Draft ideas on a joint Graduate School (Promotionskolleg) between PH Karlsruhe and Karlshochschule

On the way towards human-media-hybridity

The changes taking place in media, their contents, and their usage are shaping societies and social relationships on all levels; with regards to the profile of the proposed joint studies, the most relevant changes are those affecting processes of learning and education, as well as processes within organizations and management. These can be described as paradigm shifts from semi-oral cultures to the culture of books, then mass media and now digital media cultures. The most recent shift is currently taking place based on the technical innovations for media being made possible by smartphones, tablets, 3D and social media. The consequences of these shifts in media culture are almost impossible to predict sufficiently. Nevertheless, there are many signs that a phase of hybridization among media technologies (e.g. the merging of text, image and moving image in the World Wide Web) with developments such as mobile media, wearable media and 'smart' everyday objects, will increasingly be followed by a hybridization of the dividing line between human and media. Today, media technologies can be carried on our bodies everywhere and at any time. They are not used merely to inform and communicate but also to monitor physical functions and activities – known as 'self-tracking'. At the same time, visual surveillance technologies can turn entire spaces into 'interfaces' between humans and computers, as we see with game consoles that no longer have a controller but interpret the movements of the players in front of the console. New constellations and entities arise for the interaction between humans and media. If McLuhan's theory of media as extensions of man was understood as metaphorical in the 1960s, today it seems to have been overtaken by a promise of media as a constantly available part of a human.

Two initial theories

The Postgraduate Program Performing Media: Practice and Practices in Human-Media-Hybridity takes these developments as a focal point, intending to research them in a trans-disciplinary approach starting from two theses:    

(1) The "twin performance" of media

We assume that media (technologies) have both opening-up and limiting effects on the scope of our learning, behaviour and communication. The significance of media technologies is generally not understood or recognizable until they are applied in practice and practices. In this sense, any form of media usage can be understood as a performative act which, in its recursive and interdependent relationship to the medium, is shaped by the medium as an instrument and at the same time also shapes or highlights the medium itself because of its specific meanings and impact potential. In fact, no medium 'exists' outside of its tangible usage. Media and their societal, cultural, social and individual significance can thus be seen to performatively arise via and in their use. Media themselves are actors or stakeholders. The accessibility of media and their contents makes a difference – societally, socially and culturally. Societies and cultures are always shaped by the cast of media available in their era. So media are not only 'performed' by humans via their usage, they also need to be understood as 'performative' actors of societal and social development. The title of the postgraduate program Performing Media is therefore intended to be understood ambiguously, reflecting the draft understanding of a twin performance of the 'medium of media', in which media are both performed and produced as well as being performing and producing actors themselves.

(2) Hybridization of the Human-Media border

Technologies such as the printing press and also landline telephones, vinyl records, film or TV in their analogue forms are, in the sense described above, used by humans in very different ways, lending them very different historical, societal, social and cultural significances. At the same time, as a dispositive of their respective epoch, they shaped societies, effecting (sometimes fundamental) changes. Nonetheless, all of these technologies exhibit clear borders or separation between the human users and the media technologies as non-human actors. In today's digital media culture with its characteristic omnipresence of mobile media technologies, drawing this clear line becomes increasingly questionable. Mobile and space-encompassing media technologies such as smartphones, tablets, Google Glass and movement sensors or visual gesture recognition in game consoles (PlayStation Camera etc.), as well as the 'always on' phenomenon associated with them and augmented reality or 3D, all lead to a complex cross-linking, interweaving and entanglement of humans with media, their contexts, contents and usages. This not only hybridises the relationship between various media (as did early forms of digital culture, too) but also the border between humans and media itself.

The main aim of the Graduate School program is to take a look at these new forms of hybrids, or the connections, overlaps, mergers and interactions between humans and media in a range of cultural, societal and social contexts, going on to describe and analyse them and also develop concepts that contribute to understanding and shaping the implications which the emerging phenomena will have on society and culture. This understanding of hybridity has implications for the understanding of humans' capacity for taking action, for the relationship between medium and body or medium and communication, and for the relationships people have with each other and with non-human actors. One crucial question for the process of media usage, in the sense of the twin performance described above, would be: Who or what is 'acting' in specific media-related situations? What 'agency' can be conceived, considering the hybrid human-media constellation?

Research program

Based on the key points in the research profiles of the participating partners, the Postgraduate Program is conceived to focus on research into teaching, learning and education, as well as management. Initially there will be two research priorities:

Research priority 1 (Lead Karlshochschule)

Research into societal transformation processes associated with the development and establishment of hybrid human-media constellations

The establishment of new media technologies is always also a phase of societal and cultural transition. With regard to the concept of twin performance of media outlined above, we need to understand the emerging media technologies both as being highlighted and shaped by humans during performance and also as self-willed actors who, in complex interconnections as per the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT), bring their own initially incalculable logic into the equation and can produce unexpected effects. For example, the introduction of e-mails into organizational communication was performed by human actors in an initially relatively unreflective way or perhaps in the expectation that it would lead to an increase in efficiency and accelerate organizational processes. It was not until this had been applied for a while and become relatively established that the effects became visible, which can be described as a paradoxical concurrence of both an increase in efficiency and obstacles to efficiency (or even tendencies that destroy the efficiency). On the one hand, the new medium enabled informal, quick communication. On the other, however, phenomena obstructing communication arose because of overload and stress, or even burn-out – where many diagnoses are made which draw a connection to modern media technologies. Against this background, the societal establishment of new media technologies is a particularly challenging management issue within organizations, since the human agency side of the process requires management (which media are to be used, supported, forbidden etc.) whereas the medium agency often eludes human management due to its inherent logic, which is mostly ill-defined in the initial stages of its usage. So the Graduate School intends to carry out example cases of establishing specific media technologies in organizations in order to provide representative study results of the potentials and limits facing those trying to manage societal, social and cultural shifts.

Another field of application for Performing Media is the second, more specific research priority in the program:

Research priority 2 (Lead PH Karlsruhe)

The examination of (individual, group, organizational and institutional) learning processes in hybrid human-media constellations    

The development of digital and increasingly hybrid media technologies leads to both hopes and worries on a significant scale in society, which manifest themselves over our entire lives in many aspects, including the fields of learning and education processes. On the one hand, digital media technologies are discursively seen as having the potential to enable particularly successful learning processes – for example because they provide a greater degree of immersion and involvement for the users as well as positive emotional connotations from aspects such as 'gamification' of the learning process. On the other hand, there is also the worry that these technologies distract our attention away from what we are trying to learn and generate comparatively 'superficial' experiences which are no match for a deeper consideration of the material to be learnt, for example through the medium of a book. These questions regarding media-supported learning are not only being asked in the context of school education but in the whole spectrum of educational science, whether in higher education or in companies and other organisations active in the field of further training or active knowledge management, including counselling, consultancy, coaching and mentoring. The Graduate School is dedicated to analysing specific fields and practical examples with a deeper understanding of the complex learning processes in hybrid human-media constellations, while assuming neither the role of endorser nor that of critic.