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Summer School 2019 – Abstracts Morning Lectures

Official and Popular Media Analysis

Jens Schröter

In the recent years there has been a nervous and controversial discussion on fake news and conspiracy theories circulating in the web (‘Social Media’). The web, due to its mostly unregulated character and its network structure (‘everything is connected with everything’) is an optimal medial site for such counter-knowledge that tends to question ‚official‘ forms of knowledge (often meaning scientific knowledge and/or knowledge circulating through traditional mass media). Building on John Fiske’s conception of the difference between forms of ‚popular‘ and ‚official‘ knowledge (which itself derives partly from the work of Michel Foucault), the talk wants to sketch the conflicts of different types of knowledge in the plurimedial realm of the web. The plurimediality is especially interesting: Nowadays the web can contain several forms of audiovisual information – and the access to image and audio processing software is as widespread as never before. Transformed and reworked audiovisual materials, constructing other forms of ‘truth’, can counter ‘official’ audiovisual documents that represent ‘official knowledge’. This will be illustrated using the most exemplary case: The so-called Zapruder film showing the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. This short piece of film is the most analyzed piece of film in history – and nowadays there are several ‘counteranalyses’ on the web, trying – e.g. with image processing software – to construct different readings of the material, for example to lend credibility to conspiracy narratives. In a way the monopoly of interpretation of audiovisual material (and its correlated techniques of audio-visual analysis), which officially was the task of (military or police) forensic analysis and later also of media studies is countered by ‘bottom-up media analysis’. Does this mean that we have to accept these multiplications of truths? Surely we should not. But how can we differentiate? This will be – amongst other things – an important task for the humanities in the future: A meta-reflection on the plurimedial struggles between official and popular knowledge.


Mandatory reading (available here):

  • Schröter, Jens 2005: Von Wissen/Unterhaltung zu offiziellem/populärem Wissen. Zeitschrift für Germanistik, Vol. XV, No. 1, pp. 96-108. [mandatory for German speakers]
  • Foucault, Michel 2003: Society Must Be Defended. In: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, Bertani et al. (eds.), Picador, pp. 1-19.
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