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ZeMKI-member Andreas Hepp speaks at ECREA Midterm Conference in Bonn

Prof. Dr. Hepp will give a presentation on November 1st at 10:30 AM in the panel "Theoretical and methodological approaches to mediatization I" which is entitled “Thinking media as a process: Deep mediatization, automation and communicative robots"

Prof. Dr. Hepp will give a presentation on November 1st at 10:30 AM in the panel "Theoretical and methodological approaches to mediatization I" which is entitled “Thinking media as a process: Deep mediatization, automation and communicative robots"


Thinking media as a process: Deep mediatization, automation and communicative robots

One characteristic of deep mediatization is that media are becoming software. What constitutes a single medium is increasingly determined by algorithms (cf. Gillespie, 2014). This is already evident in the case of the smartphone or tablet, which are ultimately portable communication computers on which various media can be installed as “apps” (cf. Gardner & Davis, 2013). But also other “classical” media are turning into “apps”. Today’s television sets are also basically computers with high-resolution monitors, a reason why companies like Apple can offer mini-computers as television replacements. The current discussion about the “internet of things” (cf. Greengard, 2015; Mosco, 2017) also shows that more and more devices become somehow communication media. While in research on deep mediatization such changes have been discussed particularly with regard to the increasing ‘differentiation’ and ‘connectivity’ of media (Hepp et al. 2017), I would like to focus my presentation on another aspect, namely the related advancing automation of communication.

In essence, I am concerned with arguing “communicative robots” as an object of mediatization research. “Social robots” – i.e. artefacts that are oriented towards interaction with people, for example in the care of dementia patients – have long been an object of sociological research (cf. Böhle & Pfadenhauer, 2014). In mediatization research, however, the topic “robots” has so far been marginal at best. This is even more remarkable as many robots are “interactive media” that are “constructed by humans as social counterparts” (Höflich, 2016, p. 200). To a large extent, they serve communicative purposes. In such a perspective, Sherry Turkle (2015) has described communication with robots as the “fourth chair” of conversation – alongside conversation with oneself, with certain others, and with society. Robots are not widespread as physical artefacts in everyday life today, but first once as software applications with which we communicate (cf. Barile & Sugiyama, 2015, pp. 407-408). The best-known current examples are Cortana from Microsoft, Google Assistant and Siri from Apple. Made possible by mobile internet, data centres and the processing of data in real time, we can communicate with these “assistants” as if they were human beings: ask them questions, have them enter appointments or even have them perform (communicative) tasks. We are dealing here with a form of “virtualised media communication” that simultaneously generates additional data volumes on an ongoing basis and thus optimises itself.

Taking this up, I would like to argue as follows in my presentation: In the first part, I am concerned with locating the phenomenon of communicative robots in the field of research into deep mediatization. Using social bots and work bots as examples, I would like to show that the phenomenon of communicative robots challenges the previous, often implicit understandings of media in mediatization research by pushing concepts such as “affordances” or “media logics” to their limits. Based on this, in the second part of my presentation I will develop a concept of media that emphasizes their process character much more strongly. Thinking of media as continuous “institutionalization” and “materialization” makes it possible to grasp the software systems that represent communicative robots. In a third part of the presentation I will develop a framework for a research on deep mediatization that addresses the increasing automation of human communication by communicative robots. While I am referring to a variety of examples from empirical research, I regard my contribution as theoretical-conceptual: My aim is to further develop previous approaches of mediatization research in such a way that they reflect the current changes in our media environment.



Barile, N., & Sugiyama, S. (2015). The automation of taste: A theoretical exploration of mobile ICTs and social robots in the context of music consumption. International Journal of Social Robotics, 7(3), 407-416. doi:10.1007/s12369-015-0283-1

Böhle, K., & Pfadenhauer, M. (2014). Social robots call for social sciences. Science, Technology & Innovation Studies, 10(1), 3-10. Retrieved from

Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Gillespie, T. (2014). The relevance of algorithms. In T. Gillespie, P. J. Boczkowski, & K. A. Foot (Eds.), Media technologies. Essays on communication, materiality, and society (pp. 167-194). Cambridge, London: MIT.

Greengard, S. (2015). The internet of things. Cambridge, London: MIT Press.

Hepp, A., Breiter, A. & Hasebrink, U. (Eds.) (2017) Communicative figurations: Transforming communications in times of deep mediatization. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Höflich, J. R. (2016). Der Mensch und seine Medien. Mediatisierte interpersonale Kommunikation. Eine Einführung. Wiesbaden: VS.

Mosco, V. (2017). Becoming digital. Toward a post-internet society. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

Turkle, S. (2015). Reclaiming conversation. The power of talk in a digital age. New York: Penguin.

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