The Chicago School of Media Theory (CSMT) is a working group established by University of Chicago students and course assistants in W. J. T. Mitchell’s Winter 2003 and Winter 2004 Theories of Media classes. CSMT was formed to continue the explorations begun in the Theories of Media class and to promote interdisciplinary study of media theory. The founding group is represented by both undergraduate and graduate students from the following departments: Art History, Cinema and Media Studies, Computer Science, Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, Comparative Literature, English Language and Literature, Gender Studies, History, International Relations, Music, and Philosophy. The group will continue investigating issues of media theory established in the course, while also pursuing case studies based on the specializations and interests of individual members.
The Chicago School of Media Theory intends to update and extend the major theoretical strains raised in W. J. T. Mitchell’s 2003 and 2004 sessions of Theories of Media, adapting extant theoretical models to examinations of new media. Of course, the CSMT will also in(ter)dependently theorize new media and the ways in which emerging and developing media technologies alter the function (or functionality) of ‘old’ media. For instance, how does obsolescence transform an object or a technology?
Among those media facing rapid alteration and potential obsolescence, the CSMT is particularly interested in the human body and its role within the theory of media, both as a site for mediation and as an entity to be ‘extended,’ as McLuhan’s would have it, or an entity to be edited and recoded, as in theories of cybernetics and soft technology. Just how digital are computers?
Senses aside, how does sense operate as a form of mediation? For all the questions surrounding technological media, equally many crop up around the intangible forms of mediation, particularly reason and affect. For example, one might speak of hacking into codes of conduct.
Where the theorization of media is established practice, the CSMT intends to examine, conversely, the mediation of theory. Or, put into less chiasmic terms: who reads theory anyway? Must it only be read? How might one diagnose the consumption of theory? The relationship between media theory and the media requires further elucidation: To what extent may a text/object become autotheoretical? How does a particular media object, or a particular medium, ‘respond’ to being theorized? To co-opt Mitchell’s formula: what does theory want?
To the extent that one might dare venture a governing ethos, one might gesture toward a refusal to confine the field to modern, new, and mass media. There is a compulsion to view new and emerging media in relation to ancient and archaic media. Rather, “new media” are new in different ways at different times—there have always been new media, and those media that we may classify as dead or archaic still retain certain properties of newness that have not yet been fully explored. What were the new media of the 14th century, or of the 18th century? How can we extend the relationships of those new media from the past to the new and emergent media of the present, or even of the future?
Refusing exclusive alliance of sender-receiver and communications models, the study of media is situated in dialectical relation to storage and biological habitat. CSMT is characterized by its insistence on the study of media as environments and systems, where symbiosis is not merely the explosion of common conceptions of models as sui generis, but necessitates an inherent dialectic among models; ie, environments and systems are both composed of and comprise environments and systems.
One strain of CSMT’s philosophy refuses to accept Marshall McLuhan’s obsolescence, and instead rehabilitates misapprehensions of his work in service understanding the ways in which he re-created the field in a comprehensive and dialectical manner. Discussions have sought to attenuate charges of technodeterminism levied against McLuhan by Raymond Williams and others, resulting in the idea that his work provides a valuable and malleable structure from which current theory must depart: it is less totalitarian and more totalizing.
The emphases on embodiment and a phenomenology of media experience are crucial to an understanding of medium theory—that is, theory as an embodied and mediated practice and aware of itself as such. Art practice can be a kind of theory that produces knowledge of a nondiscursive order. Medium theory recognizes its own embededness in material discourse so that installations, films, etc, can all be articulations of media. CSMT is committed to exploring the uses of media, creating spaces for speculation, and producing new forms of autodidactic media in which to base a community.
See also, here.