Media Fields 2: Infrastructures

A conference hosted by graduate students in the Department of Film and Media Studies,
University of California, Santa Barbara
April 9-10, 2009

Keynote Speaker: Brian Larkin, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University, author of Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (Duke University Press, 2008), co-editor of Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain (University of California Press, 2002)

The 2007 Media Fields conference gathered students and scholars to reflect upon how their projects related to the idea of the field in the epistemological and environmental registers of the term. In April 2009, a second Media Fields conference will hone in on the more specific idea of infrastructures. If a field is an expanse of space, infrastructures are skeletal and map out interactions, relations, and orders of elements in such a space.

Recent work on media by scholars such as Brian Larkin, Lisa Parks, Jonathan Sterne, and Zhang Zhen points to the import of infrastructures in relation to the study of material spaces, representations, and practices associated with filmgoing, piracy, satellite footprints, globalization, and urbanization. Media Fields: Infrastructures aims to build upon such work and to consider how the term infrastructure offers a rubric with which to extend the conceptual radius of film and media studies in different directions. How might perspectives from the humanities inform thought about media and infrastructures? And how might media and cultural studies benefit from perspectives generated in social sciences and environmental design?

You might consider the following types of projects and ideas:

  • Opening up the metaphoricity of infrastructures. How might media studies be able to appropriate concepts, languages, and practices related to infrastructures? What are infrastructures of media (scripts? shots?), what infrastructures of language do we use to understand media, and how might these questions lead to new disciplinary trajectories?
  • Media as they serve as infrastructures of the nation (national monuments, icons, and media spectacles), of global transitions (call centers, satellite footprints, media industries and regulations), of developmental paradigms (the IMF, World Expos) of the body (medical imagery, x-rays), of travel (in-flight entertainment, billboards), and of security (emergency services, the Patriot Act).
  • Examinations of the material infrastructures of media systems such as wired and wireless networks, routers, DVD cases, archives, or movie theaters, as well as infrastructures which support media practices. For example, how might understanding the infrastructures of media piracy entail considerations of databases, undersea cables, copyright, code, and/or video stores? How are media infrastructures such as these represented or visualized?
  • In expanding the notion of infrastructure beyond material objects, one can consider how social and cultural practices might function as media infrastructure—think for example of film exhibitions, public art demonstrations, as well as the role of less material infrastructures (grammar, code). How might one study infrastructures of a text or a website? How might one define an aesthetics of infrastructures?

The scope of this conference is interdisciplinary. We invite paper submissions and project proposals (eg., films, models, installations) from graduate students, faculty, and practitioners.

Please submit abstracts or project proposals of 300 words or less to ucsb.media.fields (at) gmail (dot) com by January 30, 2009.