Editors’ introduction: haptic media studies

Parisi, D. Paterson, M. & Archer, JE. (2017). Editors’ introduction: haptic media studies. New Media & Society.

We are grateful for the opportunity to share with you eight exceptional pieces that, we hope, help lay the groundwork for Haptic Media Studies (HMS). As co-editors, each of us has made touch the centerpiece of our research programs, exploring its manifestation in media, technology, philosophy, culture, and history. Paterson’s The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects, and Technologies (Berg, 2007) remains an influential work that serves as a cornerstone for touch-related studies across a wide range of fields, and other publications explore haptics in terms of technology, media, and methodologies (e.g. Paterson 2006, 2009). His more recent Seeing with the Hands: Blindness, Vision, and Touch after Descartes (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), by exploring the conceptual and technological histories of sensory substitution, traces the complex entanglement of vision and touch in communicative practice. Parisi’s publications on tactility, including his forthcoming Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing (University of Minnesota Press, 2018) and his work on the tactile aspects of videogame interfaces (e.g. Parisi, 2008, 2014), situate contemporary haptic human–computer interfaces in a macrohistorical framework, linking them back to prior technological constructions of touch in medical electricity, psychophysics, and cybernetics. Archer’s work investigates cultural processes of tactile education around digital media, where users are asked to acclimate themselves to new habits of touching and navigating digital interfaces.

Of course, ideas about haptics, tactility, and technology have already been present in various forms for many years, with roots that stretch into experimental psychology, art history, phenomenology, cybernetics, and elsewhere. But in recent years the frequency of encountering scholars working on comparable topics has increased, distributed around the world and across academic disciplines, who are similarly grappling with the complex nexus of touch, technology, and media. Nevertheless, it often seems like we are working on intellectual islands while our research percolates in isolation. We put this special issue (SI) together primarily to establish a possible shared foundation of scholarship from which to orient and build a community of scholars interested in exploring these themes further. Ideally, contributions offered in this issue will offer guidance for future scholars as they begin to navigate this largely neglected area of Communication and Media Studies. As underscored by the diversity and quality of the papers here, and their often refreshingly wide-ranging and historically aware bibliographies, this collective attempt to outline HMS—to put it on a more solid footing—is a timely one.