Online conference: Mediating Scale, 16-18th June 2022

Extended abstracts deadline: Sunday April 3rd 2022

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Prof Benjamin Bratton (University of California, San Diego)

Dr Joshua DiCaglio (Texas A&M University)

Dr Zachary Horton (University of Pittsburgh)

Dr Bogna Konior (NYU Shanghai)

Dr Thomas Moynihan (University of Oxford)

Dr Laura Tripaldi (University of Milano-Bicocca)

The problem of scale has historically been discussed primarily within the confines of specific disciplinary contexts (biology, geography, mathematics, etc.), however it is increasingly emerging as a transdisciplinary concern. Similarly to the ways in which contemporary problems exceed disciplinary boundaries, and require heterogeneous approaches in order to be productively understood, the future orientation of our strategies for addressing those problems must engage with the full scalar spectrum of our planetary existence. Global crises such as pandemics or climate change disturb the human comfort of the mesoscale and require us to grapple with the underlying material reality, including molecular as well as global processes. 

The COVID-19 pandemic proved that the biological, chemical, and epidemiological reality is indifferent to the cultural and political narratives conjectured by the human vectors of transmission. A post-pandemic world needs to learn the lessons from this ‘revenge of the real’ (Bratton, 2021) and recognise the complexity of the world which cannot be reduced to myopic projections and illusions. As global society is affected by ‘mega processes’, our orientation towards the future should be guided by reason, and a planetary politics which exceeds the logics of the nation-state and includes the whole physical universe (Mbembe, 2019).

In order to access different scalar perspectives, humans have always constructed mediating devices. Instruments such as the telescope or the microscope provided an insight into the scale of reality beyond human visual perception, and demonstrated that ‘the invisible makes up a continuum of reality with the visible’ (Blumenberg, 1987, p. 618). More recent examples of scalar media include the James Webb Space Telescope, mediating the spatial and temporal scale of the universe through an analysis of infrared light, as well as potentially shedding light on the local condition of far-off planets. It contributes to a wider process in which scientists use numerical data from telescopes and satellites to help imagine worlds and places which can be made sense of on a human scale (Messeri, 2016). Computational technologies also help us conceptualise some of the most pressing scalar problems. Inequalities related to labour relations and the distribution of resources can be traced through the mineral materialities of media devices and the cartographies of electronic waste (Parikka, 2015), whilst the concept of ‘climate change’ is an epistemological accomplishment of planetary-scale computation (Bratton, 2019). The history of media and technologies is a history of evolving modes and scales of perception and knowledge, and cultural texts such as Powers of Ten, Fantastic Voyage, Alice in Wonderland, and Gulliver’s Travels have been discussed as motivating thinking about scale (Horton, 2013, 2020; DiCaglio, 2020, 2021). Recent scholarship has also emphasized the necessity for developing a theory and a vocabulary of scale itself, foregrounding the ongoing negotiations between scalar alterity and scalar access (Horton, 2020), and placing scale ‘at the intersection of a transformation of the world and a transformation of ourselves’ (DiCaglio, 2021, p. 9). 

With this conference, our ambition is to map the broad spectrum of frameworks and attitudes towards scale, reflecting on how scalar thinking should orient our visions towards the future. We are interested in the role of scalar media, technologies, scientific theories, models and concepts in confronting the scalar disjunction between human sensory and cognitive capacities, and the scale of reality independent of our perception. We believe these questions are crucial to developing the multi-scalar thinking required to address some of the most urgent global issues including automation, planetary governance, or the climate crisis. This conference will therefore explore ways of framing the problem of mediating scale, and the stakes involved in addressing epistemological barriers to facing contemporary problems at an appropriate scale.

We welcome contributions from across disciplines whose work is relevant to the question of mediating scale. 

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • approaches to scale in media studies
  • history and archaeology of scalar media
  • politics of scale in visual cultures
  • scale and political tactics (including local vs global organising)
  • planetary politics and governance
  • existential risks, including climate change
  • the science and politics of geoengineering
  • scientific models and model-world relations
  • reductionism, antireductionism, and complexity theory
  • theories of scale, rhetoric of scale
  • timescales, geologic time, deep time, longtermism

Submission guidelines:

We are inviting submissions for 30-minute talks in English that address the conference theme.

Please send an extended abstract of 600-900 words and a short biography to mediatingscale@gmail.com. The deadline for submissions is Sunday April 3rd 2022. Responses will be sent out in mid-April.

Conference details:

This online conference will be free to attend but registration will be required. The conference will be streamed live with recordings of the keynote presentations available afterwards on YouTube. For more information, or if you have any questions, please email mediatingscale@gmail.com

Organised by Oliver Kenny (Institute of Communication Studies (ISTC), Université Catholique de Lille) and Magdalena Krysztoforska (University of Nottingham).

The event is hosted and funded by the Institute of Communication Studies (ISTC), Université Catholique de Lille.

Bibliography: 

Blumenberg, H. (1987). The Genesis of the Copernican World. MIT Press.

Bratton, B. H. (2019). The Terraforming. Strelka Press.

Bratton, B. H. (2021). The Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World. Verso.

DiCaglio, J. (2020). Scale Tricks and God Tricks, or The Power of Scale in Powers of Ten. Configurations, 28(4), 459–490.

DiCaglio, J. (2021). Scale Theory: A Nondisciplinary Inquiry. University of Minnesota Press.

Horton, Z. (2013). Collapsing Scale: Nanotechnology and Geoengineering as Speculative Media. In K. Konrad, C. Coenen, A. Dijkstra, C. Milburn, & H. van Lente (Eds.), Shaping Emerging Technologies: Governance, Innovation, Discourse (pp. 203–218). IOS Press / AKA.

Horton, Z. (2020). The Cosmic Zoom: Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation. The University of Chicago Press.

Mbembe, A. (2019). Bodies as Borders. From the European South: A Transdisciplinary Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 4, 5–18.

Messeri, L. (2016). Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds. Duke University Press.

Parikka, J. (2015). A Geology of Media. University of Minnesota Press.