CFP: Haptic Media Studies

David Parisi's picture
Call for Publications
November 1, 2015
Subject Fields: 
Communication, Digital Humanities, Film and Film History, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Popular Culture Studies

CFP: Haptic Media Studies
Call for papers for a themed issue of NEW MEDIA & SOCIETY
Guest editors: David Parisi, Mark Paterson, and Jason Archer
Abstracts due (400-500 words): November 1, 2015

Interacting with, navigating, and manipulating media has always depended on touch--whether turning pages, folding paper, depressing buttons, typing on keys, or twisting knobs, there is always an act of touching at the heart of mediated communication.  The recent rise of touchscreen and gestural interfaces, mobile computing, video gaming, wearable communication devices, and emerging virtual reality platforms disrupts the previous material stability of these media interfaces, prompting the adoption of new, embodied navigational habits.  At the material level, we now touch media in novel ways, becoming accustomed to their shape, size, texture, temperature, and weight, while also learning to be receptive to the signals media objects transmit to us through a hitherto seemingly dormant tactile channel.

Media Studies, under the sway of an ocularcentrism operating in western culture more broadly, has long neglected considerations of touch, however.  Insofar as it does attend to hapticality or tactility, the discipline frequently mobilizes an ideologically-loaded, intuitionistic theory that assigns this sense modality an essential set of immutable physiological qualities.  Unlike visuality, which admits of some complexity with regard to the modality of sight and its dominance in the sensory hierarchy, especially within dedicated fields of scholarship such as ‘visual culture’, hapticality seems by contrast unwavering and constant, grounded in the body’s stable biological reality.  Lacking a formalized, comprehensive, empirically-grounded account of touch’s historical and cultural life, Media Studies feeds forward the idea that touch is physiologically immediate and by its nature experiential, and consequently exists outside of—and above—history and culture.  By contrast, empirically-informed accounts of touch outside of Media Studies render altogether different, and far more dynamic, conceptions of touch: Sensory Anthropology, Art History, Literary Theory, Computer Science, Education, Cognitive Science, and Architecture each approach touch with priorities and biases idiosyncratic to their fields.  

It is to foster a tradition of Media Studies that locates touch at the starting point of its analysis that we seek contributions around the theme of Haptic Media Studies.  Like the fields of Sound Studies and Visual Culture before it, a touch-oriented media studies emerges as “an intellectual reaction to changes in culture and technology” (Sterne, “Sonic Imaginations,” 3). Our project here is to reconsider or rewrite extant accounts of media and thereby emphasize a previously-neglected sensory dimension of mediatic experience.  Inevitably, such a reorientation will involve a new set of theoretical questions, historical considerations, interdisciplinary connections, and research methods to arrive at a theoretically literate and empirically-grounded understanding of mediatic touch.  At the outset of this endeavor, then, it is tempting to offer a haptocentric Media Studies as a counterpoint to the ocularcentric, and more recently, aural-centric ones that it attempts to displace. Instead, perhaps we think of this not so much as a displacement through re-centering, but as a new orientation for Media Studies that prompts us to be attentive to the haptic relations always already at the core of mediatic experiences. By advancing a touch-oriented tradition of Media Studies we hope to help make the field adequate to the shifting configuration of media interfacing practices, expanding its borders outward to encompass a sensory modality previously treated in a largely haphazard and piecemeal fashion. Further, by building upon and synthesizing the accounts of touch scattered throughout the works of media and communication theorists such as Marshall McLuhan, John Durham Peters, Mark B. N. Hansen, Richard Grusin, W. J. T. Mitchell, and Erkki Huhtamo, this new orientation to the haptic positions Media Studies to productively contribute to the conversations about touch that occur outside its disciplinary borders.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
            - Touchscreen remediations of ‘old’ media interfaces (print, radio, television, telephone, telegraph, typewriter)
            - Triangulations of gender, media, and touch
            - Touch’s role in mobile and location-based digital media
            - Haptics and past/present/future virtual reality systems (especially at the dawn of a new generation of VR products - Oculus, HTC Vive, Morpheus/PlayStation VR)
            - Tactile and haptic aspects of predigital and 'dead' media interfaces (buttons, keys, knobs, dials, sliders, levers, pages)
            - Submodalities and divisions of touch (active/passive; cutaneous/kinaesthetic)
            - Accepted/assumed divisions between touch and the other senses  
            - Assumed hierarchies of the senses
            - Cybersex/teledildonics and technologies of mediated sexuality (Vivid’s CyberSex Suit, the RealTouch, OhMiBod)
            - Haptic interface and haptic display technologies, including scientific, aesthetic, medical, and cultural applications
            - Semiotic functions of touch in media
            - Formal and informal regulations around communicative or social touching
            - Touch and tactility in videogames
            - Tactile/haptic/gestural metaphors/iconography operating in digital media (e.g. ‘poking,’ ‘thumbs up’)
            - The role of haptic aesthetics in considerations of media design
            - Cross-cultural comparisons of media touch
            - Media, touch, and disability (e.g. sensory substitution systems, prosthetics)
            - Changes in touch practices associated with touch-oriented media (e.g. children’s altered tactile engagement with non-digital forms of visual media due to the use of touchscreen)
            - The tactile Internet

Please send abstracts (400-500 words) to David Parisi (parisid[at] and Jason Archer (jarche2[at] by Sunday, November 1.  The editors will invite full papers from selected submissions by mid-November, with full papers of 6000-8000 words to be submitted for editorial review by February 15.  It is anticipated that the special issue will be published online by late 2016, and in print by the mid-2017.
Contact Info: 
David Parisi, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Emerging Media 
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