The Post-Media Lab: Research Framework - Vision paper

By The lab team, 1 February 2012

Theme 1: Digital Networks: Connecting People Apart

Theme 2: The Subsumption of Sociality

Theme 3: The Question of Organisation

Theme 4: Acting within Non-Human Ontologies



Vision paper

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Post-Media Lab – a project within the Digital Media Center (EU Innovation Incubator, Leuphana University Lüneburg), organised in collaboration with Mute magazine.

In less than two decades, digital networks have moved from providing a macro background environment – actively accessible by only a small coterie of scientists, experts, and state or corporate agents – to pervading and augmenting our lives at an increasingly micrological level. As our world is plugged into the matrix, we know from direct experience that the pace of change is feverish, the scope infinite and the effects in need of constant reckoning. The Post-Media Lab offers a space in which to examine, reflect and operate upon the networked, mediatised society from an unhurried perspective. We seek to slow down the machinic pace of ‘cybertime’ just enough to allow for a different tempo of thought to engage and encompass it. Through a programme of four bi-annual residency cycles spanning 2012 and 2013, the Lab will provide participants (artists, technologists, film-makers, activists, cultural/media theorists) with the practical and intellectual support and resources to build real-world, aesthetic, technical or theoretical assemblages which operate acutely on the interface between digital networks and social and political life. This activity will be situated within a variety of experimental, discursive and distributive contexts, also making use of public events, publishing projects and online documentation to foster an international public, and network of participants, for the Lab.

The term ‘post-media’[1] was coined by Felix Guattari's and subsequently taken up by other critical theorists to describe social and medial assemblages, which unleash new forms of collective expression and experience. With the growing ubiquity of digital media ushered in by the ‘90s ‘web revolution’, and the rise of the 'invisible computer', one might assume that today we are all ‘post-media operators’. But this ‘media becoming’ has rendered the underlying technical and social processes more and more invisible. Once again, we are in danger of the media enunciating us, of becoming the ‘media-operated’, in tune with the usual discants of power. The Lab aims to build a place where the aesthetic and utopian moments of ubiquitous media can be recaptured, and the multilayered forces and textures of media space become newly legible. We take up 'post-media' as an inherently critical notion adequate to the media strategies of scenes, movements and collectives – rather than the individualities and normativities produced by commercial media – which construct and intensify social agencies, help develop new forms of relation and generate counter-meanings.

Guiding principles of the Lab will be to maintain a wide historical perspective and to scrutinise established programmatic and strategic positions; the concepts, experiments and radical promise of past engagements with telecommunications, digital media and aesthetics will be kept in mind, as much to reprise their energies and enthusiasms as to create a gauge for where we find ourselves today. To this end, we will retrieve early and inspirational forecasts of the internet’s radical social potential; avant-garde experiments into the activation and participation of audiences; pioneering experiments in building alternative social and technical infrastructures and self-institution; and technologists’ dreams of inherently horizontal, open and distributed networks. Their histories will help us diagnose and think beyond the outlines of our contemporary networked life, with its qualitatively new potentials and crises.

To provide orientation to the Lab’s activities, we have taken stock of the present (technological, social, cultural, political) moment to produce a set of key characteristics/themes:

Theme 1: Digital Networks: Connecting People Apart[2]

The pronouncements of early web and new media enthusiasts were laden with the dreams and language of (re)forging community on the digital frontier. These days, though, we tend to hear more about ‘community managers’ and ‘herding’ than virtual communities, cybersalons or digital cities. Where communities of the ’90s often owned their own networks, today’s social media platforms own the infrastructure and, by extension, the communities which inhabit them. What happened to those early visions, what were their limits, how were they abandoned, and what are the implications of our transition into the more abstract field of mass internet use and media society 2.0?

The propulsive feedback between street demonstrations and/or insurrections and networked transmission may very well be revealing the profound disillusionment over the net’s direct democratic effects to have been premature – at least where a direct causality is sought. The potential reach of user friendly tools that have brought the masses onto the internet stage and networked media interfaces that surround us are equally amenable to the imperatives of commerce and government.

If the internet provides an interface to populations and their management, we can also see it as an agile space filled by numberless connections, communities and mass ingenuity; passifying platforms, like Facebook, can be temporarily hijacked for demos-founding actions one step ahead of punitive governmental action. Nation states are feeling the pressure and distortions of digital networks as their sovereignty is threatened by the volatility of financial markets and copycat waves and forms of protest. In this research phase, the Lab will think through the tensions between the principles of universal access and openness, the exclusivity and languages/grammars of virtual communities and radical milieus, and the impersonality and abstraction of the mediatised network society. Research fellows are asked to consider and engage with the confusingly contradictory use of a technical assemblage which connects and alienates, gives rise to riots and hegemonic control, voices polyphony and imposes monoform.

Theme 2: The Subsumption of Sociality

As capitalism moves beyond the stage of ‘formal subsumption’ into that of ‘real subsumption’, capitalism is no longer content to encompass existing forms of production into the production of value, but must convert and transform all of life (production and reproduction) into capitalist forms, finding ways to extract value across all of social activity. Within this, our forms of relating, caring and of expression, of communicating and collaborating, are enclosed and templated. Networked media has played a determining though by no means exclusive role in such a transformation. As with forms of political struggle, expression and sociality are likewise defined by the conditions in which they arise, even when their objective is to challenge those same conditions.

This Lab phase proposes the practical and theoretical exploration of ways to (re)appropriate our own sociality, creativity, collaborative impulses and ‘free labour’ in the era of real subsumption. What pores or holes do media networks provide for us to develop alternative ‘forms-of-life’ within? What forms of sociality are mobilised by power and how are they mobilised? What forms of revolt or evacuation are open to the subject of human capital? How can we bend the tools of management and measure against themselves? Can creativity be freed from its industrial and governmental appropriations? How can ‘care’ escape the circuits of expropriation? How are urban and other spaces that help to constitute our sociality being shaped? How can new forms of subject mapping, data-tracking, neo-taylorisation, and logistical deployment be inverted, taken apart, perverted, used to create new collectivities? What would a truly ‘communal’ use of info-sharing and data gathering look like? And what should we make of the promise of ‘open knowledge’, ‘open data’, 'open access' and 'open source'?

Theme 3: The Question of Organisation

The idea of the 'self-organising network' has reshaped politics and notions of agency in models of the environment, cognitive science, warfare, government, grassroots activism and even service provision. How does this embrace of the network paradigm beyond its technological sense coincide with economic, social and epistemological shifts? How have the promulgation and critique of networked organising, circulated on the web and in activist circles, impacted our ideas of good or efficacious social organisation? What forms of emergent organisation are moving beyond the aporias of the network?

The proliferation of social institutions (of education, medicalisation, culture, care, etc.) has long been critiqued as producing social and psychic dependencies, normativities and appropriations of the subject in accordance with the logics of state/capitalism – expanding exponentially to organise and format human life. However, we are now undergoing their mass disassembly under the neoliberal model of restructuring. Can we rethink autonomous activity, subjects or agencies in this climate, resisting a collusion with the contracted state brought on by neoliberal ideology and austerity? Can we update historical adventures in alternative, autonomous or autodidact institutions and practices within the context of the net and its many knowledge sharing potentials?

Theme 4: Acting within Non-Human Ontologies

The flattening out of ontological hierarchies between humans, animals, machines and objects is a characteristic turn of postmodern philosophy, science and arts. This flattening out challenges the enlightenment subject as the fulcrum of cognition and action in order to admit alien ontologies into formal understandings of the world and its production. Object-oriented ontologies, from Actor Network Theory to Speculative Realism, are shaping research methodologies, computer science, network cultures and government. Aesthetics, which finds its origins in the relationship between human sense-perception and the experience of beauty, is likewise shaken by the intensifying proliferation of non-human ontologies and/or extension of non-human perception and production, its distributed systems and scales. How might radical social perspectives interpret these convolutions of thought and action which reconceive human and object relations? How do current models of politics contend with the question ‘do artefacts have politics?’ How do we relate digital aesthetics – in which abstract computational actors like algorithms give rise to new forms and morphologies – to the social and sensual conditions in which they arise and take effect? What happens to our understanding of politics and culture when the satisfaction of ‘human needs’, however problematic these are to define, ceases to be a key aim of knowledge systems? What, indeed, is ‘thought’ when the notion of the human, let alone the cogito, is recursively destabilised by the same man-made tools developed to defend our ontological centrality and certainty? What can we make of ‘cognition in the wild’, when ‘the wild’ is seen not as threatening or dystopian, but as a social utopia?


Post-Media Lab

Mute Magazine

Leuphana University Lüneburg


Footnote 1:

Guattari F. (1990),Vers une ère post-média, la revue Chimères. number 28, Spring -Summer 1996[Towards a Post-Media Era] Translated by Alya Sebti and Clemens Apprich. Available from: [last accessed 21-3-12].

Footnote 2:

More on this can found in the free eBook reader Connecting People Apart (2012) compiled from the Mute Magazine article archive for the Post-Media Lab. Available from: