Maze-Solving Machine. Diagram. 1952. Claude E. Shannon. From the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics.

The Cybernetic Apparatus: Media, Liberalism and the Rise of Global Technics

The Cybernetic Apparatus: Media, Liberalism and the Rise of Global Technics examines examines the history of efforts to reform the human sciences through new media research. In particular, I demonstrate how nineteenth century liberal political ideals shaped mid-twentieth century programs for cybernetic research and global science sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. Through archival research and textual analysis I reconstruct how leading scholars and scientific administrators came to conceive of new media technologies as part of an impartial apparatus for transcending cultural, biological, and political difference. I recover the forgotten history of interdisciplinary and transnational programs that conjoined the research of the Frankfurt School and Francophone structuralists (esp. Adorno, Kracauer, Lévi-Strauss, and Jakobson) with that of American research efforts in molecular biology, cybernetics, and computing. Through these case studies I provide a new account of 20th century media change and research as inscribed within a project of “global technics” that substituted technological procedures for political decision making.


Underpinning this dissertation and my other professional activities is a commitment to studying new media as an ensemble of instruments, procedures, and epistemological presuppositions, rather than as a discrete or self-contained technology. I am interested in the scientific, political and epistemic determinations that re-map local practices and techniques into new media ensembles that cut across regions, disciplines and cultures. I argue that the history of these determinations is co-extensive with histories of globalization, scientific rationalization and the development of media studies as a research specialty. It is my contention that recognizing these traditions will empower the digital humanities as a site of critical practice and also demonstrate its neglected affinities with the traditional humanities.