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

Money, Credit, and Digital Payment 1971/2014: From the Credit Card to Apple Pay

NFC terminal with iPhone 6, video still, 2014The article intertwines the history of the American credit card, its standardization, and interactional realization with the latest developments in payment systems. Understanding both credit cards and systems like Apple Pay or blockchain-based applications as part of an administrative longue durée, it argues for a different understanding of the Internet of Things. It should be understood both as a technical-informational and as an accounting infrastructure, with tensions arising between both segments.

Check out the full text, published in Administration and Society’s special issue on ICT@Administration at

Computing is Work!

Computing is Work! posterWe humans spend most of our waking lives working. Work includes cultural, intellectual, managerial, and emotional labor as well as physical toil. Despite this, most work by humanities and media scholars implicitly treats the study of work as marginal or uninteresting. Even the study of “digital practices” rarely engages with the specifics of the workplace, despite the importance of distributed micro-practices like clickworking. Information technology underpins the transformation of work today, as it has it in the past.

We welcome interdisciplinary contributions that address computing as work practice, both on a local, situated, infrastructural level. Speakers will be exploring many kinds of work, from the work of computerized literary production to the work of scientific research.We believe that close attention to the social processes of work has the cross-cutting potential to integrate a variety of historical, social and ethnographic research approaches, from labor history to the scientific ethnography to the study of media practices as cooperative accomplishments, into a revealing whole.

Computing is Work!
International Conference

July 6–8, 2017

Universität Siegen, Artur-Woll-Haus
Am Eichenhang 50, 57076 Siegen;
Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen

Conveners: Thomas Haigh / Sebastian Giessmann
Keynotes: Matthew Jones, Kjeld Schmidt, Fred Turner, Matthew Kirschenbaum


Supported by the Siegen University iSchool, the Collaborative Research Centre “Media of Cooperation”, Siegen and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research North Rhine-Westphalia.

Mediengeschichte trifft Science and Technology Studies

Die spät festgestellte Nähe von Science and Technology Studies und historischer Medienforschung hat bisher vor allem zu einer vermehrten Aufnahme der STS in medienhistorische Arbeiten geführt (Gitelman 2013; Gillespie, Boczkowski und Foot 2014; Dommann 2014; Hanke 2014; Hoof 2015). Diese greifen wiederum produktiv auf die infrastruktur- und wissenschaftshistorischen „Klassiker“ der STS zurück (Star 1989; Bud-Frierman 1994; Bowker und Star 1999) und zeichnen sich v.a. durch ein gemeinsames Interesse an historisch-ethnografisch analysierten Informationsinfrastrukturen, bürokratischen und dokumentarischen Praktiken aus. Eine vergleichbare, auf Praktiken fokussierende, infrastrukturorientierte Überkreuzung von STS und Medienforschung wird auch im Bereich der History of Computing und History of Networking vermehrt vorgenommen (Schabacher 2013; Thielmann 2013; Starosielski, Soderman und Cheek 2013; Gießmann 2014; Haigh, Russell und Dutton 2015).

„Mediengeschichte trifft Science and Technology Studies“ weiterlesen

Marginalie zur Mediengeschichte

Mediengeschichte lässt sich als Verfahren begreifen, in dem die soziologische Differenz von Mikro und Makro bei entsprechender medientheoretischer Vorarbeit weitestgehend unerheblich wird. Dies setzt eine entsprechende Fähigkeit zur Skalierung und zum Wechsel zwischen Maßstäben und Reichweiten voraus, die medienhistorische Erzählungen empirisch grundiert erarbeiten können (und meiner Meinung nach auch sollten). Dies ist auch kein grundlegend neues Verfahren, wie etwa die Debatte um das Indizienparadigma gezeigt hat.

Zu debattieren ist allerdings, wie Skalierungen bzw. Maßstabsleistungen von Medien historiografisch festgehalten werden können. Reicht bereits das – schwer zu realisierende – „follow the actors“ aus, so dass Praktiken zur Grundlage einer longue durée der Medien werden? Oder sind nicht andere Größen, z.B. die zu Kulturtechniken führende Lehr- und Lernbarkeit von Praktiken, die Agentur- und Institutionenförmigkeit von Mediensystemen, die Materialität der apparativen Vollzüge genauso in Betracht zu ziehen, um „scale“ und „scope“ jeweils zu ermitteln?

Your mileage may vary!

[Geschrieben als Antwort auf ein Workshopprogramm der AG-Mediengeschichte „Mikro/Makro“ in Bonn, 8. Juli 2016]