Journalism and the Circulation of Communicative Objects

by Christoph Raetzsch

In June 2016, we presented the project at the International Communication Association (ICA) in Fukuoka, Japan. The panel covered new approaches to understanding digital news in journalism studies. Our contribution on “Journalism and the Circulation of Communicative Objects” sought to redefine the relatively statist and industrial logic of circulation by pointing to the new materialities of digital circulation. We emphasised that studying circulation online needed to acknowledge the technological formation of hypertextual elements, which drive and shape what can be circulated in the first place. Instead of assuming a progressive increase in the volume of what is circulated online, we argued for a culturalist understanding of circulation, in which technological shaping, referencing and encoding are put in relation to dimensions of meaning. This relation is encapsulated in the the notion of the communicative object, an object that emerges over time in interactions, and that is formed simultaneously as a digital and an epistemic object. Taking the example of the first “Je suis Charlie” image we argue that the materialities of that image (as jpeg, as print, as projection on public buildings) needed to be put in relation to respective meanings and communities of practice that emerged around a common theme.

For journalism studies, we see a great need to acknowledge the duality of the communicative object as a digital and epistemic object, beyond the logics of marketing. Building on Knorr-Cetina’s article, we can regard communicative objects as “meaning-producing and practice-generating” because they are constantly reworked, reappropriated and therefore are “pointing to an identity-for-a-particular-purpose” (Objectual Practice, 2001). The presentation of that talk can be found here.

Our core argument on circualtion has meanwhile appeared in a peer-reviewed theoretical contribution to a special issue on “Digital Circulation” in the journal Tecnoscienza, edited by Balbi, G., Delfanti, A., Magaudda, P.:

Raetzsch, Christoph & Henrik Bødker. (2016). “Journalism and the Circulation of Communicative Objects“. Special Issue on Digital Circulation. Balbi, G., Delfanti, A., Magaudda, P. (eds). Tecnoscienza. Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies 7(1): 129-148 – open access