, and other media formats in which human existences are embedded and realized. On a theoretical level they are reflected as being produced as well as transformed and transposed in and with media. With this, entities that were previously excluded by the framework of anthropological theory become possible objects of study. Examples of this are media artifacts such as data and data files, celebrities and fictional worlds, ghosts and hybrid beings, but also constellations of past and future, and various strategies of inclusion and exclusion in a dispositif. The concept of anthropomediality is concerned with incorporating, examining and theoretically re-locating such and similar instances.
Above all, it takes into account the changing media-technical fundamentals of life and strives to leave behind the traditional dualisms of nature and culture, human and medium, technology and society. Instead of rigid conceptual and categorical divisions between humans and non-humans, the goal was to explore the manifold entanglements and amalgamations of organic, aesthetic, (media-)technical and informational operations. Such entanglements and amalgamations of humans and media can be found, among other things, in different forms of artistic displays (e.g. film, painting, music etc. portraying and enacting life) and technological developments (e.g. cybernetics, bionics etc.) as well as in calculations (statistics and predictions). In these and other instances, media and the anthropological emerge in co-productions and transpositions of each other and cannot be reduced to either aspect.

2. Production

Production and transposition of humans and media are the central processes of media anthropogenesis. Both can be mapped to four paradigmatic operations each, in which they manifest and modify humans and media. Regarding production, these operations are:

  1. Categorization
  2. Positioning
  3. Calculation
  4. Invention

Categorization is operative wherever something is distinguished from something else. From a biological perspective, for instance, ‘the human’ is distinguished from other living beings, while psychology differentiates ‘the human’ from machines and theology does the same with regard to supernatural beings. On the one hand, such categorizations are made on a conceptual and terminological level, on the other hand they are situated in material, social, technical and aesthetic media milieus. Categorizations are themselves produced and effected and thus historically and contextually malleable. Historical-comperative studies of different practices of categorization (e.g. medical, juridical, historical, artistic) as well as media-philosophical reflections on the functions of categorization could be applied here.

Operations of positioning create anthropogenic realities via addressing, mapping, infrastructural planning, and framings of all kinds. In an elementary way, positioning in the sense of self-positioning also enables self-reflections. Here fundamental questions about the positionality of human-media entanglements can be posed. This change of perspective corresponds with a shift from questions concerning the ‘what’ of being human to questions concerning the ‘where’ of their production in media.

Calculations generate anthropomedial phenomena such as average persons, inhabitants, consumers, voters and other statistical beings in their mass and uniformity. Other calculative anthropomedial forms are anthropometric methods in criminology, medicine, physiology and administration. Similarly, forecasts and predictions recursively bring their predicted future into the present and thus posit anthropomedial realities. The equivalent unpredictability of a future that defies mere extrapolation of the present (e.g. mutations or black swan events, as in the context of the 2008 financial crisis) would have to be considered as a calculative phenomena as well.

Inventions not only respond to problems by proposing solutions (thus creating new problems), but also oscillate between intentionality and accident. Despite all their functional determination, recorded dates and historicity, inventions are always also agents of the unreal, as they invariably mark a counterfactual field of action. With regard to inventions, it would therefore not only be interesting to examine failed and fantasy projects, but also those that reveal the unreal facets of even the most practical inventions. This could also involve an appreciation and revaluation of seemingly inconspicuous things, constructs and unrealized realities.

3. Transposition

Regarding the transposition of humans and media, the four paradigmatic operations are:

  1. Projection
  2. Representation
  3. Delegation
  4. Migration

Projections are forms of displacement. They are complementary to the operation of positioning in that they enable the perception of something precisely where it is not. In a projection humans and media are entangled in such a way that they project themselves onto something else and displace themselves in relation to it. Fiction is also a form of projection as an anthopomedial operation. Fiction or fictionalized content can be found in theatres, art and cinema as well as the mass media framing of politics, sport and entertainment. The idealization of something is a particularly effective form of projection, being capable of eliciting behaviour and almost magically transforming the perception of reality. Projects on the Imaginary of politics or on lifestyle practices are conceivable in this field of research.

Representations are anthropomedial operations in which means and objects as well as authors and audience emerge from their mutual entanglement, becoming differentiated. Representations can have a dislocating effect in the context of human-media relations, especially when their interconnected elements loop back on themselves, so that the representation is itself re-represented or becomes the addressee of a representation. In this way, the means of representation can penetrate the content and vice versa, both reproducing each other in changing ways.

Operations of delegation include outsourcing, externalizations of all kinds along with practices of substitution and the transposition of behaviours and characteristics from one entity to another. Anthropomorphic tendencies and types of anthropomorphization as found in theories of media and technology could be analyzed in this context.

Operations of migration include any form of movement, transfer and conversion of bodies, concepts, data and signs. Here questions arise concerning the advent of a new nomadic age as well as questions about new media-based forms of acceleration and deceleration of mental and physical developments. In dealing with modes of migration, the extent could be examined to which concepts of sedentariness, homeliness, and historical and geographical belonging and location have become obsolete atavisms, and whether they can be updated or re-romanticized.

4. Operations

The altogether eight paradigmatic modes of operation that were discussed in the KOMA could overlap each other and did not form an exhaustive list of all anthropomedial relations. An elaborated and refined system and perspective was serving as the conceptual framework for the future proposal of a Graduate Research Group to the German Research Foundation (DFG).