Monday, 25 July 2011

The Media of Analysis

Lev Manovich taps into a wonderful, post-hermeneutic topic in his "cultural analytics" project and for instance in the short text "Against Search". His notes are perceptive, and the project as a way to think outside signification based interpretation is important.

Basically his argument stems from the observation that we in cultural and media studies and humanities more widely are confronted with a sea of possibilities - having "access to unprecedented amounts of media." It's a claim that relates to both the ways in which we produce media in unprecedented amounts - but more importantly, as an archival question, how we approach it. A wonderful point: we also access media mediatically:

"The popular media access technologies of the 19th and 20th century such as slide lanterns, film projectors, microfilm readers, Moviola and Steenbeck, record players, audio and video tape recorders, VCR, and DVD players were designed to access single media items at a time at a limited range of speeds."

And this relates to Manovich claim concerning theories and methods of interpretation:

"Together, these distribution and classification systems encouraged 20th century media researchers to decide before hand what media items to see, hear, or read."

Manovich continues to argue that even computer search does not take us away from this restricted mode of accessing and hence analyzing cultural data - referring to the "blank frame" of search. I won't continue on the point of "Against Search", but just point two questions/comments on the overall framing;

1) as also Robin Boast noted on Twitter, already 19th century cultural institutions were reacting to the flood of information, which was transforming the way we think about theory and data. We could continue about the obvious points concerning birth of new ways of thinking about data in sociological disciplines (and as Foucault analyzed, birth of biopolitics) in late 19th century - or the ingenious ways in which Gabriel Tarde was proposing his microsociological investigations as one solution in this context. But already the earlier changes in ways of interpretation and for instance producing commentaries as part of academic practice are reactions against the flood of data - new interfaces, new methods of reading and writing, interpreting - something that among others Friedrich Kittler has flagged.

2) Related to this point, the sheer existence of huge amounts of data does not have automatic requirements that we need to use quantitative methods. This fact that data exists and its connection to methods of analysing it need more careful framing - otherwise we risk the being too close to naive positivism or just producing more data for its own sake (as so often with data visualization). If we are faced with unprecedented amount of data I hope we can also be inventive, imaginative enough to come up with unprecedented methods, theories, ideas and transversal modes of producing knowledge. Perhaps such cultural analytics has the possibility of being thought in relation to the politics of knowledge, institutions, crossdisciplinary, transversal modes of knowledge production in the midst of the global crisis of public sectors.

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