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theory: working notes



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archives begin in 1996

working notes

These posts are concerned with fragments and excerpts from Michael Betancourt's current theory projects, but which don't easily fit into other categories...many of these fragments become part of later publications.

The Digital has more on agnotology, digital capitalism, automated/immaterial labor, land my most recent published articles and other research on the political economy of digital capitalism. You might also want to look at these publications:

  • The Critique of Digital Capitalism published by Punctum Books

  • CTheory articles on digital capitalism and media theory

  • from Hz Journal, no. 19, July 2014: "Critical Glitches and Glitch Art"
  • More articles and translations into Spanish, Portuguese and Greek are posted on


    Conspiracy Theories are 'Animistic Fallacies'

    story © Michael Betancourt | published September 10, 2020 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    theory: working notes

    A vast, evil conspiracy is comforting. The paranoid belief in the capacity of authority to maintain itself and secretly dominate events provides an explanationhidden power acting without oversightthat is easy to understand.

    read more

    The "Editing" Question - updated

    story © Michael Betancourt | published March 21, 2018 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    theory: working notes

    Various internet-based companies are protected from liability for the content they deliver to their customers based on the idea that they arent editing or producing that material. However, the question that algorithmic-based delivery and sorting should be raising is whether that activity does constitute editing: it selects what and when to show things and to whom, not based on a user-originated request or a blank selection such as chronology (putting the most recent things first, regardless of who they are from), but based on some unknown metric that only the company really controls: conceptually this action sounds like an autonomous version of an Editor (even if it is one generated by using pervasive monitoring to watch the customer).

    minor update:

    Censorship by online companies such as Facebook or any other "distribution platform" should be recognized for what it is: a tacit and explicit admission of their editorial decisions and activities. If they are to be regarded as merely conveyors of information, useful and interesting, to an audience that is also in the business of posting and creating that same information. For the company to then interpose itself as more than simply a disinterested platform, then why are they concerned with what the material posted by their audiences is? If they are not engaged in editorial decisions, as they consistently claim, then there should be no issues around censorship or other content-based selections at all.

    The Semiotics of (Critical) Viewership

    story © Michael Betancourt | published September 30, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    theory: working notes

    Historical cinema has a specific concept of its audience as passive, challenged by semiotics and postcinema. The semiotic view of audiences proposes an idealized, hypothetical typical viewer who employs established lexical expertise to follow and embrace the established conventions of encoding/decoding. This viewer is precisely the complicit or passive audience assumed in historical cinema and critiqued by politically engaged theories of media. These traditional viewers accept and employ, rather than challenge or interrogate, their use of established conventions. Although these conventions are historically concerned/used for the presentation and elaboration of narrative forms, these typical viewers employ them to engage any media work that might invoke or suggest them, either through their formal organizationas in the still photographs of Cindy Sherman, or through the use of a familiar kinetic medium such as video, or the animated GIFs used on webpages.

    read more

    On Cultural Authority

    story © Michael Betancourt | published April 14, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    theory: working notes

    Cultural authority seems a nebulous concept. At the same time it is easily understoodwe recognize it immediately when reading the program for any festival, screening, exhibitioneven though the force it exerts remains hidden within the curatorial choices on displayas the specific form these choices present.

    read more

    "Beyond Spatial Montage" part 6 of 6

    story © Michael Betancourt | published November 30, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    theory: working notes

    This theory work will be published as a book-length monograph Beyond Spatial Montage: Windowing, or, the Cinematic Displacement of Time, Motion, and Space by Focal Press.

    Part 6 of a 6 Part series proposing an expanded theorization of spatial montage, excerpted from a current book project.


    The potential of on-screen structures that appear as displacement is at once a deeply under theorized, but at the same time over-determined. The same series of structures are shared by both the avant-garde and commercial media worlds. The failure of existing theorizations originates with those theories demand that the displaced structures of windowing be essentially critical, ignoring the alternative uses that are apparent within commercial media production. The uniformity of this morphology that allows both collage/montage-like juxtapositions and seamless constructions of realist continuity demonstrates the independence of these structures meaning from their formal organization: these on-screen structures function at a more basic level than that posed by the interpretations of narrative or the combinatory potentials of montage-like forms. Developing a conceptual map to accommodate this range of forms thus becomes a necessary prerequisite for any hermeneutic critical assessment.

    read more