The role of media in theory (see Mitchell) is expansive and thus difficult, if not impossible, to isolate. For one, the definitions and uses of media are historically and socially contingent. In one instance, media are carriers or vehicles; in another, they are containers or vessels; in yet another, they are intervening substances. They may be everything from matter and mechanisms to messages, relationships, and interfaces. They may be active or inert, compliant or resistant, figure or ground, middles or ends, autonomous or entangled, things or bodies, windows or frames, nature or culture, feminine or masculine, instruments or agents, ideas or practices, text or texture, fleeting or permanent, elemental or concrete, phenomena or noumena . . . the list goes on and on. Of course, my use of “or” throughout that last sentence may be part of the problem. In many cases, “and” is far more appropriate.

And if we look at mentions from the 1800s forward, “media” is frequently synonymous with “material,” often with negative connotations (e.g., “just the material” or “merely media”). It’s a mess, really. But it’s a mess that prompts us to study how mediation is theorized and theory is mediated. These are important matters, especially if you’re invested in how media and materiality inform your research, methods, and lived experience (e.g., what you study, how you study it, how you share your work, how you practice or perform that work, how you identify and steward your sources, how you distinguish between this and that, or how you determine the cultural, social, and political issues that matter most to you).

Below, then, are some questions we might ask while reading media in theory. For now, I’ve contextualized them by asking how media function as “compositions,” “objects of inquiry,” and “apparatuses.” These questions correspond with certain paradigms (e.g., idealism, materialism, formalism, phenomenology, semiotics, discourse analysis, deconstruction, performativity, and realism), which do not cohere into a single theory or worldview. In fact, there’s a lot of tension and contradiction in what follows below. However, I have decided to emphasize the important questions that emerge from the dialogue between paradigms, with little attention to which question corresponds with which -ism or label. This way, you can privilege practice by selecting aspects that apply to your interests and approaches, filling in the gaps (and there are many), correcting the shortcomings (plenty of those, too), and also considering which aspects resonate (or don’t) with your own experiences. Discard and revise as you please. These are not step-by-step instructions. This is also not a guide for negative critique (e.g., cynicism, lack, or diminution). Instead, I hope you build from it what you wish, or what you need for now.

In presenting these questions, I’ve drawn only from texts during in my seminar on “Media and Materiality: A Survey from Marx to Barad”: Marx’s Notebook M (1857) and Fragment on Machines (1858), Simmel’s The Philosophy of Money (1900/78), Shklovsky’s “Art as Device” (1917), Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940/74), Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958), Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” (1961/93), Barthes’s “From Work to Text” (1971/77), Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969/72), Williams’s Television (1975), Cixous’s “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975/76), Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” (1978/84) and “The Mater’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1979/81), Kristeva’s Powers of Horror (1982), Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990), Moten’s In the Break (2003), Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling (2003), Chun’s “Did Somebody Say New Media?” (2006) and “The Enduring Ephemeral” (2008), Doane’s “The Indexical and the Concept of Medium Specificity” (2007), Grosz’s “The Thing” (2001), Brown’s “Thing Theory” (2001), Appadurai’s “The Thing Itself” (2006), Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges” (1988), and Barad’s “Posthumanist Performativity” (2003). We also referred to work by Debray and Krauss.


In critical theory, an important question of media and material is how people compose theory and how those compositions (or those “works”) circulate. We usually associate critical theory with writing and language via text or words on the page. Of course, other quotidian materials, including screens, paper, ink, computers, file formats, pens, pencils, images, and word processors, may be involved, too. There’s also the fact that theory may draw from data, collections, archives, interviews, ethnography, and other historical sources. Plus, composition depends on labour, power, context, and embodied experience; people aren’t minds who write or communicate immaterially, impervious to all forces or independent of socio-economic factors (including institutional support). As such, the everyday (or, if you prefer, habit) may play a central yet ignored or disavowed role in theory’s production and performance. Here are some questions along those lines. Perhaps some of them are relevant to your own practice. Again, discard and revise what you wish.

  • Design in Theory: To what degree does the work at hand foreground its medium or material? Is text simply a means to convey ideas, or does it demand attention as an inscription or face (e.g., typefaces)? How are we prompted to engage it? Are we asked to look at or through it? Is it forward? Responsive? Intuitive? Many works, especially manifestos and publications such as Mediawork Pamphlets and Vectors, experiment with typography and layout to make their arguments. Text is more like an image or even sculpture in this instance; it addresses us and resists reduction to mere container or carrier. It refuses to be flat, too. It is not abstract information: neither Doane’s medium without materiality nor Appadurai’s instrument of representation. It gives texture to ideas. It is the tactile or visible stuff of writing, not Barthes’s methodological field, where we encounter Text with its upper case “T.” For Sedgwick, texture makes nonsense of dualisms such as “author or audience” and “active or passive engagement.” Texture cannot be explained away as a shape, outline, or structure, either; when we interpret texts, we must consider repetition, feelings, folds, and overlaps, too. Elsewhere, from a very different perspective, Shklovsky criticizes poetry’s dependence on prose, implying that text may defamiliarize ideas by disrupting the automation of sensual labour and interpretation (e.g., a move from recognition to vision) to highlight the creative process over the artifact or work itself. From this position, textual or graphic design is mostly insignificant; text is merely a medium to carry or rehearse a poetic form, which transcends the sensuous material of inscription, book, type, and page. Key point: Design in theory matters because it influences how people are invited into writing while also giving us a sense of how authors perceive or approach the arrangement, setting, texture, and enactment (or, taken together, the materiality) of their own theories. Design in theory also attends to how theory is packaged as an object for circulation and consumption.

  • Aesthetics in Theory: To what degree does the work at hand privilege language or words as media? This issue is less about typography, design, layout, or even form and more about the use of irony, poetry, ambivalence, language games, and references. Often, theory will speak to matters indirectly or elliptically, by analogy or with scare quotes. Or, it will cook up new terms (e.g., see Haraway and Barad) that correspond with cultural formations and performances it wishes to explore or imagine. We might compare the writing style of Arendt with that of Kristeva, or Cixous with Williams, or Benjamin with Chun, or Simmel with Butler. Quite a contrast! What terms are coined and why? Which “flourishes” are fundamental to the theory expressed? When does a word or phrase mean multiple, perhaps contradictory things at once? When does a term resist definition or translation? Or, when must it be read in the original language? Ultimately, how would you describe the style of the theory or work at hand? Playful, opaque, evocative, abstract, musical, plain, pedantic, repetitive, assertive, emphatic, universal, global, situated, macro, meso, micro, nano . . . ? How does that style enact or resonate with a theory’s cultural, social, and political positions? These questions certainly depend on the design or inscription of words; however, they are mostly about how those words variously signify and refer; or, recalling Doane, how they variously point and trace. From some perspectives, such polysemy (deriving multiple meanings from the same word) exceeds its material (the word or image) through the labour of reading, speech, dialogue, performance, memory, etc. Theory demands interpretation, and that interpretation is embodied and situational: unique each time, the act of interpretation re-assembles or re-members fragments of text anew. It plays with the text, if you will (see Barthes, e.g.), and such play may be quite serious. Or, from other perspectives, lived experience necessarily escapes or resists any attempt to record, inscribe, commodify, or collect it as an object or text to be exchanged (see Appadurai on abstraction, e.g.). Here, writing will usually fail to account for the richness of embodied action and perception. Something will be lost; something will fall flat. Yet, regardless of the perspective, a representational emphasis on losses and gains, originals and copies, or authenticity and artifice inevitably faces its limits. We might instead privilege change, correspondence, and persistence across versions and performances of things (e.g., how one version speaks to or differs from another, instead of how accurately a “record” or “copy” re-presents the “source” or “original”). Here, Chun’s distinction between memory and storage is very informative. Memory is performed, not archived; it is contingent, not stable. Moten’s work on improvisation, phonography, and the transmission of materiality is also relevant. What happens between versions of texts? What persists and changes? Key point: Aesthetics in theory matter because they refuse to treat theory as either information that is simply sent and received or an argument that is merely delivered and deposited. Aesthetics accounts for the ambiguities, the contingencies, the performance, and even the poetry of critical work, which is social and thus never the product of authors or works alone.

  • The Index in Theory: How does the work acknowledge or point to the materials, conditions, assumptions, and routine labour upon which it relies? When an image or painting is examined, is it included in the work as a figure? Are captions provided? If so, then what do they include? How does the argument direct us, if at all, to archives, collections, and people? With how much detail or provenance? When does a work translate its primary sources, and into which languages? Who conducted the translation, and upon what authority? Is the work composed alone, collectively, or collaboratively? Under which names? Primary author aside, whose labour went into the work? Who edited, translated, printed, circulated, or archived it? How are the first, second, and third person used to make arguments in the work? How are readers interpellated? To what degree does the author rely on arguments from experience to point to people, events, or things? To what degree do they assume critical distance or disengagement from the people, events, or things at hand (e.g., see Haraway)? We might consider Merleau-Ponty and Benjamin on painting and images here. How do we see what they saw (e.g., Angelus Novus)? How is vision embodied for them (e.g., Denkbild or the use of lines and colour)? How is that vision also labour? Where is that labour located (e.g., in “flesh” or dialectical images)? Or, there’s Foucault’s archaeology, which often approaches documents and monuments in a rather abstract way (a vague pointing, if you will), premised on a custom vocabulary (e.g., “statements,” “positivities,” and “material repeatability”). Or, we have Chun’s evocative use of the Internet Wayback Machine in Figure 5: as a skeleton full of broken links and images, it evidences the ephemeral. Or, there’s Moten’s use of extensive footnotes (e.g., footnote 1, which is almost three-pages-long) as well as block quotations (e.g., of Douglass and Hartman) that consume a page or more. There’s Lorde’s critique of the master’s tools, too; it underscores not only arguments from experience but also the labour upon which academic work, patriarchy, whiteness, and feminism depend. Lorde notes how this labour is rarely acknowledged. Key point: The index in theory matters because it foregrounds how a given work traces and points to who and what were involved in its production; it also reminds us that we cannot inhabit the positions of who or what we read (e.g., we cannot see exactly how they see).

  • Change in Theory: How does the work at hand change over time and across venues? How does it correspond with its initial inscription or dissemination? Are we reading an edition? A translation? A book? An article? A web page? What changes from page to screen, or from manuscript to book? Was the original work a talk? Was it a draft? Was it meant to be circulated during the person’s lifetime? How and where is it archived? In this instance, Lorde’s talks, Marx’s notebooks, and Benjamin’s theses come to mind. Many works of critical theory are treated as complete, as wholes, when they are really (always?) fragments or parts of a (life’s) work in progress. Of course, arguments and perspectives may change across an oeuvre, especially when we approach them as situated knowledge (Haraway) or as entanglements (Barad) with the unruly world of things (Appadurai). Key point: Change in theory matters because it highlights the historical contexts and material instabilities of what we read; from this perspective, theory is neither autonomous nor continuous, and a given work has no single source or moment of genesis (see Foucault, e.g.).

Objects of Inquiry

In fields such as media studies and media theory, media are usually “objects of inquiry”: the focus of study, the materials found in collections, the physical stuff of analysis. This already suggests that media can in fact be studied. They can be treated as content, as research material. It also raises questions about how and by whom media are treated as objects: how and under what assumptions they are delimited, isolated, situated, examined, referenced, and archived. Once we start asking these questions, we must also consider how terms such as “subject” and “relation” function, too. How much control or mastery is asserted over an object of inquiry, and to what effects?

  • Media Studies in Theory: To what degree is a theory about or affiliated with a discipline? Not all media studies publications overlap with critical theory. Still, many publications may work across the two fields, hence “media theory.” Some theories may be about media; consider Chun, Williams, Doane, and even Simmel here. Meanwhile, others may use media as examples in a line of inquiry; consider Butler, Barthes, Cixous, Kristeva, and Haraway here. Where these publications fall in terms of field recognition will influence how people interpret them and what audiences expect of them (e.g., who and what are cited; which terms are used, defined, and deemed familiar; and where and how “interventions” in existing research happen). Key point: Media studies in theory matters because it stresses how disciplinary practices and expectations shape the content, methods, discourse, alignments, and arguments at hand.

  • Specificity in Theory: How conceptual or granular is the treatment? Media and materials may be studied from a variety of positions, from the abstract to the particular, via distance and/or immersion, through rationalism and/or empiricism. Does the work at hand underscore an intimate familiarity with materials and their use, or does it focus largely on concepts and ideas? Perhaps it does both (see Sedgwick and Moten, e.g.)? How technical or exact does the work get (see Chun, e.g.)? What is the goal of such technical treatment? In a given theory, do the particulars of media (e.g., how they work or function) determine their status as concepts (e.g., how they are perceived or imagined), or vice versa? Perhaps the particulars are entangled with concepts in messy ways (see Barad and Haraway, e.g.)? Or, echoing Sedgwick, we could interpret concepts and particulars beside (not before, beneath, or behind) each other; to interpret them beside each other privileges positions over origins and causes. A key question, then, is which details matter most and when. Overly conceptual treatments of media may bypass the importance of history, embodied experience, and material composition, while overly granular treatments of media may fetishize the technical details (e.g., code or hardware) and ignore cultural or social implications (e.g., ideology and oppression). Related issues to consider include the use of “Technology,” “Media,” “Text,” “Digital,” or “Machine” (all beginning with the upper case) when compared with the medium specificity (Doane) of, say, a film’s chemical base or a web browser’s compiling process. Are media treated in the singular or plural? Are they homogeneous? Whole? Do they determine or cause anything? Are they forces? Stuff? Elements? Here, Williams’s critique of McLuhan comes to mind. Williams accuses McLuhan of simple formalism, which renders television autonomous of specific material conditions and social practices; from a formalist perspective, technology has uniform or general effects, regardless of audience and situation. Key point: Specificity in theory matters because it demonstrates where authors locate the agency of materials, from the particulars of devices and mechanisms to the forms or concepts of Technology; the use of specificity tells us which details matter, for whom, and when.

  • Content in Theory: How is content defined and studied? A significant amount of scholarly work parses materials and media from content, or the process of composition from the meaningfulness of the work. Does the theory at hand rely on such a demarcation? Is there a media/form binary? Writing/text? Technique/content? Matter/object? Labour/work? What assumptions or arguments do these demarcations afford? Which legacies of emphasis and categorization do they affirm or critique? Shklovsky’s readings of Tolstoy are pertinent in this instance. Tolstoy’s creative process and poetic devices are far more interesting than his work as artifact or content; according to Shklovsky, processes and devices are more important to the experience of art. Or, from another perspective, we might consider Grosz’s comparison between being enmeshed in and having dominion over media. Is content (i.e., our object of inquiry) something we can isolate and examine? Or is it produced through us and our scholarship, including the methodologies and technologies we use as well as the conditions in which we compose and interpret? Or, if we return to Cixous, we see that she emphasizes what women’s writing will do, not what it is. Although content matters for her argument, she stresses writing as a movement or action, which lacks and contains nothing. For Cixous, writing carries force or makes forces possible. Key point: Content in theory matters because it shows how or whether authors distinguish procedure and medium from the work or text, but also how much power, force, or influence they attribute to both process and product.

  • Objects in Theory: How and under what assumptions are objects delimited? Critical traditions have a long history of rendering objects compliant and commodities silent. Objects are ostensibly possessed by subjects, and commodities presumably have no value prior to exchange. However, as Moten reminds us in his history of blackness and throughout his interpretations of Aunt Hester’s scream (via Douglass, Hartman, and Marx), these traditions are mistaken. More specifically, the assumption that objects are compliant and commodities are silent overlooks how both are living labour, how they are present or contained within us (see Moten on maternal/material and Kristeva on chora), and how they disrupt mastery or break communications (see Moten on the power to speak). Elsewhere, Brown reminds us that objects are not passive because, e.g., they become things when they are broken or when they no longer function according to social expectations; put this way, things are best described as relations, not stuff or substances. Key point: Objects in theory matter because they foreground how a given work exerts or assumes control over its material of inquiry, including how it speaks for, about, over, or with people, events, and things. How objects are defined also corresponds with how a given work historicizes material culture and lived experience.

  • Subjects in Theory: How and under what assumptions are subjects delimited? Which objects of inquiry produce subjects (see Marx, e.g.), and vice versa? How does the work at hand speak to the particulars of lived experience? How is perception normalized, if at all? How is action or behaviour anthropomorphized, if at all? What are the subject’s default settings? Does the subject have a body? Autonomy? Control? How is the subject articulated (explicitly or not) with race, gender, sexuality, ability, language, location, and law? Do subjects change over time? Are they multiple? And how are they distinguished, if at all, from objects, environments, and other subjects? Via what sort of media and materials? Perhaps the very notion of a subject or object is abandoned for other terms, such as “thing,” “agent,” “assemblage,” “mangle,” “network,” “body,” or “relation.” If so, then to what political or social effects? Of course, Haraway and Barad immediately come to mind here. Haraway’s objectivity implies that boundaries materialize in interaction, and these boundaries are constantly shifting and producing new meanings. For both Haraway and Barad, there is no object or subject prior to interaction, and we cannot point to boundaries, either. (Or, when we do, it’s risky.) We also have Appadurai on persons and things: they are not distinct categories; things have social lives. There’s also Merleau-Ponty on flesh: beings are together and simultaneous, not neatly defined and discerned; like painting, they exist in relations that are never complete. We might read Barthes and Kristeva here, too: in the treatment of Text as a playful space, we hear very little about the embodied stuff of lived experience; on the phenomenology of abjection, we hear often about the masks, milk, bodies, and people we “thrust aside in order to live” (Kristeva 1982: 3). We could compare Marx with Simmel as well: with Marx during the 1850s, the machine (as fixed capital) possess skills and consumes like the human subject; in fact, the machine acts upon subjects and appropriates living labour. With Simmel during the early 1900s, the medium of money follows a similar pattern; it intervenes in personal life and divides this subject from that subject or object. Or finally, there’s Arendt and Grosz on the legacy of homo faber: the autonomous human subject who fabricates a work from the inert matter of the world. This legacy, which corresponds with histories of colonialism and mastery, is typically premised on a subject who recognizes use value in matter and then acts (or capitalizes) on the world; however, Grosz suggests that intuitive or creative approaches to making may bypass use, mastery, and human autonomy altogether by acting with or within the world. Key point: Subjects in theory matter because they speak to how or whether a given work attributes agency to humans as autonomous individuals, but also to how subjects are distinguished from objects, things, events, environments, and other subjects (both human and nonhuman). Additionally, we are prompted to ask how or whether theory is written around the subject (and which subject) as its centre.

  • Codes in Theory: How are media coded, and what codes do they enable? Some critical treatments of media (as objects of inquiry) may highlight how media operate within systems of signification. Media may be coded feminine or masculine, for example. Or, consider how Moten entangles “material” with “maternal,” or how Brown approaches coding and decoding via objects and things, respectively. Other treatments may underscore how media are sites for reproducing coherence or intelligibility. For instance, Butler notes how the sex/gender distinction is premised on a suspect generalization (or naturalization) of “the body,” which becomes a passive medium upon which gender is inscribed. And yet other treatments may privilege how media actually produce signs and enable corresponding logics. Doane’s work on film notes how indexical signs (e.g., footprints and photographs) are caused by physical connections, such as the medium of touch or light. These connections empower logics of the “trace,” where reality is grounded in the physical world (e.g., when photography or film are coded “more realistic” than novels or poetry). Key point: Codes in theory matter because they foreground the relationship between media and signification, from coded media to mediated codes.

  • Ephemerality in Theory: What cannot be verified? Not every treatment of media (as objects of inquiry) assumes they are permanent substances all the way down: grounded in a material substrate, stored in the archive, ready to hand as tangible devices. We might follow Chun’s enduring ephemeral and ask what’s constantly refreshed during interpretation. Or, we might recall Benjamin’s empirical mysticism, which studies the infinite through the stuff of words and things. Whatever our preference, asking what cannot be verified by media sparks related questions, such as: What can’t we point to, even when we know it happened? What can’t we inscribe or record, even if we feel or recognize it? What histories or actions escape the archive? What eludes metrics and quantification? What evokes without proof? What can’t be converted? What persists precisely because it’s not in storage? Key point: Ephemerality in theory matters because it proposes a materialism without the need for ground, proof, origin, or permanence; it makes room for the contingencies of knowledge and practice.


While media may be integral to the composition of theory as well as to its lines of inquiry, media may also operate as apparatuses: that is, matrices of production that cannot be reduced to particular people, words, environments, or things (see Haraway by way of Katie King). For instance, following Chun, we might study the apparatus of enduring ephemerality by examining the stuff of hard drives, web browsers, random access memory, source code, and algorithms. However, we would also need to account for the centrality of reading as an interpretive practice, together with the politics of novelty and speed, the history of writing technologies such as the memex, and cultural investments in both verifiability and trustworthy data/archives. Some of these are far more tangible or discrete than others; it is much easier to measure hard drive activity than how we read or trust things, for instance. Nevertheless, all components of such an apparatus may be considered “material” in some way, and they are collectively entangled with mechanisms of differentiation (e.g., between storage and memory) that are motivated or biased. As such, we might say that every apparatus has instruments, including abstract logics as well as tangible technologies, that mark, measure, and shape the world. Thus, apparatuses do not observe or study a pre-existing world; they help to create it. And theory is one component of this creation. Key point: Apparatuses in theory matter because they produce meaning and values by simultaneously drawing boundaries (e.g., distinguishing this from that) and fostering coherence (e.g., lumping or categorizing things together). The materials of an apparatus may not be immediately present, either, and they include phenomena, words, bodies, infrastructures, and things.

Below, then, are a few questions to consider when treating media as apparatuses in theory. From my perspective, these questions prompt us to consider the ethical and political dimensions of theory as they intertwine with aesthetics and social/cultural formations.

  • Where does the work at hand locate agency, and how is agency defined? Is agency possessed by subjects, objects, nature, or culture? Is it relational? Can it be measured? If so, then how? How is agency linked to causality? Does it determine anything? Does it have a base or ground? If so, then what is that base or ground? How is agency imbricated, if at all, with complicity, oppression, or resistance? How does it effect change?

  • How does the work normalize what it studies? What must the work take for granted to distinguish between this and that? Who or what does the work lump together? How, if at all, does it graph or chart similarities? What ideologies or worldviews does it privilege? In what relation to race, gender, sexuality, ability, language, location, and law? What does it essentialize? Does this essentialization appear deliberate?

  • How does the work differentiate between who or what it studies? Here, we might consider the various dualisms we encounter in critical theory: subject/object, nonhuman/human, figure/ground, depth/surface, inside/outside, leisure/necessity, labour/work, new/old, nature/culture, middles/ends, man/woman, objectivity/subjectivity, black/white, ability/disability, self/other . . . the list goes on. Theory has variously addressed and criticized some of these dualisms while reifying others. In the work, what is porous, distinct, or subject to change? Under what assumptions? What logics or technologies produce the differences we observe in the work? When and for whom is difference generative? Radical? Exclusionary? Oppressive? When is it valued or ignored, and on what grounds?

  • How significant is repetition to the work? What is the role of the everyday? Of habit? Performance? How is repetition coded? How does it happen? Through language? Labour? Perception? Infrastructure? What congeals through repetition? What is its relation to automation? Creativity? Style? Necessity? Mastery? Ideology?

  • What, if anything, does the work render autonomous, withdrawn, closed, or disinterested? In the work, is everything open? Is anything outside of social interaction? Of culture? Of mediation? Of history? Of time and space? Of lived experience? Of the Text? To what extent must the work render something transcendent, immeasurable, or ephemeral to produce meaning and values? How does the unknown affect us? Make us vulnerable? Does the work at hand treat the unknown as a problem? As something to be (re)solved?

  • How, if at all, does the work engage notions of value? Is the work instrumentalist about anything? If so, then about what and why? How does it invest in pragmatism or experimentation? Equivalences? Use? Exchange? Accumulation? Creation? Action? Ideas? What is the work’s preferred economy? Does it propose a totality of production? In the last instance, what does it value most? At the expense of what and whom?

  • How does the work perceive? How does it rely on vision, touch, taste, or listening as a metaphor? As a framework? As an embodied experience? As labour? As a “cut” or “break”? How does perception differ from one subject or body to the next? Do the senses produce anything? Are they distinct? Are they active, passive, or . . . ? How are they measured or disciplined? What role do they play in the production of meaning and values? Of art and theory?

  • How do materials speak or resist interpretation in the work? How generous is the interpretation? When and how do the materials assert themselves? How do they compel? What room does the work leave for history, archives, data, paradigms, or people to disrupt its methods and assumptions? When is the work certain? When does it hedge? On what does it insist? Is theory in dialogue with its media and materials? Or is it a hammer? Does it listen? Or does it explain away? Is it beside, before, beneath, or beyond what it studies?

Featured image of laser-cut wood by Danielle Morgan, Katherine Goertz, and me. Used with permission. This page was created on 21 November 2016 and last updated on 1 June 2021.