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[Commlist] CFP: Pharmacologies of Media

Mon Feb 01 15:26:00 GMT 2021

Call for Abstracts: Pharmacologies of Media

We invite 300 word abstracts for a forthcoming special issue of Media Theory exploring “pharmacologies of media.”

Are media doing us more harm than good? This question has shadowed accounts of new technologies for millennia, from the advent of writing right through to the emergence of social media. Beginning with Plato’s reflections on writing’s effects on memory, and under the influence of work by philosophers like Jacques Derrida (1981) and Bernard Stiegler (2011), media scholars often explore this question using the concept of the pharmakon. In its Platonic sense, the pharmakon is both a remedy and a poison, or something that can both heal and harm. To describe media as pharmacological is to acknowledge that they can have both positive and negative effects. But this concept is difficult to disentangle from its medical origins. The pharmakon is a substance, a drug or a medicine, that might be intoxicating or beneficial. Like drugs, this double capacity is not inherently value-laden, or good and/or bad, but is a function of how the media operate. Like drugs, this capacity informs how media operate on, extend, or curtail our capacity to sense, think, or act. But here the analogy falls apart. Media and drugs address different domains of the body and have distinct cultures. If this analogy can only stretch so far, what are we to make of the concept of the pharmakon today?

In this special issue, we want to revisit this concept in order to trace its histories and to test its utility for contemporary media studies. Alongside exploring the moral and embodied genealogies of the pharmakon, we also want to trace a third: whether and how the concept’s double capacity works at the level of materiality. The pharmakon provides us with a conceptual means of apprehending how media are entangled with and shaped by the political, economic, and ecological distribution of matter. If the material dimension of media is conjoined with a politics of material harm/cure, our proposition is that the concept of the pharmakon could be developed into a rich resource for thinking not only of the social impact of contemporary media, but the distributed, material reality in which they’re enrolled. We use the term pharmacologies of media to mark our interest in media in the present, where ‘media’ is understood in an expanded sense, across domains, and at many different scales, and in the role that this concept--and its cognates--have played in the study of media past and present. By examining the limits of the concepts of pharmakon and media, this issue seeks to expand and transform discussions of race, toxicity, body, mediation, affordance, in areas such as science and technology studies, feminist and queer theory, biopolitics and the body, media archaeology and theory, visual studies, environmental and medical humanities. The biopolitical role that media play in governing the circulation of resources establishes relations of power that the pharmakon can help us to identify and to critique. Media’s large-scale role as essential infrastructures establishes pharmacological relations between the consumption of new technology, the waste produced by its dynamics of obsolescence, and the sometimes-violent processes of extraction that underlie the production of technology, as we see with minerals like Coltan or Lithium. The large-scale and, crucially, deep-time effect of technological progress on the Earth’s dwindling range of species has a pharmacological dimension. So, too, does the body’s material-chemical relationship to particular atoms or molecules used in the production of media, or - as with testosterone, for instance (Preciado, 2013) - as specific techniques of individuation. The pharmakon not only helps us to underscore the reality of these relations; crucially, it also focuses our analyses of media on the actual processes and operations that media technologies or cultural techniques enact. We envisage that this issue will be divided into two main parts: one dedicated to reflecting on the conceptual history of the pharmakon and assessing its relevance to the study of media, and a second that exploring what might pharmacology of media’s material dimensions look like. Could the pharmakon inform methods and theories for engaging with material media processes? What are its histories and inheritances? How has it informed our conceptions and critiques of media? Does it need repurposing for the twenty-first century, and if so, how? Most crucially, what does pharmacological critique look like today, in practice?

We are interested in submissions that address this concept in any way related to media/theory. We are particularly interested in the way that the concept of the pharmakon might intersect with race and/or ethnicity, and would encourage submissions that explore the interfaces between this concept and racialisation in the context of data collection, tracking, personalisation, and discrimination.

Suggested topics might include (but are not limited to):
Conceptual histories of the pharmakon, existing or possible
Pharmacological conception of race and ethnicity
Embodied pharmacologies: medicine, drugs, toxicity
Pharmacologies of substances: plastics, minerals, chemicals across scales
Hormones and technologies of gender
Pharmacology and individual/collective individuation
Viral pharmacologies: quarantine, lockdown, masking, distancing
Pharmacologies of extraction, infrastructure, logistics, trade
Petrochemicals and media culture Pharmacology and postcoloniality
Pharmacology and genetics
Body, milieu, techniques McLuhan’s “extensions” in the 21st Century
Mediated feeling, extended sensing, and perception-at-a-distance

The timeline for submissions is as follows:
 Abstracts due March 08, 2021
Notification of acceptance by March 22, 2021
Full papers due for peer-review: August 01, 2021
Decisions and peer-review feedback: November 01, 2021
Revised articles due: January 15, 2022
Projected special issue publication date: mid-2022

Please send abstracts - or any queries - to Yiğit Soncul ((y.soncul /at/ and Scott Wark ((s.wark /at/ by March 08, 2021

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