Cultures of Disconnection: Imaginaries, Media Infrastructures and Politics

Event Date: 

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Event Location: 

  • 1310 SSMS (CITS Office)

Digital cultures are significantly shaped by media-technological connectivity. This connectivity takes many different forms, among them social media, texting, corporate networks or streaming services. The early utopias of net culture, but also contemporary discourses, often express euphoric ideas of universal inclusion and the promises of connection. There is a trust in the general desirability of expanding networks, as if such an expansion of connectivity would by default embody and offer a democratic promise. This kind of trust does not only accompany the ubiquity of digital media and their embedding in everyday practices; it also characterizes the reflection of digital media’s ubiquity and pervasiveness in the main theories of networks and communication. Either implicitly or explicitly such theorizing is based on a normative notion of, or belief in, connectivity. Until recently, media sociology as well as media studies, have given little attention to connectivity’s flipside, namely different forms of disconnection (Entnetzung). The paper offers a sketch of how to think disconnection as an original practice within (and not outside!) network society. I will suggest to think disconnection neither as an absolute state (as a complete opt-out of networks) nor a mere restriction of the reach of digital media, but rather as a temporary and situational practice that serves to reduce availability. Practices of dis/connectivity therefore do not lead to a dissipation of networks; they produce »zones« of disconnection within them, requiring their of infrastructures.



Urs Stäheli is full professor for sociological theory and director of the Ph.D.-program „Loose Connections: Collectivity in Digital and Urban Space" at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He acted as visiting professor at Stanford University, Copenhagen Business School and the Excellence Center Cultural Integration, University of Konstanz. His research interests include new materialism and systems theory, media theory, cultural economy and the limits of network thinking. Currently, he is working on a sociology of ‚undoing‘ networks.

Publications: Spectacular Speculation. Stanford UP 2013; Listing the Global: Dis/Connectivity beyond Representation?“In: Distinktion:
Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 13(3), 2012: 233-246; „Entnetzt Euch! Praktiken und Ästhetiken der Anschlusslosigkeit“. In: Mittelweg 36,
Zeitschrift des Hamburger Instituts für Sozialforschung 22 (4), 2013. Indexing: The Politics of Invisibility”. In: Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34(1), 2015, 14-29.