Communication Media Aesthetics
by
Liv Hausken
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0199

Introduction

Media aesthetics is an interdisciplinary arena for research on media technologies, aesthetics (sense perception), and mediation. It does not belong to any one discipline, but is rather a set of perspectives that may inscribe themselves into a great number of disciplines and has done so most notably in media studies, art history, film studies, and to a certain extent, comparative literature and humanistic informatics, as well. Media aesthetics grew out of earlier attempts at theorizing about the reciprocal relations between aesthetics, technology, and media, such as media philosophy (Friedrich Kittler), media ecology (Marshall McLuhan), medium theory (Joshua Meyrowitz), mediology (Régis Debray), and critical theory (most notably Walter Benjamin), and is influenced by current, aesthetic theories of what has been termed new media (Mark Hansen) and visual culture (W. J. T. Mitchell). Media aesthetics emphasizes the importance of understanding sensuous perception as culturally and historically situated and insists on the continuity between so-called old and new media. Media aesthetics ties into what has been called digital humanities and seeks to take into account the high levels of technological mediation of the world today. By redirecting our attention to material and physical practices it also shares some ideas with the largely German tradition of cultural techniques. Media aesthetics also has overlapping interests with the emergence of new materialism (Karen Barad, Rosi Braidotti) and seeks to contribute to rethinking the relationship of science and the humanities, approaching the questions of the two cultures through studies of visualization in science and everyday life as well as through studies of the visual arts in relation to the physical and biological sciences. The field of media aesthetics is multidisciplinary and heterogeneous. Consequently, an overview of media aesthetics cannot be limited to academic works where this term has explicitly been used. It is important to recognize work that shares the same research interests even though their authors may have used other terms and the works also can be sorted into areas with overlapping ideas and interests.

General Overviews

Given the fact that media aesthetics is a multidisciplinary, heterogeneous, and relatively new arena for academic research, it is no simple task to make a list of general overviews of the entire field. Mitchell and Hansen 2010 is perhaps to date the best overview of the field, without the notion of media aesthetics ever used. Hausken 2013 provides a presentation of the field by setting out some basic concepts and theoretical considerations as well as suggesting various research interests across different subjects and disciplines. To overcome the constraints of monographs and anthologies that are explicitly confined to media aesthetics, or which try to cover the entire field, it may be useful to identify the most significant monographs and anthologies that are commonly referenced in the research of media technologies and aesthetics during the last twenty years. These works include Chun and Keenan 2015; Lister, et al. 2009; Hansen 2006; and Grau 2010. There are also several studies on media aesthetic research in German, including a special issue of the German media journal Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, Hörl and Hansen 2013. Finally, in referencing general introductions to media aesthetics, one should mention the more practical approach found in Zettl 2017.

  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, and Thomas Keenan, eds. 2015. New media, old media: A history and theory reader. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    This is an updated and expanded second edition of New Media, Old Media comprising nearly twice the number of articles as the first edition from 2006. It brings together original and classic essays of high relevance to media aesthetics. This edition is divided into seven parts: Archaeology of Multi-Media; Archives; Power-Code; Network Events; Use; Desiring Data; and, Re-Newing Media.

  • Grau, Oliver, ed. 2010. MediaArtHistories. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

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    First published in 2007, this interdisciplinary anthology on media art collects essays from a great variety of fields, including computer science, image sciences, and film and media studies. The collection includes Christiane Paul’s “The Myth of Immateriality,” W. J. T. Mitchell’s “There Are No Visual Media,” and Erkki Huhtamo’s “Twin–Touch–Test–Redux.”

  • Hansen, Mark B. N. 2006. New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

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    This book was first published in 2004. It is divided into three parts and is provided with an instructive foreword by Tim Lenoir, contextualizing Hansen’s book project. The ambitious title is reflected in an equally ambitious project to develop a program for the study of media technology and its materiality. He draws on Henri Bergson’s thinking of the body as an affective and prediscursive source of meaning and reconsiders notions of the human in a non-anthropocentric perspective.

  • Hausken, Liv, ed. 2013. Thinking media aesthetics: Media studies, film studies and the arts. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

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    As an introduction to this edited collection, Hausken gives an outline of the interdisciplinary research area of media aesthetics and indicates some tendencies in the field. The collection includes contributions from W. J. T. Mitchell, Samuel Weber, Ina Blom, Mary Ann Doane, Eivind Røssaak, Susanne Østbye Sæther, Arild Fetveit, D. N. Rodowick, and Dieter Daniels and Sandra Naumann.

  • Hörl, Erich, and Mark B. N. Hansen. 2013. Medienästhetik. Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft 8. Zürich: Diaphanes.

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    This special issue of the German journal for media studies, ZfM (Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft), take its outset in Félix Guattari’s essay “The New Aesthetic Paradigm” (1992). The “proto-aesthetic paradigm” Guattari had in mind in the 1990s is regarded as an early description of a major change in the history of technology and sensation, a new media-technological condition creating a situation where media aesthetics may become a fundamental question for media studies.

  • Lister, Martin, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Grant, and Kieran Kelly. 2009. New media: A critical introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

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    The book provides a comprehensive, critical introduction to new media with an emphasis on history, technology, and theory. It is an updated version of the textbook first published in 2003, written by five authors from the University of the West of England, Bristol. It investigates the newness of new media and seeks to cover recent theoretical developments, approaches, and significant technological developments.

  • Mitchell, W. J. T., and Mark B. N. Hansen, eds. 2010. Critical terms for media studies. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This reference work features twenty-one chapters from distinguished contributors, organized into three interrelated groups: “Aesthetics,” “Technology,” and “Society.” The collection draws a picture of the 21st century and the media that form our experience within it. This picture can be considered as an outline of how media research might look from a media aesthetic perspective.

  • Zettl, Herbert. 2017. Sight, sound, motion: Applied media aesthetics. Boston: Cengage.

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    Originally published in 2005, this book is now available in its eighth edition. It offers a practical approach to media aesthetics, with a particular focus on film and video.

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