Digital Matters

Save the date Digital Matters ConferenceIn popular discussion digitality is increasingly equated with networked immateriality: disembodied algorithms float rhetorically in an ethereal cloud of big data. Think, for example, of the “digital edition” of the PlayStation 5 console, so called because it has no optical drive to read games, which must instead be downloaded. The implication is that the regular PS5 console is somehow not digital because its storage medium is visible to the unaided human eye. This presupposition of digital immateriality is not just a misconception to be corrected, but a productive site for interdisciplinary scholarly inquiry into media and data practices. In Digital Matters, historians, media theorists and information scholars come together for three days to examine the socio-material constituents of digital systems and artifacts. How and why did people come to deny the materiality of the digital? What can we learn by recovering it? What if we rethink digital materialities as ongoing cooperative accomplishments?

The Digital Matters conference is going to take place December 1 – 3, 2021 at Siegen University’s Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation. Given the swift change in pandemic circumstances it will primarily be an online event.

Please check for the most up to date information on the program, and how to participate.

The conference is organized by Thomas Haigh (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee & Siegen University), Valérie Schafer (University of Luxembourg), Axel Volmar (Siegen University) & Sebastian Giessmann (Siegen University).

December 1:

13:45: Conference introduction and welcome

Moderator:  Valérie Schafer (C2DH, University of Luxembourg)
14:00-14:50: “Travelling machines,” Camille Paloque-Bergès (CNAM, Paris).
15:00-15:50: “Dimensions of Materiality,” Kyle Stine (Johns Hopkins University).

15:50-16:30: Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Miglè Bareikytè (Siegen University)
16:30-17:20: “Dance Notation: Grammars for Understanding and Controlling the Body,” Quinn DuPont (University College, Dublin).
17:30-18:20: “Modularity, Materiality, and the Political Order of the Stacks,” Jean-François Blanchette (University of California at Los Angeles).

December 2: 

Moderator: Susanne Förster (Siegen University)
13:30-14:20. “Looking for Oil (and Finding It) in the History of Computing,” Cyrus Mody (Maastricht University).
14:30-15:20. “Digitality and Nature in the Anthropocene,” Felix Stalder (Zurich University of the Arts).

15:20-16:00: Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Sebastian Giessmann (Siegen University)
16:00-16:50: “The Great eBook Conspiracy: eReaders, Publishers, and Price Competition in the Early 2000s,” Gerardo Con Diaz (University of California at Davis).
17:00-17:50: “Rematerializing Money: Payment as Palimpsest,” Lana Swartz (University of Virginia) 17:50-18:30.

Break for virtual coffee or, for the adventurous, virtual cocktails.

18:30: Keynote lecture, “Some Species of Materiality.” Jonathan Sterne (McGill University). Moderated by Axel Volmar (Siegen University).

December 3:

Moderator: Thomas Haigh (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee & Siegen University)
13:00-13:50. “The Politics of Technical Systems,” Bernhard Rieder (University of Amsterdam).
14:00-14:50. “Digital Materiality and Historical Innovation,” Ulf Hashagen (Deutsches Museum).

 14:50-15:15. Break for virtual coffee.

Moderator: Tatjana Seitz (Siegen University)
15:15-16:15. “Web Materialities,” Valérie Schafer (C2DH, University of Luxembourg).
16:20-17:00. Closing roundtable featuring the organizers pondering lessons learned.

McLuhan: Media as Art Forms

“The use of the term ‘mass media’ has been unfortunate. All media, especially languages, are mass media so far at least as their range in space and time is concerned. If by ‘mass media’ is meant a mechanized mode of a previous communication channel, then printing is the first of the mass media. Press, telegraph, wireless, gramophone, movie, radio, TV, are mutations of the mechanization of writing, speech, gesture. Insofar as mechanization introduces the ‘mass’ dimension, it may refer to a collective effort in the use of the medium, to larger audiences or to instantaneity of reception. Again, all of these factors may create difficulty of ‘feedback’ or lack of rapport between ‘speaker’ and audience. There has been very little discussion of any of these questions, thanks to the gratuitous assumption that communication is a matter of transmission of information, message or idea. This assumption blinds people to the aspect of communication as participation in a common situation. And it leads to ignoring the form of communication as the basic art situation which is more significant than the information or idea ‘transmitted’.”

McLuhan, Marshall. 1954. ‘Notes on the Media as Art Forms’. Explorations. Studies in Culture and Communication 2 (August): 6–13, 6. Edited by Edmund S. Carpenter.

(This is still one of my favourite McLuhan quotes. I makes a blast, and resets our intuitions. Mass mediation is just an effect of mechanization taking command – now go insert ‘cooperation’ instead of 1950s ‘communication‘!)

Standards Revisited

Thursday, 24 January 2019, University of Siegen
Herrengarten 3, 57072 Siegen, room AH 217/218

13:15 Opening Remarks: Standards Revisited
Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen) / Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)

13:30 Anna Echterhölter (University of Vienna)
Red and Black Boxes: Standardization as Mesuroclasm in German New Guinea

14:30 Nadine Taha (University of Siegen)
George Eastman and the Calendar Reform

16:00 Geoffrey C. Bowker (University of California, Irvine)
Standard Time: Computers, Clocks and Turtles – via Zoom Conference

17:00 Lawrence Busch (Michigan State University)
Markets and Standards – via Zoom Conference

Friday, 25 January 2019

10:00 JoAnne Yates (MIT, Sloan School of Management)
A New Model for Standard Setting: How IETF became the Standards Body for the Internet

11:00 Thomas Haigh
(University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee / University of Siegen)
The Accidental Standard: How a Box Became an Industry

13:00 Sebastian Gießmann (University of Siegen)
Standardizing Digital Payments

14:00 Anne Helmond (University of Amsterdam)/ Fernando van der Vlist (University of Amsterdam / University of Siegen)
‘It’s Graphs All the Way Down’

Standards are not easy to come by. As infrastructural media they coordinate the social to an ever-growing extent, thus creating conditions of cooperation. Standards do so not just by their sociotechnical power, but also by public uptake and controversies that put their accountability into question. They can also be understood as engineering and bureaucratic media that form a basis and condition for cooperation.

Historically, practices of standardization can be traced back to antiquity, especially in the history of coins, writing, and measurements. But pre-modern standards were bound to flounder and dissipate. Early modern knowledge cultures – partly – realized standardization via hand-made scientific instruments that extended metrological chains. While pre-industrial attempts to standardize the aggregation of information in administrative forms have been limited in scale and scope, 19th century industrialization interconnected with nationalized politics extended the territories of standardization. Media infrastructures such as the postal service and telegraphy became transnational through their administration in international organizations and a legal foundation via international treaties. Scale and scope of – inherently political and normative – standards and metrologies were at the same time constitutive for colonial prospection and rule.

Computing has given rise to its own regimes and obsessions of non-governmental standardizing. While early digital computers were unique, the trajectories of standardization were then tied to governmental contract research, commercialization and its coordinative and delegative practices. Serial production and the diffusion of architectural norms became a matter of economic competition in the era of mainframe computing in organizations. In multiple ways both the networking of heterogeneous computers and the success of the IBM-compatible PC did create a pathway to “open standards” that made computers publicly accessible. In the transpacific and global arena of hardware and software production, hyper-standardization has been an issue ever since. This also involves the questions of formats that mediate bureaucratic processes, textual representation, visual and auditory perception, and digital audiovisuality. Formats thus have become standards that mediate digital practices in their own right, just like network protocols and Internet standards. In many ways, the ecology of the World Wide Web is an ecology due to its standardizing bodies, communities of practice, and institutions like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Our aim is to understand how standards generalize and universalize media technologies, and to ask: How do metrology, industrialization, and imperialism/colonialism intersect with standards? What is the relation between standards, digital media, and coordination? How to explain the longue durée, ecology, and the enduring power of standards to configure cooperation? What is the relation between standards, delegative power, scale, and scope of media?

Collaborative Research Center Media of Cooperation, University of Siegen CRC project A01: “Digital Network Technologies between Specialization and Generalization

Blockchains in Action

BitterCoin © César Escudero Andaluz, Martín Nadal. How does a distributed ledger become a medium? Why do people count on blockchain as a future technology? Our research project does not answer these questions on an abstract level. We rather aim to explore the development and operating of blockchain infrastructure on site. Initially, we conduct interviews with stakeholders working on applications for payment systems and the Internet of Things.

Blockchains in Action assumes that development and transformation processes can be observed in local material practices of cooperation. We understand blockchains as infrastructural and public media. Their capacities for mediation only become observable in practice, which we approach through a combination of ethnography and media theory.

You are working on a blockchain-based project and want to get into conversation with us? We’d be glad to! Please contact us at and or via Twitter: @blockchainsIA.

Starting grant at the CRC “Media of Cooperation”,
Siegen University, 2018–2019

Photograph (c) César Escudero Andaluz, Martín Nadal.

Repositories in Cooperation

Varieties of Cooperation poster It is my great pleasure to welcome you to “Repositories in Cooperation”. Our panel for “Varieties of Cooperation” developed out of preparatory work for the Collaborative Research Center „Media of Cooperation“, in which we have attempted to refocus and reappropriate Susan Leigh Star’s and James Griesemer’s original notion of the boundary object. Within our 2015 workshop on “The Translation of Boundary Objects” we have started to re-engage with a more specific understanding that returns to Star’s list of four type of boundary objects: repositories, ideal types, coincident boundaries and forms/labels. The results of this have now been published in German as “Grenzobjekte und Medienforschung”, along with a translation of ten seminal texts by Star and her collaborators. As Erhard Schüttpelz has shown in his commentary on “This is Not a Boundary Object” all four types deal with the relation between modularity and extendability, with the relation between “parts” and “wholes”. [1]

„Repositories in Cooperation“ weiterlesen

The Cooperation Coordination Riddle, according to Google Ngram

I was just looking up some etymological details concerning “cooperation” and “coordination.” Google Ngram still is a rather intransparent source, but using it along with the Oxford English Dictionary gives a nice quantitative vs. qualitative account. This blogpost comes without interpretation, but with an embedded ngram. Consider it just being a trace of my work (or Google’s).

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