We are pleased to share two works this month from Cultural Politics: a special section on “Mediated Geologies,” edited by Jussi Parikka, in the most recent issue of the journal, and the first book in the Cultural Politics books series, Finite Media, by Sean Cubitt.
The most recent issue of Cultural Politics includes a special section on “Mediated Geologies.” The special section approaches topics such as cultural politics of the environment, ecological contexts of contemporary media, and debates concerning the Anthropocene from the angle of media studies. Contributors argue for new ways to understand media culture as read through a materials focus: from waste to building materials and from temperature control to more conceptual developments concerning new materialism.
From the introduction:
Cultural politics of geology sounds rather oxymoronic, considering the distance geology seems to have from concerns of reproduction of cultural inequalities, power struggles, formations of identity, and issues of governance. Geological investigations of the earth and its layers, resources, dynamics, and histories occupy a timespan that is assumed to speak to an altogether different set of questions than what we consider as the task — or even the capacity — of the humanities. Yet the past years have seen a rather dramatic increase in debates about geology, although often through the term Anthropocene. The concept refers to the impact of human agriculture,science, and technology on a planetary scale; it could be said to function as nothing less than a modern “design brief” (Bratton 2016) for how the earth has been reformed and, as many would argue, catastrophically pushed to a point of no return when it comes to the amount of toxic content in the air and soil, to global temperatures, to sea-level rise and polar ice melt, and to many other interconnected chemical reactions and consequences. These debates have also led to intense discussions in the humanities and the arts, including the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (Berlin) significant long-term project, the Anthropocene Observatory, involving artists, curators, theorists, and other participants. Although that project concluded, similar projects continue, with an abundance of art works and theoretical writings starting to address a set of interrelated questions: What are the political stakes in the nonhuman context of the human impact on the geological scale? In which particular territories, case studies, concepts, and questions are the entanglement of the scales most visible, most prescient?
Read the full introduction to the section, made freely available.
While digital media give us the ability to communicate with and know the world, their use comes at the expense of an immense ecological footprint and environmental degradation. In Finite Media, Cubitt offers a large-scale rethinking of theories of mediation by examining the environmental and human toll exacted by mining and the manufacture, use, and disposal of millions of phones, computers, and other devices. The way out is through an eco-political media aesthetics, in which people use media to shift their relationship to the environment and where public goods and spaces are available to all.
Cubitt demonstrates this through case studies ranging from the 1906 film The Story of the Kelly Gang to an image of Saturn taken during NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission, suggesting that affective responses to images may generate a populist environmental politics that demands better ways of living and being. Only by reorienting our use of media, Cubitt contends, can we overcome the failures of political elites and the ravages of capital.
Watch Sean Cubitt discuss his research: