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Media Studies in Germany

Media Studies in Germany


This article takes the risk of giving an overview of the evolution of German media studies, albeit being aware of the selection, exclusion and canonization this procedure produces. It aims at explaining the emergence of media studies in Germany from a cultural studies research desideratum. Furthermore, it shows the establishment and institutionalization of media studies in Germany within the mainly national scientific community as well as German-language cultural studies. Its central questions, methodological approaches and thinking are explored. It ends by giving an outlook.

The structure of the encyclopaedic knowledge presented here includes firstly a definition of the research area, and secondly shows the societal backgrounds as a necessity for media studies of a hitherto marginalized topic. It mentions the influence of two prominent cultural turns and gives an appraisal of its proximity to other studies and disciplines or subjects. It proceeds by evaluating how it differs from other studies, respectively other disciplines. It continues by giving facts relating to the institutionalization through conferences, research centres, degree programs, chairs, publication of journals, handbooks, anthologies/readers etc. The first part ends on a special emphasis through further specialization of the research area. The second part is dedicated to examples and exemplary questions. In the third part, media studies in Germany is embedded in cultural studies research in the German-speaking world. Light is shed on Franco-German cooperation in media and communications studies in the fourth part. The fifth part’s arguments are devoted to potential, criticism and outlook.

Definition of the Research Field of Media Studies

Media studies covers the subject area of the media (individual media and media systems) in its own media-theoretical line of thought, which thinks of the medial as the interdependence of media in the sense of apparatuses and their transmitted content, technology and culture. The learned society, the 'Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft' (GfM)1 formulates its scientific self-conception as follows:

“Media studies is based on the assumption that an engagement with media, with their technical and aesthetic, their symbolic and communicative characteristics makes an essential contribution to the understanding of history, culture and society. [...] Media studies aims at an analysis of individual media and complex media systems with their respective specific forms of representation, apparatuses, institutions; in doing so, it employs a variety of methods that break down modes of production, text structures, contents, cultural practices and contexts. At the same time, it aims at a theory of media that attempts to determine the characteristics of the medial / mediality in general by drawing on research in other disciplines.”2

The intrinsic interconnectedness of media and media systems with the technical and the cultural forms one unbreakable triad. The other triad is that of any cultural studies: history, theory and aesthetics, which make up the core areas3 and, according to the self-understanding of media studies in the areas of 'society', 'technology' and 'culture', are subdivided into 'media theories and their methods' , 'theories and methods of media history' and, thirdly, the 'theories and methods of media aesthetics'.4 In addition to hyphenated sub-disciplines5, which form intersections with a multitude of cultural and social science disciplines, there are transversal fields of knowledge, which are determined partly by their thematic, partly by their methodological access6, as well as interdisciplinary 'studies'. The classical subject areas of media studies, the individual media in their historical sequence, are only shown in the section dealing with media history due to the broad understanding of media that exists. Not only is the subject area of media studies extremely open, media studies is also open to diverse methods and approaches. Limitations and thus the identity of the subject arise from the thinking of the medial, which provides information about "the interactions of aesthetic, normative and social dynamics in societies [...]. This interrelation marks the epistemological location and the epistemological interest of general media studies, in which the various fields of media studies are integratively included.”7

Media are technical in their basic conditions, always historically and culturally conditioned. They organise sensory perception (apperception) and make perception possible in the first place. Media studies is based on a broad concept of media that includes cultural techniques and cultural manifestations and thinks of mediality fundamentally as a characteristic and as the basic functionality of apparatuses, artefacts and cultural techniques. Media are understood as being that which conditions perception and thinking8 or as “apparatuses, institutions and functions, and the condition of processes of form formation.”9

The few introductory references may already give the reader an idea of the specifity of the German Medienwissenschaft (media studies). In the following the split between the disciplines dedicated to media, communication and information will be described in detail in order to explain the partial non-comparability of media studies as an umbrella term of Medienwissenschaft and Kommunikationswissenschaft in an international context.

Differentiation of Media Studies From Communication Studies

Media studies (Medienwissenschaft) is distinguished from social science communication (Kommunikationswissenschaft) studies primarily by their differing research methods, but also by epistemological interest and thus theory references. Communication studies, which focuses on the question of society in the sense of the social reality of life and its expression through mass media, is distinguished from media studies, which deals with the interaction of media, technology and culture and includes aesthetics and history.

Media research (Medienforschung) deals with media in the sense of mass media and means of communication, which it examines using quantitative and qualitative methods grounded in the social sciences.

The demarcation of German-language media studies from the independent disciplines of German-language communication studies and journalism formed a scientific configuration that is not to be found in other European/Western countries or languages.10 In the following only media studies in the sense of Medienwissenschaft is presented.

Societal Reasons for the Emergence of Media Studies

If media have existed as long as humans have existed, media theory as an addressable field of knowledge has existed since the 1980s. 'Media' in the sense of means of communication, storage and information and in the sense of “‘means of constructing objects’”11 as well as ‘media theory’ itself is a young academic field of knowledge and an even younger academic discipline. A “specific complex of questions”12 or an aspectification, a knowledge perspectivization, has developed in academia out of the blind spots of other academic disciplines and "at the same time anchored itself in the consciousness of an interested public".13 If media are as old as human history and so fundamental that they constitute the world, society and human beings, the question arises as to why it took so long for this realization to be gained.

"Only with the process of a profound mediatisation of society, i.e. with the rise of the so-called mass media, has the universalisation and generalisation of the problem [of the inescapable constitutional power of media, author's note] become possible and necessary, which media theory wants to contribute to illuminating.14

The emergence of the subject can be explained by the blind spots and desiderata of cultural studies, whose obliviousness to media and technology was to be overcome. Media studies thereby entered into a paradigmatic break with cultural studies and formed its own epistemes.

Areas of knowledge of the later institutionalization academic discipline of media studies developed from the 1960s onwards in German studies, among others, which brought expertise in radio and more especially film into the institutes and teaching as Germanist media studies. These fields of knowledge found their way into universities in the 1970s as institute/seminar names via institutes dedicated to film studies, and later as film and television studies (although the latter also has a completely different theoretical canon).

The belated reception of the Frankfurt School (Adorno/Horkheimer's writings on media and Kracauer's writings on film) in Germany after the 1960s was an initial spark that dominated media studies until the 1980s and manifested itself in society as a whole as media criticism. This dominance was replaced by a paradigm shift in popular culture and its reflection in cultural studies. The French post-structuralism that followed this phase and other varieties of postmodernism (rather, its academia disciplinary-configuring power of reception) had an enormous influence on media studies - as in cultural studies as a whole. In this phase, popular culture (ex. John Fiske, Stuart Hall) coexisted alongside Marshall McLuhan, the Toronto School of communication and the orientation towards Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze / Felix Guattari as fields of knowledge that formed focal points. Media studies established itself institutionally on a broad basis in the 1980s and 1990s.

A break with the seamless connection to hermeneutically shaped cultural studies occurred with the 'expulsion of the spirit from the humanities'15, i.e. the assertion of a medial a priori that granted technology its primacy.

The Turns

Various important turns have had an influence on the formation and development of media studies, including the spatial turn and the performative turn. The 'performative turn', which became strong in all cultural studies subjects in the 90s and 00s, has brought together the medial and the performative in media studies, especially in media philosophy as well as in gender media studies, which constitute the interfaces of 'gender and media' (as a fundamental renewal of feminist film theory, which illuminated 'women and film'). Language was conceived as a medium of action, of mediating the production of the world, just as media became constitutive as performative actors, acting in their performance, producing the world. Performativity and mediality were assumed to be mutually constituting. Performativity as a concept in media studies16 as well as performativity and mediality in popular culture-media studies17 shaped theory formation and media analyses.

The spatial turn, which is so eminently important for cultural studies18, has produced, among other things, spatial theory,19 spatial studies,20 works on topology21 and topography22 in the German-speaking world. The spatial turn reached its preliminary climax in cultural studies with cartography and in media studies with geo-media, media geosciences and internet geographies. With the advent of Media Geography. Theory - Analysis – Discussion,23 a plea was made for geo-media science and geo-media theory. In the field of visual geography it emphasized the relevance to the history of culture and knowledge24 and it recognized the technicality of images as geomedially significant25. Further on it analyzed the geomedial impact in individual media and apparatuses26, explicated geomedia in terms of geobrowsing (in the phenomenal areas of GIS, navigation, Google Earth, flight simulation) and addressed the connection between media, globalization and the social.27 Mobile geomedia or locating media28 has evolved as a new strand within geo-media.

Media Studies in Conjunction With Other Disciplines

Media studies, a young academic discipline in Germany, embedded in the canon of the humanities, is very close to cultural studies, has developed parallel to it, has emerged to a large extent from literary studies, has close kinship relations to theatre studies, has film studies and later television studies as predecessor disciplines and has developed further distinct from German studies. Media studies is particularly close to the history of knowledge and cultural studies (in the sense of the narrower canon of disciplines), because the "development of the media techniques of generating, storage, representation and transmission of perceptions, experiences and knowledge"29 is one of the main aspects of media studies. The subject of media studies has its core identity in the media’s respective own medial logic or the entelechy of the media.

Media as an object of study forms possible sub-disciplinary configurations far beyond cultural studies, even beyond the humanities, in the social sciences and even in the natural sciences, e.g., media sociology, media law, media informatics, media economics and media psychology.

Media as a designated research subject, represented using corresponding expertise, is usually found in German studies; often in the form of expertise in film history, theory and aesthetics, and very often in other philologies. Adaptations, genres and formats, as well as fundamental narratological questions and aesthetic analytical procedures and methods of interpretation, which are linked to general intellectual history, are common to these disciplines. Media studies grew out of pedagogy alongside German studies and established itself in the 1970s, in its early days, as critical social studies in the form of media studies. For this reason, in addition to German media studies, classical media pedagogy and renewed media education are strong areas of knowledge of a theoretical, practical and praxeological nature, where scholars from their respective disciplines meet.

In theatre studies and art, too, visual/electronic media are part of seminars or institutes and represented in denominations of professorships.

Media studies was able to connect to the research direction of cultural studies, which was dedicated to the materiality of communication.30 Aesthetics is understood as a media science avant la lettre and is an integral part of the subject. Media studies does not make a clear distinction between methods and theories and names in particular “philological-hermeneutic, art-scientific, philosophical, sociological and psychological theories and methods”31 in its approach to theorizing, although the transformative power and enrichment of the repertoire of theories in cultural studies are emphasized.

Parts of media studies configured themselves as 'media theory' and were later perceived as German media theory in their specific - internationally incomparable - epistemic grounding. In this current, German media theory, media philosophy and cultural technology research32 became important from the beginning of the noughties.


Friedrich Knilli was appointed Professor of General Literary Studies with a focus on media studies at the TU (University of Technology) Berlin in 1972, whereby media studies became established as an independent discipline. His media studies department emerged from the Institute for Language in the Technical Age (Sprache im technischen Zeitalter, SPRITZ). In 1986 Friedrich Knilli founded the main course of study "Diplom-Medienberatung" (media advisory) at the TU Berlin, the first genuine media studies course, for which he was responsible together with Siegfried Zielinski.33 As a sub-discipline of theatre studies, there were professorships with a partial media studies denomination in the Institute for Theatre Studies in Vienna from the beginning of the 1970s. The first beginnings of the discipline were also configured thanks to the study programme 'Media Analysis' at the University of Hamburg, directed by Knut Hickethier.

Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht, University of Siegen, organized five interdisciplinary research colloquia on the epistemological reorientation of the humanities between 1981 and 1989. The initial spark and formative for the subject was the media studies research association "Aesthetics, Pragmatics and History of Screen Media", which was a DFG Collaborative Research Centre at the University of Siegen from 1985 to 2000. In 1987, Gumbrecht led the first DFG Research Training Group in the Humanities, entitled "Forms of Communication as Forms of Life". The Käthe Hamburger Kolleg IKKM (2008–2020)34, the International College for Cultural Techniques Research and Media Philosophy at the Bauhaus University Weimar, has had a significant influence on media studies. The DFG Research Training Group Locating Media at the University of Siegen, which existed from 2009–2021, was of great influence.

The learned society of media studies was founded in 1985 as the Society for Film and Television Studies (Gesellschaft für Film- und Fernsehwissenschaft, GFF), and then renamed itself the Society for Media Studies (Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft, GfM) in 2000 and currently has 27 working groups. Between 2001 and 2007, the DFG research group "Bild – Schrift – Zahl” (”Image – Writing – Number”) worked at the Humboldt University of Berlin.35

In 2009, the first DFG symposium in media studies took place, marking another symbolic stage in the establishment of the subject.36 The conference series "Hyperkult", since 1991, had a strong impact on media studies, especially media theory.

The beginnings of institutionalized German-language media studies are linked to research on literary adaptations (radio and film),37 on the nexus of media and the Holocaust,38 and on internationalization/Europeanization.39 Before institutionalized media studies, 'media studies', above all linked with the name of Helmut Schanze,40 is the configuration of knowledge that theorizes mediality 'media-reflexively' or in 'thinking the medial'. Since media studies expertise developed within other disciplines, including theatre studies and German studies, and many media studies writings can be identified avant la lettre in cultural history, a few writings will be mentioned here by way of example, without making any claim to firstness or exclusivity.


The first monographs in the discipline of media studies were published by Friedrich Knilli, who presented a work on radio plays in 195941. Helmut Schanze published in 1974 'Medienkunde für Literaturwissenschaftler' (Media Studies for Literary Scholars), followed by 'Literaturgeschichte als Mediengeschichte' (Literary History as Media History) in 1976/77. In addition to German media studies, the first monographs and conference papers with 'media analysis' in the title can be traced back to 1972. ‘Media analysis', one of the first main currents of media studies, which also gave its name to the study program , was related to television and audiovisual media and was supported by educational societies, among others. ‘Media knowledge (Medienkunde)' and 'media criticism' are further pre-disciplinary or early configurations of knowledge, followed by 'media work'. In the second half of the 1980s, media effects research became a field of knowledge, mainly in communication studies, which attracted a lot of attention, as did media analysis as cultural and social criticism. During this period, titles with 'media theory', the later major paradigm of media studies, appeared for the first time. At the end of the 1990s, the first compendia42 and handbooks appeared in renowned academic publishing houses. Moreover, in the second half of the 1990s, cultural studies (in conjunction with media analysis) moved into the core knowledge area of media studies.


The series of publications of the learned society (GFF), the Gesellschaft für Film- und Fernsehwissenschaft (Society for Film and Television Studies), was published from 1987–2000 and comprised the proceedings of the annual conferences; after the learned society was renamed, they were published from 2002–2009 under the name Schriftenreihe der Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft (GfM). The Film and Television Studies Colloquium (FFK), with its associated series of publications, has been taking place since 1988 and is primarily aimed at young academics. Since 2017, its conference papers have been published in the open access publication platform ffk journal.43

The journal Germanistische Medienwissenschaft was founded by Knilli, Zielinski and Hickethier in 1989 and comprised four volumes (1989–1991). From 1955, the Institute for Theatre, Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna has published the Vierteljahresschrift für Theaterwissenschaft (Quarterly Journal for Theatre Studies), and since 1991 with media studies contributions under the name Maske und Kothurn44. Montage A/V. Zeitschrift für Theorie und Geschichte audiovisueller Kommunikation45 (Journal for the Theory and History of Audiovisual Communication), has been published twice a year since 1992 and is primarily oriented towards film and television studies. Navigationen - Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturwissenschaften46 (Navigations - Journal for Media and Cultural Studies), published by the University of Siegen, a major centre for media studies and research alongside the universities of Weimar, Bochum and Hamburg, has been distributed since 2001, and the series Medien'Welten. Braunschweiger Schriften zur Medienkultur47 has existed since 2004. The Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft (Journal of Media Studies)48, whose first issue was published in 2009, is published by the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft (GfM) and is the publication organ of the media studies society. The English-language, internationally oriented journal Digital Culture & Society49 has been published since 2014. The transcript Verlag50 is important for media studies. It has 20 book series in media studies.

Special Focus Areas

One important strand in media studies is the orientation towards the history of knowledge, and with it towards the history of science, in a constant effort to bring the two poles of tension, the technical and the social, to a point of intersection, that of the media constituted for reflection. It was precisely this basic disciplinary configuration that led almost inevitably to the study of ANT.

Due to the theoretical reflection of the fundamental role of technology for media in their social uses, German-language media studies is close to English-language Science and Technology Studies (STS), in particular to Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which emerged from it. ANT was strongly received51 in media studies from the mid-noughties onwards and proved to be the mainstream until the mid-teens, primarily through the International College for Cultural Techniques Research and Media Philosophy (IKKM, 2008–2020)52 at the Bauhaus University Weimar. ANT in media studies elaborates the agency of human and non-human actors in operative sign chains. Uncovering and conceptualizing the agency of media, artefacts and inscriptions, as well as the media-bound nature of all technical and social processes53 from which technical, scientific and organizational operations emerge, has captured the profound interconnectedness of media, technology and the social.

Examples and Exemplary Questions

Media studies was expected to provide an answer to the question: "What is a medium?"54 More precisely, the question was aimed at the concept of media in media studies, when the latter, while aiming at the media (individual, mass media and media system) and claiming to have expertise in them and to be able to teach them in numerous courses of study, did not follow the vernacular concept of media.

Different media definitions, differentiated according to theories and schools, coexist peacefully and several media distinctions, such as those between storage and dissemination media, perceptual, communication and dissemination media, were offered and discussed with interest. But the subject's self-understanding, the subject identity of media studies, which first distinguishes it as a scientific discipline, was acquired in the struggle for the concept of media, which was answered with the overarching, far more comprehensive category of mediality. The 'autonomy of the media', the 'medial', the 'thinking of the medial', the 'medial logic' became the core identity of the discipline. A medium is thought of as an 'actualisation of the medial potential',55 thus forcing an object construction through philosophical reflection, diametrically opposed to the everyday language concept of media, in which media is equated with transmission apparatuses (and their typified contents). The concept of 'media' in the substantial and historical sense is rejected.56 The demarcation from forms of representation, techniques and symbolism as a sufficient justification or form of thinking and negotiation of media is rejected and media studies should find its legitimacy in the relationship justification of the elements mentioned. Ulrike Bergermann has raised the question of whether this is media studies "as form without object or object", as "pure media".57 The foundational discourse legitimizes itself in the void. A media science without an object or subject can exist, or can only exist in this way, because media science finds its core in "placing a medium, a medial, a translation, a blind spot, an empty centre at the centre of a discipline, which, after all, does not receive its legitimation as pure mediality research at all, but from the constantly new elaboration of references between individual media / artefacts and their mediality."58

In the many introductions to media studies at the beginning of the noughties, the history of knowledge, mediality and epistemology were thought together - explicitly or implicitly in the context of the founding of a subject. To question knowledge production in terms of mediality, in terms of its medial justification (in both senses of the word) - has remained the mandate of media studies.

The term 'media cultural studies' is evidence of a foundation in literary and cultural studies, but in a theory formation that grasps the fundamental constitutional power of the media. This constitutional force of media goes beyond individual media as a dispositive that is at the same time (culturally) technically based, symbolically configured, operating via signs of various natures (image, number, etc.). It has an effect on the individual as a subject constitutional power or on society as a collective, and vice versa (media / technology are deposits of the social).

Cultural Studies Research in the German-Speaking World

Media studies, in its fundamental cultural-scientific self-understanding, can grasp any mediation that is based on a symbolic sign character as media-based and thus define writing, image, number59 as media or identify the cultural techniques60 of reading, writing, arithmetic, i.e. mnemonics, as media configurations. The cultural techniques perform body-bound, culturally configured mediations that are bound to symbolic signs. In this way, media studies not only reaches far into the historical realm (for example, the history of writing), but can also include any thematization61 of image, writing and number as a media-theoretical reflection in the canon of media studies, whereby texts from Greek and Roman antiquity also become its foundation. The accompanying canonization, the establishment of reference texts, are reconfigurations of classical texts from history, aesthetics, literature, art and philosophy under the new interest-guiding perspective of mediation, of media-boundness as a conditio sine qua non. Media also enable in the first place the more fundamental perception, thinking and feeling, and which thus becomes the basic condition of human existence. The physiological condition of perception, the five human senses, become medial basic conditions in their connection of perceiving and knowing as cognition and knowledge. Conceived as medial configurations of knowledge, media and knowledge are short-circuited.

Media as an anthropological constant can then be thematized in evolutionary terms as historically conditioned conditions of expression that prove themselves socially, culturally and politically in their collective dimension as well as psychologically and pedagogically in their individual dimension.

Under 'media', mediations located on different levels can be subsumed: a) both the different sign natures (image, writing, number) and b) the arts (drama, painting and poetry, song and dance) as well as media as intermedial aesthetic manifestations and c) the specific configuration levels of formats and genres.

In addition to Kittler's media studies, another major paradigm of media studies, which was able to continuously differentiate itself into sub-disciplines after its successful founding, but which still had an inner coherence in its identitarian core of media theory, was intermediality.62

"At the same time, intermediality analysis not only ensured a systematic networking of media studies within cultural studies, but as a science of the media system and media cultures, it virtually offers itself as an integration and anchor point of cultural studies. In this way, however, media studies has established itself as an independent system of knowledge with an object area that cannot be closed off in principle and an integral networking within cultural studies."63

Franco-German Cooperation in Media and Communication Studies

Due to the above-mentioned disciplinary division in Germany of the sciences dedicated to media and communication into cultural media studies and social communication studies, cross-border cooperation poses a particular challenge. However, in many joint degree programmes, and even more so in the bi-national research alliances (DFG-ANR, German research committee and French National Science foundation), it is lived out. Curricula are coordinated, if not developed jointly, theses are jointly supervised and advisory services, i.e. academic orientation of Bachelor's and Master's graduates, are coordinated. This very long tradition shows effects. Even if this takes place in a complementary way, i.e. it is not a transdisciplinary but an interdisciplinary cooperation, there must not only be openness to other methodological approaches, but these must also be appropriated. Even if the other canon of theories could still be handled additively, if linguistic and attention-economic obstacles were overcome, and even if a number of theorists/theories could be identified that are read by both disciplines, this would turn out to be more difficult or even incompatible when it comes to the research design and the applied methodology or the form of argumentation.

Cooperation in German-French media studies must take into account three different levels: a) the institutional level, b) the policy of knowledge acquisition and the politics of science and c) content-wise: research topics, theories. The institutional level asks about German-French Media Organizations, about media-specific Institutions, and thus captures formalized relations of broadcasters, regulatory authorities and the like. German-French cooperation as it develops through its infrastructure and through its technological standardizations is also at the centre of media studies. In terms of knowledge policy, questions arise about continuities and discontinuities from analogue to digital, especially in their different configurations in France and Germany. The disciplinary configuration of those sciences dedicated to the media in the individual German-speaking and Francophone countries is also discussed, as well as the question of the configuration of interdisciplinary research between German Studies/French Studies, Media Studies and socio-political fields of knowledge. The main actors as scientific organizations (university and research organizations, determined by laws, ministerial responsibilities, financial support for research) are the German-French University (DFH-ANR) and the bi-national research alliances (DFG-ANR, German research committee and French National Science foundation), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and in the sense of organized cross-border scientific organizations, many EU-funded research institutions and projects. Strategies of cooperation are discussed by the experience of the common German-French study program Europäische Medienkultur (EMK).

Questions about the form of institutionalization, the subject area, the content and the structure arise when the connection between German-French cooperation and media studies is made. In order to sound out perspectives of German-French media studies, questions arise in the areas of the curricular, and the practices of teaching media studies in Germany and France. In terms of content and research, the questions arise when dealing with the dimensions of Germany/France and media. The thinking of Franco-German media studies can start from the respective national academic disciplines and pose questions about the cross-border dimension in several respects. The main respects are:

a) the sociogenesis of the discipline (to be recorded via the founding of institutes, appointments to chairs, courses of study)

b) the intellectual biographies of its bearers, their European intercultural experiences

c) the disciplines from which they developed (history of knowledge, history of science)

d) the scientific organizations (university and research organizations, determined by laws, ministerial responsibilities, financial support for research)

e) the intellectual currents (of the country/Europe)

f) languages, language transfer (through translations, the phenomenon of reception, waves) and language barriers (independent parallelisms, opposites parallelisms, national 'special paths')

h) the cooperation of science, including transnational joint study programs

i) the cooperation between media actors (in the cultural, in the media-economic, in the field of media technology)

In the first seven approaches, the object of study takes its starting point in the national framework and asks whether it can be transcended to include the bi- or tri-/multinational dimension.

Firstly, the cross-border dimension of the sociogenesis of the disciplines, which can be grasped through the founding of institutes, the appointment of professors and degree programs shows that in France, as in Germany, the founding of institutions and the appointment of professors has so far taken place within a national framework. Anchoring in the national scientific community is indispensable, even when international networking is required64 and media theories seem to be universal. The supposed internationality and universalizing tendency of media theories, which unfolds its effect by not addressing the linguistic and intellectual context of origin and its conditions and limitations, becomes particular when addressed and more closely specified culturally, or reveals itself as a geo-medial-political negotiating space. [...] The consideration of geographical, institutional and national coordinates in the formation of media studies theory even leads Norm Friesen and Richard Cavell to speak of the 'geography of media studies'.65 [...] German-language (teaching) books on media studies show an account that disregards national frames and contexts of origin and traces lines of development purely from theory.66 Intellectual biographies and the history of reception have their place in this, albeit very marginally, but not the institutional, geographical and national - unless it is thought from the perspective of regional studies, as in the case of Russian media theories, where media theory is overlaid by a centuries-long cultural imprint.67 The consideration of geographical, institutional and national coordinates in the formation of media theory has so far been almost completely absent for the comprehension of European media studies,68 including Franco-German media studies.

The Franco-German degree programs, politically desired by the Franco-German Council of Ministers and promoted by the Franco-German University (DFH/UFA)69, are at Bachelor's and Master's levels. There are six such degree programs in which media / communication form the main focus of study.

When I was in charge of a German-French double program in media studies, I and my French colleague Sarah Cordonnier conducted an interview series on the intercultural literacy among the academic staff, and we thematized being in charge of a French-German cooperation, in a study programme and in a research project. The Franco-German double degree course Europäische Medienkultur (EMK), created in 1997, supported by the Franco-German University (UFA), is a long-term observation point of intercultural dynamics that are established and those that are not. The particularities of its history and the disciplines associated with it constitute relevant elements for the analysis or explanation of these dynamics. The content of the studies themselves also has some interesting features. The respective courses offered by the EMK double degree program are linked to the Sciences de l'information et de la communication (SIC) in France and the Medienwissenschaft in Germany. In general, the subject matter (media, communication) may seem to fit together harmoniously; but there are important differences in the objects, methods, theories used, and more generally in the ways of conceiving what needs to be investigated and taught.

SIC was constituted as a section (the 71st) by the National Council of Universities in 1975; however, some prefer to speak of it as an “interdiscipline”, and there are many tensions within it, as much because of the initial juxtaposition between several fields (media content studies, library sciences, part of science studies, museology... but not film studies) as well as the plurality of methods and theoretical resources that researchers solicit and import from other disciplines (sociology, language sciences or semiotics).70 Medienwissenschaft has been developing since the end of the 1980s and the 1990s, becoming independent of German studies or theatre studies, and then of film studies, which nevertheless remain an important subject; essentially based on speculative, hermeneutic reasoning, it is impregnated with French poststructuralist references. This discipline is separate from Kommunikationswissenschaft, a social and empirical science, whose objectives could, to a certain extent and in part, overlap with those of SIC.

In the case of SIC, Medienwissenschaft and Kommunikationswissenschaft, the situation is even more singular. Indeed, these disciplines are recent (or profoundly refounded in the case of Kommunikationswissenschaft71), created in contexts quite different from those which saw the advent of sociology, geography, history or demography at the end of the 19th century: They do not even share a disciplinary title, and are poorly (re)known scientifically, even in their own countries, although student interest in the themes they cover is leading to significant institutional and academic development.

The different disciplines in France and in Germany interact not as entangled history (histoire croisée), i.e. not as a joint history of science, but rather as the history of knowledge in the sense of intellectual currents, which can of course also mean - as described above - the reception of individual theorists/schools, be it they the Frankfurt School or French post-structuralism.72 Thus languages, language transfer (through translations, the phenomenon of reception, waves) and language barriers (independent parallelisms, opposite parallelisms, national 'special paths') are reflected and acted upon by the creation of publishing houses73 and the translation policies of scientific journals.74 Outside academia (but as a core domain of employability of such transnational commuters) are the following media institutions, mentioned by the German-French council for culture75: ARTE, The German-French film academy Atelier Ludwigsburg-Paris, the office of film and media of the Institut français in Germany and ParisBerlin, a German-French news magazine.

The studies on the academic disciplines 'Media Studies' in Germany and 'Sciences de l'information et de la communication' in France by Cordonnier and Wagner76 tie in with the intellectual biographies of the researchers and focus on their German-French intercultural experiences. The expert interviews with German and French professors were carried out under the following headings: a) Age in intercultural academic engagement; b) the role of intercultural academic institutions, and c) the strategic implementation of future academic work. The results showed that academic interculturality is anchored: a) in disciplinary contexts, which are national and institutional; b) in academic internationalization; c) in established forms and formats (in the sense of dispositives) and d) in non-institutionalized encounters.

Thus, only the institutional inscription of the intercultural experience guarantees its durability, but it is then inscribed in multiple and often paradoxical issues. Indeed, interculturality understood as an encounter with researchers, students, theories, scientific practices, and especially interculturality understood as the 'international circulation of ideas' with all the effects of inscription in national contexts that it presupposes (Bourdieu, 2002), resonates with the policies of academic internationalization, where international rhymes with prestige but often by going towards the lowest common scientific and pedagogical denominator.77 Nevertheless, the international is needed in order to write a “meaningful history” of media studies, as Cordonnier clarifies:

“Meaningful history implies not only theoretical reading and methodological compliance, but also clarification of irritating differences that turn out to be more “cultural” than “scientific,” […], the method of developing an argument, the writing style, the respective weight of the theory and the empirical material, the interest in remote domains or areas, and the acceptance that there is more than one, in the words of Donsbach, “right way to scientific knowledge.”78 In sum, meaningful history relies upon the resolute creation of an international “milieu,” where the delicate balance between methodological demand and political significance can be shaped afresh.”79

Potential, criticism and outlook

In several academic disciplines of the humanities, including the social sciences (SHS, Social and Human Sciences), the 'new materialist turn' was strong within the European Research Area (ERA). It continued the established strand of the materiality of communication in cultural studies and extended it to new academic disciplines (feminism, philosophy, science studies, history, media studies), while expanding it from history (of technology) to the field of Theory of Knowledge (TOK). The focus shifted from exclusively text-based objects of study to the study of objects. Apparatuses, artefacts and all other objects of the means of communication and information are understood as object-based tracing of the history of knowledge, the history of ideas and the circulation of ideas and knowledge. The focus on objects and "boundary objects" (Susan Leigh Star) has been particularly pronounced in Science-Technology Studies (STS) and especially in Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). The focus on networks and networks within and beyond ANT created an interdisciplinary field of research: network studies (especially history, technology and media studies). A research focus was gained through infrastructure research. The core of this new approach is to explore the materialistic level, the institutional level and the discursive level as such, their interconnectedness and their manifold interdependencies. Their interconnectedness brings new insights and counterbalances the prevailing purely institutional approach. This new strand of research has been particularly fruitful for European studies, first and foremost the tensions-of-Europe80 research network. The analysis of the way in which superior information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their foundation, the international media-technical infrastructure, provide pan-European (cross-bloc) means of communication is crucial and innovative in an East-West European perspective. These new ICTs (information and communication technologies) have had a strong impact on the importance of communication.

German-language media studies is not only very broad due to the wide range of individual media to which it devotes itself; the theoretical orientations are also very wide-ranging.

In addition to the expected individual media and media systems, media studies in particular teaches the broad concept of media - since it deviates from the everyday language term. However, this is not presented in a definitional way, although exemplary fields of application are named. Criticism of a sprawling concept of media that can define objects and practices as media and at the same time refuses to be delimited by sufficient, verifiable determinants of the medial arose and poses a great challenge in teaching. The strong historical orientation of media studies in combination with the critical-analytical approach to history, culture and society gives it a fundamental and generalist claim to interpretation in order to provide a foil for reflection on current and future media and social developments.81

The media-scientific thinking advocated by Friedrich Kittler82 received great veneration83 and harsh criticism within and mainly outside the discipline. This school of thought, rejected by some scholars as technological determinism, developed into cultural techniques studies. Thinking about the technicality of the media was not, however, restricted to the history of technology, but rather pursued as a reconstruction of its conditions and effects in the history of the humanities and social history, like the philosophy of technology, which was also widely perceived and connected in media studies.

A critical self-questioning of media studies was done by Rainer Leschke,84 who sees the focus on the medial, the persistent question of mediality, as an attempt (doomed to failure?) to lay an ontological foundation for the discipline.

A critical reflection of the emergence and evolution of media studies in Germany as well as the very special German media theory published in English has been provided by Jens Schröter. His article Disciplining Media Studies: An Expanding Field and Its (Self-)Definition85 is framed by Norm Friesen’s perspective the Media Transatlantic: Developments in Media and Communication Studies between North American and German-speaking Europe.86 Friesen pleads that media and communication studies have to be re-mediated with regard to geography, nation and institutions. In the book’s introductory87 and comparative approach, Norm Friesen writes entangled histories for media studies thus providing proof that Friedrich Kittler, often falsely thought to be the founder of German media theory (not media studies in Germany!), was influenced by Marshall McLuhan and Harold Adams Innis. However, Jens Schröter is aware of the pitfalls of a desired disciplinary unity88 with respect to the dynamics of the field in research the study object, or the evolution of media.

For the dynamics while creating and evolving an academic discipline, he refers to general findings pointing out that disciplinary unity is a desired goal but remains unattainable and has harmful homogenizing effects as well as idealizations outside reality. Given the lack of disciplinary unity and internal diversification, and the ‘openness’ of media studies, he states three crucial points for the disciplinary configuration of media studies to which I’d like to add an overlooked fourth point. Schröter states:

  • Firstly, there is the epistemic (theoretical, methodological) and institutional development of “media studies” as an independent subject—and the question of the feasibility or even desirability of this.

  • Secondly, there is the internal diversification of media studies, and whether this diversification will at some point dissolve “media studies” into new sub-disciplines.

  • Thirdly, there is the changing relationship between “media studies” and its neighboring disciplines.”89

I’d like to add the fourth point:

  • Fourthly, Internationalization.90 Recent evolutions have produced a changing relationship between media studies in Germany and its European outlet throughout numerous European collaborations in which a multifaceted relationship of national determining factors and international or European necessities are altering media studies. Furthermore, bi-or trinational study programs come into play here, as well as translations (or not!) of main sources, EU-funded research projects, and increasing Europeanization accompanied by international conferences and English language international journals.

Centre-periphery dynamics within the academic discipline of media studies is another aspect worth mentioning. Taking up Friesen’s claim of geographically located media studies, I point at the geographical differentiation within German speaking media studies, whereby the dynamics of the discipline is characterized by a centre-periphery exchange.

The learned society (Fachgesellschaft Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft), the Society for Media Studies has several hundred members, but only a small proportion of them are in the very few strong and large media studies centres in Germany91. The collaborative research centers (Sonderforschungsbereiche) and research training groups (Graduiertenkollegs) of the German Research Foundation have been organized by them 92 and the history of media studies in Germany as well as the discourses of the self-understanding debate93 and manuals have mostly been written by them, without their taking into account the evolution outside of these centres. As a result, the existing history of media studies in Germany has no representativeness.

The bulk of teaching (staff and module contents) within the 50+ study programs in media studies mentioned above is integrated into mixed realities, so in study programs where the disciplinary boundaries of Kommunikationswissenschaft and Medienwissenschaft are imploding or where media studies is part of a more encompassing cultural studies perspective. Media scholars are often the only representative of this diverse discipline, which highlights his or her research areas as being at the centre of media studies.


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Carsten Wilhelm:

It would be interesting to know a bit more about the teaching side of media studies, and how it reacts to the “ursupation” of the term “media” by several other disciplines

Carsten Wilhelm:

The stronger separation in France through the CNU sections makes SIC at the sime time more identifiable (your job description clearly is in a section most of the time) and more visible and thus also criticizable. I get the impression that German Media studies at least somewhat coalesces into or oscillates with Kulturwissenschaften, at least authors heavily move between common references…

Carsten Wilhelm:

Is this a reference to “Kulurwissenschaften” or to cultural studies in the Birmingham sense?

Carsten Wilhelm:

this can be discussed… cf. Hepp and Jarren’s standoff in 2016 (see Publizistik (3) for Hepp’s proposition for an enlargement beyond mass media and public communication and (4) for Jarren’s reply

Carsten Wilhelm:

it is not without interest to see that the same albeit in the opposite direction applies to information and communication sciences of France as un umbrella that does not exist elsewhere

Carsten Wilhelm:

or rather potential criticism and outlook ? Is the comma voluntary ?

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

Please fully adpot to the Chicago Style, there were still German “S” for pages etc., I deleted them, but please check again the style via the Authors guidelines

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

can you clarifiy the term “medial justification” a bit more?

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

media logic?

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

Notion “the medial” in the sense of German “das Mediale”? the term occurs several times

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

May be to make the title of this article to make more specific, there will be a proposal in the joint review of the guest editors.

Thomas Weber:

Please add: Stefanie

Thomas Weber:

After the 2007 reform, GFM grew from about 350 members previously to about 1500 members within five years and has maintained this level for about 10 years till today. See also my comment in the peer review.

Thomas Weber:

I'm not a native English speaker, so I'll hold off commenting on linguistic issues. But the translation or back-translation of the GFM should possibly be checked again. 

Thomas Weber:

See my longer comment in the peer review to that point.

Thomas Weber:

Instead of listing the journals here (some are still missing, such as Augenblick or NECSUS, rabbit eye, nach dem film, etc.etc.), it might be more important to emphasize that the journals play only a subordinate role and that the discipline culture is primarily determined by anthologies and monographs.

It would also be important to mention that media studies approaches are often also concerned with innovative, new forms of publication (especially in the last 15 years, academic publications are no longer limited to print formats alone).

Thomas Weber:

Last look at the website Nov 22: there are 29 workings groups…

Thomas Weber:

This does not seem quite correct to me. See also: Hickethier, Knut; Weber, Thomas (2020): Medienwissenschaft an der Universität Hamburg. Zur Genealogie eines Modells. Hamburg: AVINUS 

Thomas Weber:

Controversial. Cultural studies are actually older, although there was certainly then a parallel development. There are parallels, but also independent developments, see film and television studies.

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

Same as above, a bit the question which epoch and concrete institutional setting is meant (there is also Kulturwissenschaft with Lamprecht and others at the beginning of the 20th Century)

+ 2 more...
Thomas Weber:


Thomas Weber:

No, media theories have been around since the 1920s/1930s (or even earlier). Only in an academic context - that could be called media studies - they have been discussed since the 1980s. Possibly specify wording?

Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz:

May be Hedwig could clarify if she wants to go here back to the 1020s/30s with Arnheim, Benjamin or others or (as I understood her) if she is more related to the established discipline of “Media Studies” in Germany much later (coming to my knowledge, I refer to Hickethier) from the breaking up of “text” studies to “media studies” (film as text etc.)