We live in a world of ‘visual cultures’ in a mediated world of social relations which is programmable given its algorithmic character. Its numerical coding allows for the automation of many of its functions and visual creation is no longer tied to technologies of exact reproduction such as copying. The new image-making technologies are part of a wider technological paradigm and mode of development of ‘informational capitalism’ characterized by image generation, processing, and transmission that have become the fundamental sources of productivity, power and identity. This image-making is the raw material of knowledge capitalism is increasingly the basis of a socially networked universe in which the material conditions for the formation, circulation, and utilization of knowledge and learning are rapidly changing from an industrial to information and image-based economy. Increasingly the emphasis has fallen on learning and media systems and network flows that depend upon the acquisition of new skills of image manipulation, analysis and understanding as a central aspect of the personal, the image-community, as well as national media and global contexts.
These trends signal changes in the production and consumption of symbolic visual goods, associated changes in their contexts of use, and new modes of distribution. The radical concordance of image, text and sound, and development of new information and knowledge infrastructures have encouraged the emergence of a global media networks linked with telecommunications that signal the emergence of global consumer culture the platforms and parameters determined by information utility conglomerates constituting the new trillion-dollar capitalist economy. What new subjectivities are constituted through image-based media and what role does image generation and control play in these processes? What new possibilities do the new image-based media afford students for educational autonomy? What distinctive forms of immaterial labor and affect do social and image-based media create? And what is the transformational potential of new image-based and social media that link education to its radical historical mission?
This work draws on and extends a paper called “Ten theses on the shift from (static) text to (moving) image” (free access at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23265507.2018.1470768) and is related to the broader research agenda associated with the Video Journal of Education and Pedagogy and the Association for Visual Pedagogies.
An historical epoch dominated by Greek ocular metaphors may...yield to one in which the philosophical vocabulary incorporating these metaphors seems quaint as the animistic vocabulary of pre-classical times. Richard Rorty (1980), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 11
Heidegger was influential in providing an account of the metaphysics underlying Greek philosophy in terms of vision and visibility. Heidegger’s account of Western metaphysics is deeply embedded in a metaphysics of presence where Being means presence and “seeing” is a means of grasping what exists.
W.J.T. Mitchell (1994) was one of the first to register a growing theoretical interest in visual culture suggesting a complex transformation was occuring in the human sciences and the sphere of public culture leading to a shift to the ‘pictorial turn’ and the twin ideas that ‘visual experience or “visual literacy” may not be fully explicable on the model of textuality’ (and that the ‘widely shared notion that visual images have replaced words as the dominant mode of expression in out time (p. 16).
In The Future of the Image Jacques Rancière (2008) suggests that there are two prevailing views about image and reality: the first, exemplified by Baudrillard, maintains that nothing is real anymore, because all of reality has become virtual, a parade of simulacra and images without any true substance; the second believes that there are no more images, because an ‘image’ is a thing clearly distanced or separate from reality and as we have lost this distance we are no longer able to discern between images and reality; and thus, the image, as a category, no longer exists.
The epistemology of the eye (as opposed to the ear) is central to the philosophical debate revolving around the primacy of vision in Occidental culture and the domination of the gaze that has interested French theory since Bataille and received extensive theoretical treatment by Sartre, Lacan and Foucault among many others. ‘The look’, ‘the gaze’, ‘le regard’, in the hands of these theorists becomes alternately a theory of subjectivity, a map of the existence of others, a form of development of consciousness, and a scientific means of governance and control.
The question of the image and ways of seeing is unquestionably tied up with the art philosophy and criticism and in particular the experience of the avant-garde whose representatives – poets (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Baudelaire) as well as leadings artists of the major art revolutionary movements – sought new kinds of art and new forms of artistic expression (i.e., new ways of seeing) that were opposed to the traditional (bourgeois) institution of art seen to be captured by industrial capitalism. Today the industrial (and digital) reproduction of images has permanently altered the visual arts; images have become our cultural environment and can be owned, manipulated and manufactured. They define us and our identities and the struggle over their control serves to construct certain narratives, dramas, tableaux, scenarios and views at the expense of others.
The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. Guy Debord (1988) The Society of the Spectacle.
Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Where Plato saw two steps of reproduction — faithful and right. Where Plato sees basically two aspects the genuine thing and its copy (simulacrum) Baudrillard sees four: (1) basic reflection of reality, (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which bears no relation to any reality whatsoever. He argues that ours is a postmodern society that has become so reliant on models and maps that we have lost all contact with the real world that preceded the map.
Deleuze (1995) provides an analysis of the cinematic image according to a threefold periodization: What is there to see behind the image? What is there to see on the surface of the image? And, what can we see at all when the background of any image is always another image? Corresponding to each question is a stage of cinema based upon the changing function of the image.
Th[e] conversion of spectating, generally conceived as a consumer activity, into a socially productive activity depends on the establishing of media as a worksite of global production. Today, mass media functions as a deterritorialized factory, where the maintenance and retooling of a transnational, transsubjective infrastructure composed of human beings, factories, cottage industries, service sectors, as well as programmed software and electronic hardware is essential to the valorization of capital. The cinematicity of objects is harnassed as an alternative force and used to intensify production. The cinema and its technological descendants extract the labor for the maintenance and calibration of the social totality. Without television, as well as fax-modems, telephones, computers and digitized, computerized money, production would grind to a halt. Each of these media burrows its way into the flesh of the globe. - Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production p. 112.
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