In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section New Media Theory

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Journals
  • Anthologies and Readers

Cinema and Media Studies New Media Theory
Eva Giraud
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0307


New media theory, broadly speaking, conceptualizes the implications of digital technologies: from the novel sociopolitical configurations fostered by computer-mediated communication, to the aesthetic and cultural significance of digital culture. The focus in the bibliography is on theory that emerged after the popularization of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, as it is from this point that the field was consolidated and key journals dedicated to the subject began to emerge. Because new media theory encompasses a diverse body of work, after the initial section’s discussion of broad Overviews, key Journals and useful Anthologies and Readers, the bibliography is divided into three sections to reflect themes that have endured throughout the evolution—and despite the fragmentation and specialization—of the field: Identity, Politics, and Technologies. Identity draws together work that is concerned with questions about the relationship between digital media and subjectivity, with particular attention to the new patterns of identity formation and social interaction that have been associated with digital culture. Politics focuses on broader political questions about the role digital media have played in fostering particular patterns of labor (and exploitation) and possibilities for collective political action. Technologies is concerned with media technologies themselves and includes research that has paid careful attention to the dynamics of everything to everyday engagements with mobile phone interfaces and software, to large-scale technological infrastructures. These themes are designed to capture the breadth of new media theory, encompassing two important conceptual traditions: firstly, theoretical work that has its roots in critical theory and/or continental philosophy and, secondly, work within media studies that stems from a cultural studies lineage and tends to be concerned with questions of representation, value, and agency. The breadth, diversity, and rapidly expanding nature of the field means that the bibliography is not exhaustive but designed to give a sense of some of the key issues and conceptual debates in the field. Particular strands of work associated with new media theory are also beyond the purview of this article, such as research from a film studies tradition (although texts focused on aesthetics are referred to in different sections). Despite the title of the article, it is important to note that “new media” is not an unproblematic term. Since the field’s inception, theorists have problematized the implications of novelty that are bound up with the term “new.” This caveat aside, “new media” still has popular-cultural currency, and key academic texts also continue to use the term, so it is used here as a helpful placeholder.


As an incredibly fast-moving and diverse field, overviews of contemporary debates in new media theory are often captured more effectively by journal special editions than longer texts. The field’s rapid evolution, moreover, means that there is no definitive overview of key debates and issues, although there are some helpful texts that capture key “moments” in the field’s development, and it is on this basis that these overviews have been selected. Each of the texts in this section focuses on a different aspect of new media theory to give a sense of how the field has evolved: Bell 2001 contains early cyberculture studies. Lister, et al. 2008 and Siapera 2012 provide helpful overviews of research from a media and cultural studies tradition, while Berry 2012 offers an overview of how critical social theory can be used to analyze the Internet. Curran, et al. 2014 provides an introduction to and critical appraisal of conceptual analyses of the Internet. Together these texts incorporate both more optimistic discussions of the potentials of digital media and critical commentaries about the detrimental sociopolitical impact of these technologies.

  • Bell, David. An Introduction to Cybercultures. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2001.

    An introductory overview of cyberculture studies, which provides a clear and lucid explanation of influential theories. Though the body of work it engages with is now slightly dated, this material was still important in the early development of the field; so it remains useful for putting contemporary discussions into context.

  • Berry, David. Critical Theory and the Digital. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012.

    Provides an overview of how key work within critical theory (from Adorno to Deleuze) can be related to contemporary digital culture. Also explores some of the theoretical perspectives that have been drawn upon in recent work that explore the politics of software and infrastructures (such as object-oriented ontology).

  • Curran, James, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman. Misunderstanding the Internet. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

    Helpful but succinct text that situates the Internet in its historical context and provides an overview of key debates relating to everything from social media to radical politics, in order to criticize what the authors see as some of the overly optimistic claims made about digital communications.

  • Lister, Martin, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Ian Grant, and Kieran Kelly. New Media: A Critical Introduction. 2d ed. New York and London: Routledge, 2008.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203884829

    Comprehensive and accessible introduction to discussions about new media, which was an important overview of the field at its time of publication. Discusses key topics from audiences to everyday engagements with digital technologies. Culminates with a series of case studies, which are now slightly dated but remain helpful.

  • Siapera, Eugenia. Understanding New Media. London, Thousand Oaks, CA, and New Delhi: SAGE, 2012.

    Helpful textbook that explores the social and cultural implications of new media technologies. Has especially useful section on globalization to situate debates within a global context.

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