PhD Course – Social Pragmatics within Contemporary Art and Media Studies

When: 8th – 10th of May

Where: New York

Application Deadline: ASAP


What everyday parlance refers to as society is not a given, self-sustaining ontological reality. Albeit itself productive, providing stability as well as reference, “the social world” is first and foremost the product of agencies, protocols and power relations. Hence “the social”, constantly being assembled, maintained and differentiated, is less an analytical category than a category in need of analysis.

As Bruno Latour reminds us, whenever social scientists “add the adjective ‘social’ to some phenomenon, they designate a stabilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that, later, may be mobilized to account for some other phenomenon.” Latour’s critical remarks are not aimed at the concept of the social as such; they are rather an invitation to rethink the way we conceive of the social by shifting the perspective from an objectifying to a practice-orientated one. Obviously Bruno Latour is far from being unique in this pragmatist approach to social analysis. Thus Michel Foucault investigated the genealogy of the concepts of the social, the political and the state, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s pioneering work on abstract social machines is also an obvious point of reference for our discussion.

Following the lead from Latour, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari (and many others), this seminar will examine the usefulness and the bearings of such a social pragmatics within contemporary art and media studies. We invite participants to reflect on their work from the point of view of social practices – how these practices involve sets of objects, how these circulate, by the help of what media, channels, or milieus, and, least but not last, what subject positions (and subjectivities) they allow for. In other words, what kind of set-up, of arrays and assemblages, can be identified, and what functions and distributions do they facilitate.

We suggest three different entries to the discussion: Media, art and aesthetics. As media were always social, they provide, both from a historical and a contemporary view, an excellent example of a social technology, entailing protocols of code and conduct, formats of time and space, and genres of subjectivity. Artworks too are medial phenomena that can be analyzed in a number of different ways; in this context, however, we will focus specifically on how artistic mediality also encompasses a set of political and economic relations embedded in its historical forms. Aesthetics, finally, stand out in our perspective not only as pertaining to the ‘rules of art’ or to sense experience, but rather to the interface between the human sensorium and affective capacities with the social world at large.

Alexander Galloway and Andrew Ross, both from New York University are invited as speakers. Galloway’s research interests include media theory and contemporary philosophy. He is a programmer and artist and a founding member of the Radical Software Group (RSG). Ross focuses on labor, the urban environment, and the organization of work, from the Western world of business and high-technology to conditions of offshore labor in the Global South.


Deadline for submissions is April 16. Please include a short abstract (300 words) for a 20 minutes presentation.