Frantz Fanon was one of the most important voices in decolonial and black liberation struggles of the mid-20th century. Writing about race and colonialism in Martinique, France, and Algeria, he articulated the importance of blackness to Western frameworks of the human. The black studies scholarship influenced by Fanon has continued in a similar vein, arguing that much of modern, Western thought either does not discuss race at all or considers race as an add-on to the larger discussion of Western subjectivity. Alternatively, Fanon and his interlocutors argue that race is the central function of the larger fields of Western philosophy and science, even if race is not mentioned at all. To make this claim, they largely point toward two tendencies in Western thought. First, Fanon and his interlocutors often examine the centrality of time and space in modern Western philosophy. Indeed, much of Western philosophy and science has implicitly and explicitly examined time as a linear trajectory that is largely monopolized by the Western European and North American white male subject; alternatively, space has been theorized as the static and nondynamic measure of the Western subject’s capacity to progress. Second, Fanon and his interlocutors also critically interrogate the related discussion of mutual recognition that is assumed in much of Western thought. As such, Western thinkers have often contended that, historically, the self recognizes itself in the other, and vice versa, and that self/other relationship is the basis for concepts of subjectivity. Yet, Fanon and his interlocutors have also pointed out that the lack of recognition of black people as human or as subjects has done little to foreclose whiteness as the position overrepresented as the human. Rather than recognition, white people have historically enacted racial violence against black bodies as a central mode through which to enter into humanity. As such, time and space and the lack of recognition as outlined by Fanon and his interlocutors suggest that nonwhite bodies have always provided a crisis for Western concepts of universality and subjecthood.
Globalization as a phenomenon was seen by scholars as a compression of the world, where the world comes together as a global village in thought and in action. Arjun Appadurai, in his theorization of globalization, challenges this view. He argues that globalization is primarily disjunctive, scalar, and contextual. He defines five basic landscapes that are about people and their migration (ethnoscapes), technology (technoscapes), media (mediascapes), ideology (ideoscapes) and finance (finanscapes). Globalization, according to Appadurai, occurs at the points of rupture and disjuncture between these different landscapes. In this context he defines “imagination as a social practice” and situates the work of imagination at the center of all globalization processes. Media flows decidedly play a large role in shaping the imagination, therefore mediascapes are critical to the understanding of globalization in any given context. Similarly, the flows of capital, of people, of ideologies and technology help create new imagined worlds that are fluid and capable of producing a “globally variable synesthesia.” That is, one type of imagined world can trigger similar imaginaries in other parts of the world, yet they possess different shapes and forms.
Appadurai’s theorization was later criticized for presenting too optimistic a view of globalization, for ignoring its dark side. So, in his later work Appadurai explores the “dark” side of globalization. In Fear of Small Numbers, he addresses the widespread global violence against minorities and uses Freud’s “anxiety of incompleteness” to explicate the majority group’s predatory behavior. Globalization has deepened this behavior and thought because it intensifies the possibility and related fear of the majority morphing into the minority and vice versa. Collective group identities, therefore, are forever under threat as “volatile morphing” becomes a reality brought about by rapid global migrations across national boundaries. Appadurai’s later work also points in the direction of hope by presenting the idea of grassroots globalization which is happening alongside the pervasive violence. Grassroots globalization is the idea of globalization from below that is done by non-governmental organizations and transnational advocacy networks that work toward redressing lack of access, injustice and inequity. Appadurai also offers scholars a new framework for how to do globalization research which is not fixated on its “internationalization” but is focused on questions and is inclusive of other worldviews and approaches from around the world.
Kathleen E. Feyh
Materialism emerged as the beginning of philosophical (as opposed to mystical or religious) thought in ancient India and Greece around the 6th century
Brian Massumi (1956–) is a contemporary political theorist of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics. One of the foremost thinkers of “radical empiricism,” he is responsible for enabling the widespread use of Deleuzean philosophy in communication and inaugurating the so-called “affective turn” in the theoretical humanities. Massumi is Professor of Communication at the Université de Montréal and a collaborator with the experimental art and activism lab SenseLab, founded by Erin Manning. His most well-known translation is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and he is the author of ten books, including the widely influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002).
Massumi’s radical empiricist approaches concern the aesthetics of communication and power in the context of global capitalism. He opens the field of communication to the study of relationality, what he calls “being-in-becoming,” which he describes in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s “the actual” and “the virtual.” His critical embrace of becoming reframes the concept of “the event” as a processual unfolding of forces of expression, or experience. Instead of remaining wedded to communication models that limit language to designation, manifestation, and signification, Massumi’s focus on becoming calls for accounts of the extra-linguistic. Three key concepts include expression, affect, and perception. Through creative and experimental dispositions, Massumi position the fields of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics toward vibrant scenes of relations-already-underway, or how feeling, thinking, and being begin, again, in the middle of something already underway—a “happening doing.”
Colonial powers used electronic media and communication technologies to assert and extend control over spaces as well as attempt to influence the “hearts and minds” of colonized people, colonial settlers, and Europeans in the metropole. Colonized people adapted and repurposed these technologies, often toward anticolonial ends. In the early mid-19th century, the telegraph effectively became the “nervous system of empire,” collapsing distances and enabling colonizers to surveil and dominate colonized people and institutions from the metropole (with varying degrees of success). In the early 20th century, new media forms like wireless radio were used to “educate” and “civilize” colonial subjects, entertain and relieve the anxiety of settlers, and spread propaganda in the colonies and the metropole about the benefits of imperialism.
These technologies helped to build both deliberate and accidental, colonial and anticolonial, transnational networks. Some of those networks assisted in anticolonial political mobilizations, particularly in India, where the telegraph was accessible to the public and facilitated nationalist organizing, and Algeria, where radio helped to galvanize support for the revolutionary FLN. Postcolonial media landscapes hold the histories of colonial power asymmetries; we see present-day continuities in the concentration of ownership of media and communication technologies among racial and economic elites, and in the Eurocentrism of dominant regimes of representation.
Globalization should be understood as a new economic, political, and cultural dynamic in what is now a global space. It is diagnosed based on a description of the different phases in its development, as an abstract, modern narrative reinforced by cyberculture, the information and communications technologies (ICTs) culture that emerged in the 1970s. Communications media have enabled the constraints and limits of space and time to be overcome, expanding human agency and connecting people and objects. Globalization is linked to the development of cyberculture precisely because this increases the number of different types of connections between people, products, and information all around the planet. It is constructed abstractly, as it does not pay the price of the connections and connectors that locate social relations. At the same time as it helps to create the fiction of “global globalization,” cyberculture reveals mediators that always connect objects, processes, people, and places, making a “localized globalization” visible. Rather than being merely deterritorializing, globalization produces connections and situations with the aid of connectors. Like every sociotechnical network, it is involved in the creation of new spatialities. The narrative of globalization ignores the connectors and overlooks the notion of territory, asserting the global nature of globalization when in fact it is the result of concrete mediations performed locally, produced by a specific and material network. It is important to politicize globalization. This requires “relocalization” of the global, that is, identifying specific, material situations. Having an appreciation of this dependence leads us to very concrete political attitudes. Attention is drawn to the need to give visibility to the mediators that anchor experiences, gainsaying the generic nature of globalization and allowing it to be politicized.
The need to de-Westernize and decolonize communication and media studies is based on criticisms on a dominant elitist “Western” axiology and epistemology of universal validity, leaving aside indigenous and localized philosophical traditions originating in non-Western settings. Scholars of the Global South continue to question a dominant inherent Eurocentric bias that was—and continuous to be—underlying many Anglo-American and European research projects. Scholars warn against a persistent influence of foreign-imposed concepts such as modernity and development, as well as universal assumptions regarding the use of certain categories and ontologies to deconstruct and understand the media around the globe.
While the West is understood more as a center of power than as a fixed geographical entity, de-Westernization asks for a revision of the power relations in global academic knowledge production and dissemination. The most prominent call for de-Westernizing media studies goes back to Curran and Park who, in the early 2000s, encouraged a Western academic community to revise and re-evaluate their theories, epistemologies, methods, and empirical research approaches, especially in research targeting the Global South.
In a similar way, the call for decolonization asks to investigate and question continuing colonial power imbalances, power dependencies, and colonial legacies. It challenges the uncritical adoption of research epistemologies and methods of former colonial powers in solving local problems, as they fail to explain the complexities of non-Western societies and communities, asking for practicing “decolonial epistemic disobedience.” Contrary to de-Westernization aimed at a Western research community, scholars from the Global South have struggled for decades for international recognition of their voices and intellectual contributions to a global academic community. Their ideas draw on post-colonialism, subaltern studies, or a critical-reflective sociology.
Different efforts have been made to address the global imbalance in media studies knowledge generation. However, neither replacing theories with indigenous concepts alone nor being relegated to cases studies that deliver raw data will gain ground in favor of countries of the Global South, as research efforts need to incorporate both local realities and wider contextualization, or the call for a research with a region, not just about or from it. More successful are cooperative South-South efforts, as the thriving scholar networks in Latin America, Africa, or Asia demonstrate.
The de-Westernization and decolonization project is ongoing. Where inequalities appear most pressing are in resource access and allocation, in conference participation, or in publishing opportunities. In this sense, journalism and media studies curricula still reflect largely an Anglophone centrism and a lack of understanding of local issues and expectations. Here, more reflective de-Westernizing approaches can help to lessen the gaps. However, as de-Westernization relies on vague geographical categorizations, the term cannot be the final path to re-balance the academic knowledge exchange between powerful and less powerful actors.
Kevin Douglas Kuswa and Edward Lubich Kuperman
Donna Haraway is a prophet. Not only is her work indispensable to an understanding of science, technology, feminism, environmental studies, and protest, but she is also outlining a vivid description of where society is headed in a simultaneous array of dystopian and utopian futures. To think about human and nonhuman bodies (as well as their machinic and organic trajectories) requires engaging this provocative scholar and her work spanning over three decades. Like other prophets, Haraway has her critics, including many with understandable objections to her politics or her omissions. From any perspective, however, the way she merges genres and negotiates perspectives is unparalleled, even in critical and cultural studies. The insight she offers into the juxtaposition between humans and the environment shows how the interactions between the natural and social worlds are far more intricate and intertwined than previously conceived. The very survival of the planet depends on a new orientation to humanity’s impact on surrounding ecosystems, generating a personal, political, theoretical, and moral imperative to live in tandem with our surroundings, not in opposition. Reading Haraway thus becomes more than an academic exercise or form of intellectual tourism. In short, she is arguing for a sea-change in perspective that centers on animals and ecosystems as an indispensable part of human life on Earth.
Whether thinking through the relationships between humans and primates, ants and acacias, art and politics, compost and toxicity, or gods and pigeons, Haraway always finds ways to blur science and fiction, speculation and empiricism, or sustainability and rupture. As she demonstrates that the Anthropocene is better thought of as the Chthulucene, Haraway provokes her readers to think deeply and in unique and reflective ways. The three main clusters that constitute her work are each monumental: first, the merging of human and machine in the form of the cyborg; second, the concept of “natureculture” and the double-edged sword represented by technology that can either help natureculture contribute to a radical emancipation or experience a catastrophic exploitation; and, third, the available means of politics within both ideological structures and new identities. Between the clusters the various criticisms of Haraway’s work will also emerge, both highlighting and interrogating the clusters themselves. Overall, quilting a shelter to brave the ongoing storm is Haraway’s objective, but she knows that such a goal necessitates staying with the trouble.
Robert T. Tally, Jr.
Fredric Jameson (b. 1934) was the leading Marxist literary and cultural critic in the United States and, arguably, in the English-speaking world in the late 20th century and remains so in the early 21st. In a career that spans more than 60 years, Jameson has produced some 25 books and hundreds of essays in which he has demonstrated the versatility and power of Marxist criticism in analyzing and evaluating an enormous range of cultural phenomena, from literary texts to architecture, art history, cinema, economic formations, psychology, social theory, urban studies, and utopianism, to mention but a few. In his early work, Jameson introduced a number of important 20th-century European Marxist theorists to American audiences, beginning with his study of Jean-Paul Sartre’s style and continuing with his Marxism and Form (1971) and The Prison-House of Language (1972), which offered critical analyses of such theorists as Georg Lukacs, Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, along with the Frankfurt School, Russian formalism, and French structuralism. With The Political Unconscious (1981) and other works, Jameson deftly articulated such topics as the linguistic turn in literature and philosophy, the concepts of desire and national allegory, and the problems of interpretation and transcoding in a decade when continental theory was beginning to transform literary studies in the English-speaking world. Jameson then became the leading theorist and critic of postmodernism, and his Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) demonstrated the power of Marxist theoretical practice to make sense of the system underlying the discrete and seemingly unrelated phenomena in the arts, architecture, media, economics, and so on. Jameson’s concept of cognitive mapping has been especially influential on cultural theories of postmodernity and globalization. Jameson’s lifelong commitment to utopian thought and dialectical criticism have found more systematic expression in such books as Archaeologies of the Future (2005) and Valences of the Dialectic (2009), and he has continued to develop a major, six-volume project titled “The Poetics of Social Forms” (the final two volumes of which remain forthcoming as of 2018), whose trajectory ultimately covers myth, allegory, romance, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and beyond. Jameson’s expansive, eclectic, and ultimately holistic approach to cultural critique demonstrates the power of Marxist critical theory both to interpret, and to help change, the world.
Oliver W. Lembcke
The core of Giorgio Agamben’s political theory is his analysis of the ambivalence of politics and its ill-fated relationship with law. The key figure of this relationship, the biopolitical product of it, is the homo sacer, a figure that dates back to ancient Roman law. For Agamben, the homo sacer is the perfect manifestation of the sovereign power that has created this figure by banning it as an outlaw who can be harmed or even killed with impunity—all in the name of law. Agamben’s political theory aims at revealing the inherent logic of the sovereign power and its effects in determining the legal subjects of law (inclusion) and, by the same token, in imposing the pending option of separating these very legal subjects (or parts of them) from the legal order (exclusion). According to Agamben, this “exclusionary inclusion” illustrates not only the logic of biopolitics but also the destructive power of sovereignty that has accumulated the capacity to “form life” at its own interest by binding politics and law together. Historically, this kind of sovereignty has ancient origins, but politically its real power has been unleashed in modern times. For Agamben, homo sacer has become the cipher of modern societies, regardless of the manifold differences between democratic and autocratic political systems; and for this reason, he has dubbed his central project in the field of political theory Homo Sacer.
Agamben started his Homo Sacer project with his widely received study, programmatically of the same title, in 1995. Much of what he has written in the years after can be interpreted as elaborations of the impact and consequences of the juridification of politics that he despises so much. For him, contrary to modern constitutionalism’s understanding, juridification is not a process of civilizing the political order; it produces ready-made legal instruments at the disposal of any sovereign anytime. Therefore, according to Agamben, it is a myth, typically told by proponents of liberal democracy, that law has the power to constrain sovereignty; instead, it enables sovereignty. Against this background, it does not come as a surprise that Agamben connects with a wide range of critics of the liberal concept of democracy and tries to make use of their arguments for his own project. For instance, Agamben shares the concept of biopolitics with Foucault but understands it (unlike Foucault) as a general phenomenon of law and politics; moreover, he borrows from Carl Schmitt the theory of the state of exception while transforming it into a permanent structure turning all humans into potential homines sacri; and picks up on Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the concentration camps during the Nazi reign, stressing that the scope of sovereign power is almost unlimited, especially if it is based on an impersonal reign of arbitrariness and uncertainty that enable the production of forms of bare life that can hardly be called human anymore.
Taken together, Agamben presents a radical critique of the history and development of the political orders from the Greek origins to modern-day democratic governance. Is there any reason for hope? In some of his studies after the State of Exception (original, 2003), Agamben picks up on this topic, at least indirectly. In The Kingdom and the Glory (2011), for instance, he deals with the industry of hope by discussing the distribution of labor within the holy trinity as the blueprint for the interplay between active, powerful parts of government (governing administration) and the passive, symbolic parts of it (ruling sovereigns). However, this interplay, with the help of “angels” (bureaucrats), produces only spectacular (but empty) glorification for the purpose of self-justification. The cure, if there is any, can only come from a radical detachment that liberates politics from law and, moreover, from any meaningful purpose, so that politics can become a form of pure means: a messianic form, inspired by Benjamin’s idea of divine violence, that has the power of a total rupture without being violent. Following Benjamin, Agamben envisions a “real” state of exception in which sovereignty becomes meaningless.
Agamben’s Homo Sacer project has triggered various forms of criticism, which can be divided roughly into two lines of arguments. The first line is directed against the dark side of his theory that all individuals are captured in a seemingly never-ending state of exception. Critics have claimed that this perspective results mainly from Agamben’s strategy of concept stretching, starting with the concept of the state of exception itself. A second line of critique questions Agamben’s concept of politics beyond biopolitics. Because his argument is rather vague when it comes to the prospect of a future political process, it has been suspected that his ideas on the alternative options compared to the current disastrous state of affairs are ultimately apolitical ideas of the political, based on the nonpolitical myth of a fully reconciled society. Despite of these kinds of criticism Agamben has insisted that liberation from the ongoing process of biopolitics will not be brought about by revolutionary actions, but by subversive thinking. Agamben notes that in this messianic concept everything will be more or less the same—“just a little different” (Agamben, 2007b, p. 53). And the difference that he seems to mean is that the potentiality is not determined by the sovereign any longer, but by the individual.