I study the infrastructure of culture and civilization – the way that human societies communicate, cooperate, and otherwise hold together across time and space. This leads me to research and teach across a broad range of phenomena and historical periods—from early modern double-entry bookkeeping and state bureaucracies to 20th century pop music charts, contemporary just-in-time logistical networks, Silicon Valley’s corporate culture, and the North American fur trade of the 17th and 18th centuries. I argue that connecting seemingly-divergent phenomena and time periods helps shed light on the documents, techniques, formats, and protocols through which culture is made and by which it circulates. Such connections also help to cast media history into longer, civilizational timescales, and to complicate conventional narratives about the ‘newness’ of digital media.
This approach is informed by thinkers associated with what is sometimes called the ‘Toronto School’ of communication—Harold A. Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Lewis Mumford, et al. My recent publications (see below) map connections between this tradition and recent debates in media archaeology and German media theory. I argue that that concepts and methods developed in the Canadian tradition of the mid-20th century have a lot to say about the nonhuman spaces and times of contemporary media, and we’d do well to read these texts with fresh eyes.
My first book, List Cultures: Knowledge and Poetics from Mesopotamia to BuzzFeed (Amsterdam University Press, 2017) explores these themes by tracing the list as a cultural technique of administration and imagination. My next major project focuses on the infrastructural turn in media and communication studies and casts Innis’s early economic histories into contemporary debates. I am also chipping away at long-term project on the history of salt, which positions sodium chloride as a medium of culture and civilization.
My research programme is a natural extension of my work in the classroom and vice versa. I explore the above themes with students in courses on digital and mobile media, contemporary media theory, and on paperwork and power.
General research and teaching interests: media history and theory (emphasis on German and Canadian traditions); cultural techniques and media archaeology; paperwork; information and documentation studies; epistemology and histories of knowledge; technology and modernity; war and media
Young, Liam C. (2017). List Cultures: Knowledge and Poetics from Mesopotamia to Buzzfeed. Amsterdam University Press.
Young, Liam C. (2017). “Innis’s Infrastructure: Dirt, Beavers and Documents in Material Media Theory.” Cultural Politics 13.2.
Young, Liam C. (2015). “Cultural techniques and logistical media: Tuning Anglo-American and German media studies.” Feature article in M/C Journal 18.2, special issue on ‘Technique’.
Young, Liam C. (2013a). “Un-black boxing the list: knowledge, materiality, and form,” Canadian Journal of Communication 38.4.
Young, Liam C. (2013b). ‘On lists and networks: An archaeology of form.’ Amodern 2 (special issue on Network Archaeology).
Young, Liam C. (2013c). ‘Files and the material history of the law.’ Review essay of Cornelia Vismann, Files: Law and media technology (Stanford University Press, 2008). Theory, Culture, and Society 30.6 (special issue on ‘Cultural Techniques’).
Young, Liam C. (2016). “Wolfgang Ernst’s Media-Archaeological Soundings” in Wolfgang Ernst, Sonic Time Machines (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016).
Also served as English language manuscript editor.
Young, Liam C. (2017). Review of John Bonnett, Emergence and Empire: Innis, Complexity, and the Trajectory of History (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013). Canadian Historical Review (forthcoming).
Young, Liam C. (2016). ‘Bernhard Siegert’s media philosophy’. Review of Bernhard Siegert, Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). New Media and Society 18.4 (2016).
Young, Liam C. (2013). ‘Under the hood of Wolfgang Ernst’s media archaeology,’ extended review of Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). Reviews in Cultural Theory 4.2 (2013).