I N T R O D U C T I O N
marc steinberg and alexander zahlten
Can you name five media theorists from Japan? This is intended less as a
confrontational question than a loaded one. If you can, what are you saying
about theory? What are you saying about media? If one moves beyond the
very specific and circumscribed sociotope of North American and Eu ro-
pean academic work on media (or Japan), and what is defined as “theory” by
what “we” do, then questions come crashing in that force a reassessment of
some of the goals, assumptions, and methods of a very impor tant inquiry:
How can we understand our inescapable relationship to media? How can we
understand our attempts to understand media, especially under the wobbly
umbrella of “theory”? And how do we move away from a narrowly defined
“we” in both of these questions?
In the English- language context both early discourse on media and its
recent resurgence have tended to elide engagement with some of the most
complex sites of media practice and theorization. Theorists wrote instead
from the position of the universal, assuming that the West stood in for the
world. This tendency to a degree continues with the rise of the Internet and the
spread of digital media, at a moment when media theory in the Eu ropean and
American milieus has gained a new and more speculative life. In the wake of
the flurry of work around new media, the retracing of formerly new media,
and the subsequent critique of the framework of the “new,” there has been
a turn to what can now be called media theory or media studies in a novel
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