Popular Seriality — Round Two!

popular_seriality_logo_550_300I am very excited to announce today that the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft / German Research Foundation) has now officially approved the application of the Research Unit “Popular Seriality — Aesthetics and Practice” for a second 3-year funding period! From October 2013 through September 2016, we will continue our research on serial forms and processes in popular culture, this time around through seven newly developed projects:

Serial Politicization: On the Cultural Work of American City Mysteries, 1844-1860 (Daniel Stein, Berlin)

Serial Narration in Popular German-Language Periodicals from 1850 to 1890 (Claudia Stockinger and Stefan Scherer, Göttingen and Karslruhe)

Serializing Mass Culture: Popular Film Serials and Serial Structures in the United States, 1910-1940 (Ruth Mayer, with Ilka Brasch, Hannover)

Writing Series: The Occupational Culture of Present-Day German Televised Entertainment (Regina Bendix, Göttingen)

Retrospective Serialization: Remaking as a Method of Cinematic Self-Historicizing (Frank Kelleter and Kathleen Loock, Berlin)

Digital Seriality: The Serial Aesthetics and Practice of Digital Games (Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann, Hannover and Berlin)

Real-Life Storytelling: The Threefold Formal Structure of Reality TV as a Procedure of Cumulative Serialization (Christian Hißnauer, Göttingen)

For more information about the Research Unit — our past and present projects, publications, news, events, and other information — please refer to our official homepage: here.

Popular Seriality: June 6 – 8, 2013

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Above, the wonderful poster for the upcoming “Popular Seriality” conference in Göttingen (June 6-8). Below, the final program.

More info about the conference can be found on the homepage of the DFG Research Unit “Popular Seriality: Aesthetics and Practice,” here.

International Conference: “Popular Seriality”


International Conference: “Popular Seriality”
June 6-8, 2013 // University of Göttingen

Above, the preliminary program for the upcoming conference of the seriality research group that several of my colleagues and I are involved with.

Most readers of this blog will already be familiar with the seriality group, but in case you’re not: The Research Unit “Popular Seriality—Aesthetics and Practice,” funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), brings together 15 researchers from the fields of American Studies, German Philology, Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology, Empirical Cultural Studies, and Media Studies. Since 201o, six sub-projects have been investigating a narrative format that has become a defining feature of popular aesthetics: the series. The Research Unit addresses questions concerning the wide distribution and broad appeal of series since the 19th century and asks which new narrative formats have emerged through serialization. Further questions are: How do series influence the way we perceive and structure social reality? How are serial characters revised when they undergo one or more media shifts? How can we explain the progressively shrinking boundaries between producers and recipients in long running series? Which transformations in the field of cultural distinctions are produced by complex serial narratives, which are increasingly embedded in highbrow lifestyles and canonization practices?

From June 6 to 8, 2013, towards the end of the first funding period, the Research Unit will hold an International Conference in Göttingen. Talks will be given by members of the Research Unit and well-known researchers in the field of popular seriality. Among the scholars presenting at the conference are Sudeep Dasgupta, Jared Gardner, Julika Griem, Scott Higgins, Judith Keilbach, Lothar Mikos, Sean O’Sullivan, Patricia Okker, Irmela Schneider, Sabine Sielke, Ben Singer, William Uricchio, Constantine Verevis, Tanja Weber und Christian Junklewitz. Jason Mittell will give the keynote lecture.

For more information about the research unit, and to stay up to date on the conference and other activities, please refer to the group’s homepage: http://popularseriality.uni-goettingen.de/

Seriality and Media Transformation #GöSerial

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When this post goes online, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion (together with Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Sean O’Sullivan, and Ruth Page, and moderated by Jason Mittell) on the topic of “seriality and media transformations” at the workshop on Popular Seriality going on at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. Each of the participants has been asked to prepare a five-minute statement to set the stage and get things rolling. This is what I’ll be saying:

Seriality and Media Transformation

Shane Denson

The topic of this panel, seriality and media transformation, names a constellation of processes that, as I see it, are perhaps not essentially or necessarily linked, but which are nevertheless bound together as a matter of historical fact. I’m tempted to say that seriality and media transformation are “structurally coupled” under conditions of modernity. My thoughts on this topic follow from research I’ve been conducting with Ruth Mayer, where we’ve been looking at popular figures like Frankenstein’s monster, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, or Batman – what we call serial figures, which proliferate across a range of media (but in a fragmented, plurimedial way, not by way of the more coherent, and more recent, transmediality that Henry Jenkins describes in terms of “world building”). In the context of this research, where we look at the way these figures jump from one medium to another, perpetually re-creating themselves in the milieu of a new medium, we are concerned with a nexus between seriality and mediality – a nexus where series are not just the contents of specific media (film serials, radio series, TV series, and the like), but where seriality is constituted as a higher-order medium, one in which the relations between and the transformations of first-order media (media as we usually think of them) are put on display, made visible, and negotiated. To make a big claim – because what else can you do in five minutes? – I would claim that it is the very hallmark of modernity to forge and reforge such a nexus of seriality and mediality; in other words, the articulation of seriality as a higher-order medium of media change is a central device for measuring, and indeed for constituting, the progression or forward march of a future-oriented modernity.

So we have to regard the media-historical function of the nexus: Because series unfold over time, they are subject to any changes that their carrier media may undergo. Not just passive receivers, though, series actively trace these transformations as they enact their own temporal unfoldings: the self-historicization by which series mark new installments against the old and in some cases stage qualitative transformations of their internal norms (as when Lost suddenly shifts from using flashbacks to flashforwards) – such processes of serial self-renewal and innovation can also serve as indexes of media change, and as the means for updating the idea of modernity in the process. Modernity itself is all about the update, and more often than not the update in question is all about innovations in media and technologies of mediation. So I’m suggesting that serial forms, which are inherently concerned with perpetually updating themselves, are the “natural” forms in which modernity would seek to stage itself.

Of central importance here is the medial self-reflexivity that serial forms are in various respects capable of instantiating. I’ll just briefly consider the example of Frankenstein’s monster, conceived as a serial figure (or a figure of serialization). Originating in a highly self-reflexive novel about (among other things) the experiential deformations occasioned by industrialization, the monster was serially replicated on the increasingly mechanized theater stages of the nineteenth century, before it became subject, in 1910, of a highly self-reflexive film by the production company of Thomas Edison, the wizard of modern media-technological innovation himself. In the film, as in all the Frankenstein films that would follow in the course of the next century, animation is both a diegetic and a medial process. In 1910, the term “animated pictures” was still used to describe film in general and to distinguish it from the still pictures of photography, so the creation sequence instantiated a sort of “operational aesthetic” in which, against the background of the familiar figure, film could stage itself as a figure of modern media fascination. Importantly, this is at the outset of the cinema’s so-called transitional era, which would radically change the phenomenological and industrial functions of film. Nor is it an accident that the still iconic image of the monster, embodied by Boris Karloff, was established (in 1931) in the wake of the cinema’s sound transition. Robbed of speech, a mute icon served all the better to foreground the fact of sound and thus to stage the self-renewal of film, the updating of the medium’s modernity, against the background of the flat figure’s serialized history. The figure of the monster, which exists not in a series but as a series, which updates itself in color and widescreen formats, in 3-D and CGI, in comics, on TV, and in video games, increasingly becomes a medium itself: a second-order medium of media change, and of modernity as the trajectory of media-technical innovation, updating, and transformation.

Jason Mittell: “Wikis and Participatory Fandom”

There are few technological developments that had more of a visible impact on participatory culture in the 2000s than the wiki. Although the software was designed for small-scale and local uses, wikis have emerged as a major tool used by internet users on a daily basis. From the world’s most popular encyclopedia, Wikipedia, to hundreds of specialized sites serving a vast array of subcultures and groups, wikis have become one of the hallmark tools of the participatory internet, or Web 2.0. This article will outline the development of wikis as a software platform and the cultural rise of Wikipedia before considering a range of participatory practices tied to one of the most widespread uses of wikis: as a tool for online fandom.