Media Worlds and World-Systems Theory

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by brandontruett

Reading Siegfried Zielinski, I am struck by his reliance on the center-periphery model that he presumably draws from Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory. Zielinski elucidates a cartography of the media wherein the industrial metropolises (London, New York, Berlin, etc) comprise the center, and the hinterlands and economically less powerful (mainly in the South and the East) comprise the periphery; all the while, he attempts to trace the movements that ebb and flow along this linear route. I am a bit wary of this model because it seems all too easily amenable to the desires of late capitalism, by which I mean the edification of power relations that prioritize that which is considered the center. I think here we see how media theory can elide the effects of power that crosscut social relations: why hold onto this model and simultaneously seek “to advocate a two-fold shift of geographic attention: from the North to the South and from the West to the East” (Zielinski 261)? The center-periphery model, in my view, keeps the status quo by which some regions of the world are regarded as underdeveloped. Indeed, as Eric Hayot has recently pointed out while contextualizing world-systems theory in terms of aesthetics, when one conceptualizes a world, he or she perhaps unknowingly enters a subject-object relation with said world, filling it with self-selected qualities. Hayot draws on Heidegger’s tiny, self-contained sentence “world worlds,” which describes the process by which this relation is enacted. Put another way, conceptualizing a world has effects. I wonder, then, what Zielinski means when he discusses “media worlds.” What sort of world does he have in mind? What are the effects of conceptualizing these “media worlds” and connecting them to geographical locations?

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