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Since the early nineteenth century, when entomologists first popularized the unique biological and behavioral characteristics of insects, technological innovators and theorists have proposed insects as templates for a wide range of technologies. In Insect Media, Jussi Parikka analyzes how insect forms of social organization-swarms, hives, webs, and distributed intelligence-have been used to structure modern media technologies and the network society, providing a radical new perspective on the interconnection of biology and technology.
Through close engagement with the pioneering work of insect ethologists, including Jakob von Uexküll and Karl von Frisch, posthumanist philosophers, media theorists, and contemporary filmmakers and artists, Parikka develops an insect theory of media, one that conceptualizes modern media as more than the products of individual human actors, social interests, or technological determinants. They are, rather, profoundly nonhuman phenomena that both draw on and mimic the alien lifeworlds of insects.
Deftly moving from the life sciences to digital technology, from popular culture to avant-garde art and architecture, and from philosophy to cybernetics and game theory, Parikka provides innovative conceptual tools for exploring the phenomena of network society and culture. Challenging anthropocentric approaches to contemporary science and culture, Insect Media reveals the possibilities that insects and other nonhuman animals offer for rethinking media, the conflation of biology and technology, and our understanding of, and interaction with, contemporary digital culture.
Introduction: Insects in the Age of Technology
1. Nineteenth-Century Insect Technics: The Uncanny Affects of Insects
2. Genesis of Form: Insect Architecture and Swarms
3. Technics of Nature and Temporality: Von Uexküll’s Ethology
4. Metamorphosis, Intensity, and Devouring Space: Elements for an Insect Game Theory
5. Animal Ensembles, Robotic Affects: Bees, Milieus, and Individuation
6. Biomorphs and Boids: Swarming Algorithms
7. Sexual Selection in the BioDigital: Teknolust and the Weird Life of SRAs
Epilogue: Insect Media as an Art of Transmutation
Jussi Parikka is reader in media and design at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). He is author of Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses and coeditor of The Spam Book and Media Archaeologies.
"With Insect Media, Jussi Parikka offers a theory of media that challenges our traditional views of the natural and the artificial. Parikka not only understands insects through the lens of media and mediation, he also unearths an insect logic at the heart of our contemporary fascination with networks, swarming, and intelligent agents. Such a project requires the ability to interweave cultural theory with a deep understanding of the sciences – something for which Parikka is well-suited. Most importantly, Insect Media reminds us of the non-human aspect of media, communication, intelligence. Insect Media is a book that is sure to create a buzz."
– Eugene Thacker, author of After Life
"[Parikka] creates a brilliant set of figures through which to read media."
"Parikka's Insect Media is an astonishing (and highly recommended) study that succeeds admirably in underlining 'the need to rethink the material basis of contemporary media condition and produce much more complex intuitions that take into account a certain "activity of matter," nonhuman forces expressing themselves as part of this media assemblage of modernity.'"
"Parikka [...] plays productively with our understandings of not only what constitutes a bug's life, but also how their swarming, trail-marking, and waggling have inspired our own communicative systems."
"Parikka's book is remarkable for its uncommon taxonomic turn, as it seeks to transmute our understanding of the human and its relation to technology by recasting media theory through the most alien and other-worldly realm of animality, that of the insect."
– Theory & Event
"Insect Media stands out in its comprehensive vision, focus, and contemporary relevance. Furthermore, Parikka's argument is provocative and compelling, and offers important contributions to cultural/media studies, science and technology studies, and social theory."
– Women's Studies Quarterly
"Parrika is able to identify a lively undercurrent of thought creeping below our preconceptions of un-natural technology."
– Information, Communication & Society
"In an ambitious 'neomaterialist' project within the Deleuzian tradition, Parikka carefully constructs a series of transversal dialogues which range broadly across entomology, the history of cinema, game theory, biophilosophy, insect architecture, robots, emergent swarms and self-replicating automatons."
– Body & Society
"Insect Media outlines a posthuman media theory that blurs the boundaries between the natural and the technological, the human and the non-human, and the living and the non-living."
– Leonard Reviews