Haptic Media Studies – Touch and Desire in a Digital Age


Haptic Media Studies: Touch and Desire in a Digital Age

with David Parisi & Mark Paterson

Date & Time: Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 13:00 – 16:00

Venue: UCL Knowledge Lab, University College London, 23-29 Emerald St, London WC1N 3QS

About: The In-Touch project is excited to collaborate with David Parisi and Mark Paterson on this symposium, to introduce and explore Haptic Media Studies: Touch and Desire in a Digital Age.  David Parisi, Mark Paterson and Jason Archer introduced the concept of Haptic Media Studies in their eponymous New Media and Society special issue:

‘The concept of Haptic Media Studies prompts a productive orientation to touch’s role in mediation systems. Haptic media encourage an attention to those vital—and frequently neglected—points of physical intersection between media objects and subjects’ bodies, situating touch at the center, rather than at the margins, of an investigative program. It brings new objects, practices, and histories within reach of Media Studies, demonstrating the value that rethinking the field through touch can have for current and future media scholarship.’ (Parisi et al, 2017: 1517)

Through their work they set out to re-orientate Communication and Media Studies to touch, holistically aligning it to the ways in which the senses and media are co-constructed.

Programme outline:

13:00    What is Haptic Media Studies? Introduction & framing the session

13:15    David Parisi, Utopian Touch: On the Production of Desire for New Haptics Technologies

You can download a powerpoint presentation of this paper here

The rise of new haptic feedback devices for virtual reality has brought renewed cultural attention to the utopian possibilities of extending touch into virtual and computer-generated worlds, prompting speculation in the popular press that we are on the cusp of a widespread adoption of haptic bodysuits and gloves. However, this current obsession with touch technologies was preceded and foregrounded by earlier attempts at using technology to transform touch, which sought to counter the ocularcentrism of extant media systems by providing touch with its own set of tools for capturing, storing, and transmitting tactile experience. In this talk, I explore the liberatory hopes mobilized around haptics, situating the present hype cycle as part of longer trajectory in the cultural life of technologized touching. The successful proliferation of haptic interfaces requires not only the invention production of new and increasingly complex forms of touch technology, but also–and perhaps more crucially—the production of desire for haptics itself, accomplished through a sustained critique of visualist interfaces that situates haptics as an ameliorative corrective made necessary by the inadequacies of optical media.

Response (Carey Jewitt) & Q&A

14:00    Exploratory activity facilitated by IN-TOUCH

14:30    Coffee & Tea

15:00    Mark Paterson, Haptic Methodologies and Multi-Sensory Mediations: Desiring Representations

You can download a powerpoint presentation of this paper here

Rather than a conventional paper, I wish to pose a series of questions, prompts, and provocations for those engaging in the ‘multimodal turn’ in social science research, and for scholars of the senses in general. What is the role of reflexivity in the embodied researcher, and how does technology allow for this? What happens if we move beyond verisimilitude in multi-sensory media?  How can ‘haptic’ or more ‘embodied’ methodologies make use of multimodal media to evoke place and space? Do the limitations of predominantly audio-visual media foster more creative attitudes to data collection, and what other possibilities are there in terms of engaging the sensorium? What conceptual loops, circuits, and paradoxes are involved? What are some of the physiological and technological limitations for ‘grasping’ the sense of other bodies within the field Through a short series of case studies I will discuss some approaches that acknowledge the role of the senses in co-constructing ‘bodies-in-place’. In particular, a videographic example is offered to show the possibilities of multimodal (audio-visual) media for more experimental ethnographic observation and impromptu videographic experiments in the field.

Response (Kerstin Leder Mackley ) & Q&A

15:45    Concluding thematic discussion

16:00    Close

Bio notes:

Carey Jewitt is Director of IN-TOUCH: Digital Touch Communication

Kerstin Leder Mackley is Senior Research Fellow on IN-TOUCH: Digital Touch Communication

David Parisi is an Associate Professor of Emerging Media at the College of Charleston, South Carolina. His book Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) investigates the past, present and possible futures of technologized touch, weaving together accounts of tactility from psychophysics, cybernetics, electrotherapy, virtual reality, cybersex, and mobile communication to provide a comprehensive overview of the ways that touch has been radically transformed by its encounters with technoscience. Parisi’s research on haptics has been featured in New Media & SocietyGame StudiesThe Wall Street JournalVicePlayboyLogic MagazineImmerse, and the podcast Stroke of Genius.

Mark Paterson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. His main research interests revolve around haptics, blindness, and sensory prostheses. He is the author of The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies (2007), Seeing With the Hands: Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes (2016), and co-edited Touching Space, Placing Touch (2012). His current book project is How We Became Sensory-Motor: Mapping Movement and Modernity. His research website is http://www.sensory-motor.com.