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Digital Orientations

Non-Media-Centric Media Studies and Non-Representational Theories of Practice


Shaun Moores

Might it be possible to rearticulate the term digital in digital media, so that it refers at least as much to the deft movements or orientations of hands and fingers (of digits) as it does to the new media technologies themselves? What if digital media are understood as manual media?

Has the academic field of media studies tended to focus too much on media, and not enough on the practices and experiences of daily living that help to give media their meaningfulness? What if media researchers were to pay more attention to knowledge-in-movement or to matters of orientation and habitation, and rather less to those of symbolic representation and cognitive interpretation?

Digital Orientations is a bold call for non-media-centric media studies (and ultimately for everyday-life studies) with a non-representational theoretical emphasis. The author engages here with a broad range of work from across the humanities and social sciences, drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological philosophy, Ingold’s anthropology, the geographies of Massey, Seamon and Thrift, and the sociologies of Bourdieu, Sudnow and Urry.

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Chapter 8. Digital Orientations: Ways of the Hand and Practical Knowing in Media Uses and Other Manual Activities


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Ways of the Hand and Practical Knowing in Media Uses and Other Manual Activities

A hand was developing that was possessed of mobile ways…generative ways of knowing how to be at home in a setting of keys…a hand that had its bearings…a hand at home on the keyboard. (Sudnow, 2001, pp. 51–55)

In non-representational theory what counts as knowledge…is a part of practice. (Thrift, 2007, p. 121)

Opening (a laptop and inbox)

I begin here with a description of something done routinely in the course of my working day, of opening my laptop computer to check my email inbox. Gently applying pressure to the base of the machine with the thumb of my right hand, my left-hand thumb lifts the lid while the other fingers of that hand lie on top. My right-hand index finger then slides from left to right across the touch-pad, moving the cursor until it is located over an area in the middle of the screen marked ‘Locked’. There, I tap the left side of the touch-pad to reveal my desktop display on screen, or possibly the document that I was last working on (because I am in the habit of just saving and then closing the lid, when I have to pause for some reason or at the end of a day). The same finger then slides downwards on the touch-pad...

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