UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

Salt : Fragments from the History of a Medium Young, Liam Cole


This talk explores histories of common salt, sodium chloride, using concepts and methods from media theory. It contributes to recent research on media and environment and the general ‘material turn’ taken across the Humanities. I conceive of salt as what Peters (2015) calls an ‘elemental’ medium so as to show, first, the imbrication of naturally-occurring substances in the operations and supply chains of digital culture. Second, I show how the many lives salt has lived materially, in techniques of survival and exchange, and metaphorically, in cultural expression, complicate conventional understandings of media. In showing how salt performs three functions, processing, storage, and transfer, which Kittler (1999) ascribed to technical and symbolic media, I argue for a more expansive use of ‘mediation’ as a bridge concept that speaks to matters of nature and culture, Arts and Science, and that accounts for deep histories of extraction and economy that shape digital culture and global supply chains.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International