Un projet Labex Arts H2H
en /fr
2012 - 2016

The Fate of Theory in the Digital Era
By Harry Halpin

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Given the changes engendered by the increasing ubiquity of digital information, some prominent futurists have cried for the "end of theory", where theory is replaced by sheer data analysis and software studies. While some form of empiricism is likely necessary to ground new theoretical formations, it seems absurd to believe that concepts themselves - that, as Deleuze noted, are always virtual and out-stripping our "common-sense" understanding of the world - will themselves cease to exist due to the increase of digital processing power and big data. However, the theoretical apparatus needed to understand the digital has also been woefully undeveloped. In the style of Adorno, some theorists such as Jodi Dean reject the existence of the digital and maintain a relatively unperturbed oppositional role to capitalism, focusing on the digital as simply yet another negative aspect of capitalism. Others, such as Michel Serres, believe the digital ultimately will be redemptive and have ultimately a positive political role. What is lacking in all these approaches is a properly empirical theory of the new digital subject that paves the way for a new kind of digital theory that includes both our cognitive and political concepts. The very fate of theory in the era of the digital hangs in the balance depending on whether or not the larger theoretical community, from the digital humanities to political philosophy, can take on the task. We'll point a nuanced path forward based on the works of Andy Clark, Andrew Feenberg, and Bernard Stiegler, where we first inspect role of the cognition and the individual in the era of the digital, and show how this new subjectivity emerges from the dynamics of industrial capitalism, leading us point to revolutionary concepts for a new kind of politics suitable for the digital era.   

About the author

Harry Halpin (MIT) works for the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at MIT on cryptography and decentralized social networking under the direction of Tim BernersLee, the inventor of the Web. He completed his Ph.D. in Informatics at the University of Edinburgh under the philosopher of the mind Andy Clark, his postdoctoral studies under Bernard Stiegler, and is author of Social Semantics and editor of Philosophical Engineering with Alexandre Monnin. Previously he worked at Duke University and currently works via the W3C on the D-CENT project for new forms of digital politics. 

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Un projet Labex Arts H2H