Communicative Figurations


We experience daily the societal upheavals related to changes in media communication:

Constant accessibility via smartphone, email and information services is changing the way individuals experience time. Social relationships are being reshaped by the ever increasing online social platforms. Entire social fields are rewritten when education is no longer only experienced by a counterpart but is primarily mediated, or when politics is interwoven with media-related actions. The media are forced to adapt their content cohesively with constantly emerging technologies, – as are our media environments as a whole. This is not a matter of short-term changes, but of long-term ones, including the transformation of the ways we construct of social realities. What significance does the transformation of media and communication have for culture and society? What role do communicative AI and the automation of communication play?

Recent studies on media change, communicative construction, mediatization and datafication have made it apparent that individual media and their content are only one variable that is decisive for these  rearticulations of our social and political lives . The implementation of technical communication media has, as a whole, resulted in a transformation shaped by media in which the automation of communication is of increasing importance. Today, the significance of digital media and their infrastructures for the transformation of social realities can only be specified if one grasps the communicative entanglements across all media: We use the term “communicative figurations” to describe these interconnections.

Communicative figurations are patterns—typically across media—of interconnectedness between people through their communication practices. Members of families as collectivities, for example, may be spatially separated from one another but connected through multimodal communication through their cell phones, email, or exchanges on specific platforms, maintaining familial relationships and constructing familial memory. Another example of communicative figurations are organizations that are communicatively constructed using databases, intranet exchanges, printed flyers, and other media used for both internal and external communication. Through the roles and positions that individuals adopt in the actor constellations of these figurations, they are part of them.

With this in mind, communicative figurations can be defined by at least three characteristics:

  • First, communicative figurations contain a certain constellation of actors that can be understood as their structural basis: a network of individuals who are mutually connected and communicate with each other.
  • Second, each communicative figuration possesses dominant frames of relevance that guide its constitutive practices. These frames of relevance define the ‘subject’ and, accordingly, the character of the communicative figuration as a social domain.
  • Third, we are dealing with certain communicative practices that are interwoven with other social practices. In their composition, these practices typically relate to and are entangled with a media ensemble.

Such an understanding of communicative figurations  produces the space for a cross-media and processual approach to the investigation of the communicative construction of different societal domains as well as their transformation alongside deep mediatization. We are now confronted with a variety of different, dynamically changing media-related communicative figurations. We can capture these by empirically exploring their actor constellations, frames of relevance, and the communicative practices entangled within a media ensemble.

University of Bremen
ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research
Linzer Str. 4
28359 Bremen, Germany

Phone: +49-421-218-67601
Fax: +49-421-218-98 67601 

Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institute Rothenbaumchaussee 36
D-20148 Hamburg, Germany
Phone: +49-40-450217-0
Fax: +49-40-450217-77