Interdisciplinary Conference: Format Matters. Theories_Histories_Practices

7-9 December 2017

→ Visit the conference website

Organized by Alexandra Schneider, Marek Jancovic & Nicole Braida

The interdisciplinary conference Format Matters at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz brought together international scholars from a variety of disciplines to explore the cultural meaning, social dynamics and aesthetic effects of media formats.

“Format” can refer to a great range of very dissimilar objects, practices and cultural registers: From the size or folding of a book to the shape, color and “weight” of a film; from the durational rhythms of a television program and syntactic orderings of a computer file to formalized ways of recordkeeping, cataloging and description. Formats are historically specific modes of organizing sensory experience that inscribe the economic, technological and cultural conditions of a particular age into concrete objects. Format is the categorizing instrument that allows us to meaningfully understand the hierarchy of cultural and material gradations by which “tabloid” is related to “broadsheet”, or 8mm film is differentiated from a Laserdisc.

Despite the central role it plays for film, television, media and literary studies, questions of format have thus far remained subordinate to form, content or genre. Only recently, with the appearance of a number of case studies across various media, the study of formats began experiencing increased urgency, with media historian Jonathan Sterne even suggesting the necessity of a field of "format theory". Building on this important previous work, Format Matters aims to further the methodological and theoretical concerns and contribute towards a deeper understanding of the function of formats in media culture.

The conference took place on 7-9 December 2017 in the historic auditorium Atrium Maximum at the campus of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, and on the premises of conference center Erbacher Hof in direct vicinity of the Mainz Cathedral.

Format Matters attracted scholars of all career stages from across Germany and beyond. We thank the speakers for their insightful presentations and all attendees for the very engaging and fruitful discussions which, notwithstanding the eclectic multitude of approaches present at Format Matters, molded the conference into a coherent and exciting network of thought.


Thursday December 7, 2017

16.00 Arrival
16.30-17.15 Opening and Welcome
17.30-19.00 Instances

Ramon Lobato (Melbourne): "Formats and Formalization in Digital Advertising"
Wanda Strauven (Frankfurt/Bologna): "Let’s Dance: GIF 1.0 versus GIF 2.0"

(Chair: Alexandra Schneider)

19.00-21.00 Reception

Friday December 8, 2017

10.00-11.30 Boundaries

Axel Volmar (Siegen): "Formats as Media of Cooperation. Some Thoughts on Format Theory"
Carlos Spoerhase (Bielefeld): "Radical Re-formatting: Schiller’s Drama of Scale"

(Chair: Rembert Hüser)

11.45-13.15 Practices

Markus Stauff (Amsterdam): "The Sports Highlight as Cross-Media Format: Technology, Aesthetics, Property"
Florian Hoof (Lüneburg): "'Rumble in the Format Jungle': On the Instability of Live Broadcasting Formats"

(Chair: Marek Jancovic)

13.15-14.45 Lunch break
14.45-16.15 Resolutions

Margarete Pratschke (Berlin): "Landscape or Portrait. An Art-historical Approach to Digital Displays"
Oliver Fahle and Elisa Linseisen (Bochum): "Format Reflects Film History. HD’s Grand Narrative or SD’s Resistance through Low Resolution"

(Chair: Malte Hagener)

16.30-18.00 Logistics

Monika Dommann (Zürich): "At the Margins of Formats. A Historical Ethnography of Logistics"
Lori Emerson (Boulder): "The Undersea Life of Other Networks"

(Chair: Florian Krautkrämer)

19.00 Dinner

Saturday December 9, 2017

10.00-11.30 Materialities

Johannes Gfeller (Stuttgart): "Format and Historicity. CRT and Helical Scan as Major Cultural Technologies of the 2nd Half of the 20th Century"
Erika Balsom (London): "Photochemical Film: Medium or Family of Formats?"

(Chair: Kristina Köhler)

11.45-13.15 Approaches

Jennifer Horne (UC Santa Cruz): "Format, the University, and the Idea of Intellectual Freedom"
Kalani Michell (Frankfurt): "Cinema Journal in Your Ears: Podcasting Media Studies"

(Chair: Yvonne Zimmermann)