Cultural Techniques of Complexity Reduction
Automatisms are defined as processes that largely elude conscious control. They exist on the level of individual and collective action as well as in interactions with technology. Since they are rooted in repetition ‒ rather than in creativity, planning, or design ‒ automatisms are close to the mechanical.
At the same time, these processes do not function like technical automata. There are neither prior definitions nor programming. Processes of habitualization and conventionalization can serve as examples; conventions and habits grind themselves in; so it is the execution itself, and the scattered activity of many, that create the structure.
These observations turn automatisms into an interesting model of development. In many cases automatisms seem to become potent wherever planning and design retreat. Virtually behind the backs of those involved, they generate new structures. Demonstrating these findings constituted the goal of the project's first phase. In a broad spectrum of exemplary cases, the dissertation projects of the graduate school explored automatisms in the media, information technology, and culture.
The graduate school aims to pursue this approach with a changed focus. One key result showed that automatisms help to reduce complexity. This lends additional relevance to our topic. Complexity is seen as one of the main problems of contemporary societies. This enables our project to connect concrete questions of media and technology development and theoretical perspectives on culture, society, and technology. As in its first phase, the project is interdisciplinary. Faculty advisors come from literature and culture studies, sociology, media studies, film studies, and computer science; doctoral students are also expected to represent these fields.
This research training group has established "automatisms" as a new concept in media and culture studies. Automatisms are cultural techniques beyond consciousness, intention, and planning – this makes for the singularity of this research field.