What Can Friedrich Kittler Contribute to Contemporary Social Theory: the theoretical implications of the concept “technical media

Po-Fang Tsai

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Since Talcott Parsons, contemporary social theorists have tried to elaborate a theoretical position for the idea of “media”, which is often problematized as the
concept “generalized symbolic exchange media”, but they still do not have a satisfying answer. The crucial point may lie in that the social theorists start from “the problem of social order” or “how is society possible” with their underestimated or underdeveloped media theories. In modern society, social order is constructed in terms of media and mediated social communication more than face-to-face social action. Therefore, social theorists need to find their theoretical resources from media theorists. This paper attempts to introduce an important German media theorist, Friedrich Kittler, and examines his theme of “modern media is technical media”. According to my scrutinizing from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1999) to Optical Media (2002), Kittler’s theme has at least three implications for social theorists: the evolutionary process of, the functional characteristic of, and the departure from everyday life of “technical
media”. First, Kittler provides a trinity-narrative of modern media: from artistic to analog to digital media accompany with direct-visibility to indirect-visibility to
override visibility principle respectively during the 14-15th century, the 16-17th century, and the 18-19th century. Second, Kittler defines technical media by
three syncretized functions—storage, transmit, process—and views Turing machine as the first creation of yet PC as the last betrayal of technical media. Third, Kittler’s analysis of programming language emphasizes two dimensions departing from human language, which means technical media has already decoupled from everyday life in ontology and time-axis. This paper concludes with a reflection on the possible connection between social and media theory by setting Kittler as a crucial bridge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event13th European Sociology Association Conference: (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities - PANTEION University of Social & Political Sciences, HAROKOPIO University, Athens, Greece
Duration: Aug 29 2017Sept 1 2017


Conference13th European Sociology Association Conference


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