[artinfo] cfp: media programs and the program of media

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Wed Mar 18 16:02:18 CET 2009

Call for Papers:  DFG Symposion in Media Studies
Date: 21.-24.September 2009
Location: 'Kutschstall im Haus der Brandenburgisch-Preußischen Geschichte'
14467 Potsdam, Schlossstrasse 12, Germany

Topic: Media programs and the program of media

In 2009, the first in an open-ended series of 
Symposia in Media Studies organized at the behest 
of the DFG, the Deutsche Forschungsgesellschaft 
(German national society for scientific 
research), will be held in Potsdam. In the coming 
years, Symposia in Media Studies will be held 
every second year. The idea of the Symposia is to 
foster the develompent of Media Studies 
(Medienwissenschaft) in Germany as part of the 
humanities through a debate about key issues in 
current and future research.

Participants are required to:

- hand in an abstract for a contribution to one 
of the four thematic sections listed below (1 
page) by March 31, 2009.
- submit the written manuscript of their 
contribution (no more than 30 pages) by June 30, 
- act as respondents to one of the other contributions to the Symposion
- participate in discussions for the duration of the Symposion
- Further questions, as well as paper proposals, 
should be addressed to: Prof. Dr. Joachim Paech 
(Jopaech at aol.com)

Correspondence address:

Prof. Dr. Dieter Mersch
Universität Potsdam
Institut für Künste und Medien
Am Neuen Palais 10
14469 Potsdam
Tel: 0331 977 4160
mailto: dmersch at uni-potsdam.de

The first Symposion in Media Studies will 
addresss the topic of Media Programs. The concept 
of program opens up a variety of productive 
avenues for approaches to the concept of media 
itself. Traditionally, programs have been 
understood as structures, patterns or forms of 
temporal and discursive ordering in the arts and 
the mass media. Programming situates media 
devices between symbolic and technical registers. 
Anything that can be organized and articulated in 
a force field of medium and form may be called 
programmable. We have now reached a point where 
even live forms seem programmable, requiring an 
approach to questions of program and programming 
that addresses issues of gender and power along 
with issues of medium, form and technology. 
Accordingly, the concept of program may be seen 
as programmatic for media studies in general, a 
platform for a continuous reassessment of the 
discipline in its relationship to the arts as 
well as other disciplines in- and outside of the 

Dividing the rich and field of connections 
between program and medium into four major areas 
of inquiry, the Symposion proposes a two-day 
schedule of four panels with four contributions 
per panel. The opening night will be dedicated to 
a commented musical performance. In addition, the 
Symposion will be accompanied by a thematic 
exhibition of programs and artefacts relating to 
questions of programming in the domain of music, 
curated by Elena Ungeheuer.

Section 1: Programs (Reponsible: Joachim Paech, Konstanz)

Section 1 focuses on programs as devices for 
announcing and structuring religious, political, 
artistic and mass-mediated events. Time and 
again, chiliastic expectations and political 
promises have been laid down in the form of 
programs. Programs articulate claims to power. 
Mechanically programmed production processes 
provide a model for marketing programs such as 
catalogs and other forms of inventory. Artists 
use programs to differentiate their work, museums 
present art in the form of programs and 
programmatic catalogs. Transitory art forms such 
as theater, film and music vitally depend on 
programs for their presentation. Mass media 
distribute content through programs that identify 
genres and formats and create patterns that help 
audiences identify their content of coice. In 
fact, mass media depend on programs so much that 
it is hard to imagine such media without 
programs. Thus, radio and television appear in 
temporal sequences of various forms of output, 
while printe programs make broadcast programs 
accessible by transferring the temporal sequence 
into the spatial layout of the printed schedule. 
The task of program schedules is to reduce the 
improbability for a specific program to find ist 
audience and to increase the probability that the 
reception and consumption of a program at a given 
place and a given time actually takes place. In 
that persepctive, programs are transformations 
or, to borrow Luhmann's definition of the term, 
“media" with specific operational tasks in the 
process of mediated communication. The history of 
programs is largely written by and with an eye to 
specific institutions (churches, politicl 
parties, coroporations, groups of artists, etc.). 
Programs thus raise a complex set of questions: 
How do programs organize socio-cultural processes 
that in turn produce new programs? How do - 
religious, political, artistic and mass media - 
programs structure events that only become 
readable and perceptible as events through 
programs? How have programs evolved over time in 
specific artistic and mass media contexts? Is the 
program of Modernity a media program, and how 
does the program in modernity affect, and inform, 
isues of gender? Insystematic perspective this 
section focuses on approaches that study the 
relationship between program and medium with an 
eye to the question of  how media “program" the 
forms in which they appear, i.e. whether through 
an articulation of independent elements in the 
sense of Luhmann, or otherwise.

Section 2: What is programming? (responsible: Hartmut Winkler, Paderborn)

Programming, understood as an activity, first 
brings to mind the computer. People tell 
computers what to do. Computing presupposes 
programming. But do programs necessarily have to 
be written by humans? Programming always already 
involves programs, and some programs act on their 
own. It is no coincidence that some types of 
computer programs are called “software agents". 
But if programs are symbolic constructs, how can 
we analyzes them in terms of their “performance"?

But it is not jus the software, but the 
technological basis, the hardware, that raises 
some fundamenal issues. Taking the “Berlin key" 
as his example, Bruno Latour showed that material 
objects presuppose and induce specific patterns 
of actions. Should technology best be understood 
as a form of programming, then? Do material 
objects determine patterns of use? If so, 
technological hardware would actually be 
proramming the user rather than the other way 
around. And how do we account for the unforeseen 
consequences of technology and its uses? How does 
programming relate to intention and factual 

More generally, the question of programming 
raises the question of agency and of the validity 
of theoretical models of social action and 
competence. How can we discuss programming in 
terms of power? How powerful is the programmer? 
It is no coincidence that computer programs 
always take the form of imperatives. Program and 
execution are separate areas. Cybernetics as a 
discipline or a field makes claims of “control" 
and “steering" even through its title. Does the 
question of programming imply a return of the old 
logic of maser and servant, of intellectual and 
physical labor? But then again, agency appears to 
be distributed and even dispersed between humans 
and technology.

And finally, expanding the view to include other 
media: Are programs in media other than the 
computer necessarily related to specific roles 
and assignments in terms of agency? Are there 
counter-programs that question and undermine the 
power claims related to, and implied in, programs?

And finally it seems as if programming did not 
necessarily require consciousness and planning. 
Are there unconscious forms of “programming", 
such as convention and habit? Are genes a form of 
programming? Are humans programmed by their 
instincts? If so, how? Is programming a metaphor 
for biological processes, or is there a litteral 
sense to the application of “programming" to 
“nature"? And how do the semiotic and technical 
devices of programming feed back into the 
unconscious registers of programming?

Section 3: What can be programmed? (responsible: Lorenz Engell, Weimar)

“Only worlds that we can foresee can be 
programmed. Only worlds that can be programmed 
can be construed and inhabited in a humane 
fashion." (Max Bense, 1969)

Today, we can probably no longer wholeheartedly 
subscirbe to Max Benses decisive statement, and 
the wording of the phrase certainly raises 
questions. Despite all the current talk about the 
“programm of life", any direct identification of 
the “humane" with the “programmable" would raise 
significant objections. But the idenditifaction 
of “programmable" and “foreseeable" seems equally 
questionable, if not out of date. We have long 
reach a state where computer programs 
systematically generate unforseen outcomes that 
transcend the framework of structured necessity. 
And finally we should not neglect the fact that 
constructing and programming are two 
substantially different ways of world-making, as 
different as ruse is from knowledge. Rather than 
being identical, they intersect and, perhaps, 
complement each other. But the deeper meaning of 
Bense's statement lies in its value as a 
polemical document. Bense's statement reminds us 
that, at one point in history, programming was a 
heroic mode of defense against a wild, 
unforeseeable, uncontrollable and inhumane world, 
a world that needed to be brought under control, 
much as, or so Bense continues, the metaphorical 
needed to be brought under the control of 
mathematics and the problematic under the control 
of the systematic.

But whatever became of this wild world and 
Bense's heroic gesture of defense in the last 
fourty-plus years? We can no longer easily 
determine the boundaries of the programmable. For 
some time now, for instance, the systematic, the 
inhabitable world, and the program of 
intelligence have themselves become the problem, 
and metaphors now emerge from mathematics rather 
than being reigned in by mathematics. The 
unforeseeable and the inhumane have long become 
programmable. Experiments in programmed 
creativity make it to museums as easily as 
artefacts that keep on insisting on the 
resilience and the very materiality of the 
material. Even in politics and the economy, in 
pleasure and love, we tend to carefully delineate 
and preserve, as if we did not know better, 
residual spheres of non-programmable emergence 
and contingency. The concept of the game has 
become the very essence of the program. But if 
that is true what, then, is the specific status, 
technologically, ontologically, and 
aesthetically, of the programmable? What does the 
programmable diverge from, how and in relation to 
what does it unfold?

Or have we reached a stage where we can no longer 
define the programmable by delineating its outer 
reaches? If so, the world of the programmable 
could only be analyzed in terms of its internal 
structures and elements, as a juxataposition and 
opposition of different competing programs whose 
interaction and mutual production would form a 
kind of immanent outside of the programmable 
within the world of the program itself. What kind 
of a world would this be?

But then again, we can try to understand 
programming as a form of ordering in a double 
sense. What we need to study, then, are orderings 
of orderings, or rather of orders that have to be 
followed, that generate consequences and thus 
create linear time and feedback.  The key to an 
understanding of the programmable, then, would be 
temporality and temporalization, and the 
programmable would find its boundary in that 
which resists temporalization, the fleeting 
instant and the eternal. Accordingly, we would 
need to contrast program and project and study 
their relationship. Spatial orderings could 
appear to be forms of programs, of programming 
behavior and movement, but they would still 
function as supplements, or complements, to the 

But then, the reverse is possible, too: Only 
programs are programmable. Only that which 
already has the form of a program before being 
programmed can be programmed. If programs 
function as forms, i.e. as articulations of 
independent events, then programs depend on media 
in and through which they articulate a chain of 
events. But then, media have always already 
pre-structured these events, however loosely. 
Accordingly, media and programs may be 
differenciated, but they can still be seamlessly 
converted into each other. If so, the perparatory 
production of programmability would constitute 
the key function of media. The programmable would 
be nothing less than mediality itself, and vice 

Section 4: The Research Program of Media Studies 
[Medienwissenschaft] (responsible: John Durham 
Peters (Department of Communication Studies), 
University of Iowa, USA)

Media Studies has a long past but a short 
history, as Ebbinghaus supposedly once said of 
psychology.  Precipitously coming together in the 
late twentieth century, the academic field of 
media studies has been fiercely interdisciplinary 
in its ambitions and voracious in its 
interdisciplinary borrowings.  For some of its 
practitioners, media studies is not just one 
among many competing fields: it is a new 
meta-field that promises to engulf and govern 
several older fields by bringing together the 
natural and the social sciences, the humanities 
and the fine arts, mathematics and philosophy. 
On some campuses around the world, departments of 
media studies recreate the intellectual and 
disciplinary diversity once found across several 
faculties.  If media are indeed fundamental to 
political and cognitive order, then media studies 
endorses a vision of history, culture, and 
society that promises to rewrite our 
understanding of the past, present, and future.

The last thing to be secured in a science is its 
foundation, quipped Alfred North Whitehead, and 
media studies has reached a point in which it 
needs to shore up and secure its intellectual 
resources and disciplinary identity.  This 
section proposes to make a critical inventory of 
the traditions and opportunities as well as 
pitfalls found in the new blossoming of media 
studies.  To what extent is there a canon of 
media studies?  What are its central methods and 
questions?  What is the legitimacy of the 
practice of rereading older authors and texts, 
retroactively baptizing them as media scholars? 
To what degree are different traditions of 
scholarship ripe for interdisciplinary dialogue 
with media studies?  To what degree can media 
studies in the German language exist apart from 
its strong philological method and philosophical 
inheritance?  To what degree may we incorporate 
diverse intellectual traditions into the ambit of 
media studies-such as German idealism, 
psychoanalysis, American pragmatism, the 
Frankfurter Schule, Canadian political economy, 
art history, the sociology of media and 
Publizistik, Foucaultian archaeology, feminist 
and critical race analysis, etc.?  To what degree 
is the intellectual heritage of media studies a 
wish-list or fantasy of noble ancestors?
What principles can help produce a useable past 
for media studies that is equal to the ambition 
and intellectual excitement of the field?

Some specific areas for consideration:

Classics: orality and literacy, the Homer problem,
Comparative religion: ritual practice as cosmological media
History: the record and its transmission as a media problem
Literature: the seedbed of modern media studies
Law: inscription, filing, and documentation practices
Mathematics: paper-machines as the context of mathematical production
Medicine: the body as fundamental datum of media studies
Music: performance, notation, and reproduction
Theology: "media salutis"

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