SAM Seminar: The World as Medium: Whitehead's Media Theory

When:15 Mar 2016, 5pm - 6:30pm
Venue:Cinema 327, Robert Webster Building
Who:Andrew Murphie, UNSW
SAM Seminar

Recently some scientists studying what happens in neurons when animals move freely created a bizarre media assemblage. This combined the generation of virtual world events at the level of some worms' neurons, via optogenetics, with the worms' “free” movement through the real physical world. In such assemblages, contemporary media and world are finding some strange continuities and overlaps. Direct, exploitable and constantly inventive continuities between media and world are now the rule, not the exception. Indeed, the overlap is total. Yet this talk suggests that what looks strange in such assemblages has always been the case. Contemporary media only perhaps draw attention to this more. This is only because, first, they possess more technical power to work within the entire world as medium, and, second, they increasingly diagram media/world relations in acceptance of world as medium and media as world. As Alfred North Whitehead points out, the continuities are there because the entire world has always been a medium.

For Whitehead, the world itself (although there is no longer only one world) is a medium for the ‘vector transmission’ of feeling. The world is not of only a world of ideas, or even things, at least not first up. It is instead a world of feeling. We might then suggest that signal is feeling in movement, which is to say signal as the world in movement, which is to say the world communicating itself as it creates itself. Things or events—both of which we can consider as what Whitehead terms “actual occasions”—do something special within the world as medium. They maintain their intensity. This talk will outline a theory of signal, affect, intensity and world, drawing largely from Whitehead and Deleuze. Along the way I’ll provide a quick series of propositions concerning affect and politics that arise from thinking the world as medium. I conclude with the end of media studies as we have known it, perhaps the end of media and communications studies as a whole, although the truth is that this has already occurred, even if older media studies zombies still walk among us.


Andrew Murphie is an Associate Professor at the School of the Arts and Media, in UNSW. His research examines the productive nature of differential intensity across a range of fields and practices in media, science and technology, the arts and philosophy. He works on transformation, crisis and possibility filtered through generative process, dynamic modeling of all types, and new forms of cooperation in politics/social organization. His research also draws on electronic arts and design (e.g. cross signal processing), poststructuralism (Deleuze and Guattari), process philosophy (Whitehead), ‘speculative pragmatics’ (Massumi/Manning), and extended and dynamicist theories of mind.

Andrew is co-author of Culture and Technology (Palgrave, 2003), and is currently writing two books: Differential Media, Differential Life: the past and future of social organization—that rethinks the ‘world as medium’, and On Not Performing: Technology and Intensity—that questions the performative in its managerial mode while diagramming positive alternatives found in the relations between media, thinking and feeling.

He was the founding editor of the peer-reviewed, open-access Fibreculture Journal and continues as an editor. He is the editor of the Open Humanities Press’ Fibreculture book series. He is a member of an international research collaboration team funded by a Canadian SSHRC grant 2013-2020: Immediations: Art, Media and Event.


Finding us

Robert Webster Building is located mid-way off the UNSW main walkway. Map Reference G14. Cinema 327 is located on the third floor. 

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