Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Bernd Frohmann


This research explores the list as a cultural and communicative form. Inspired by the ubiquity of rankings, bullet points and registries in contemporary ‘list culture,’ and by Jack Goody’s famous question ‘What’s in a list?’ (1977), I ask: how can this seemingly innocuous form be studied? What does its analysis tell us about historical and contemporary media environments and logistical networks? What can studying this unconventional object bring to media studies?

I offer four intersecting arguments. The first proposes that media studies benefits from the incorporation of approaches and concepts that I group together as ‘media materialism.’ Approaches such as media archaeology, associated theories of cultural techniques, actor-network theory and logistical media studies give a more accurate account of media environments because they address more than the institutions, texts and audiences that are the traditional foci of North American media studies. The second argument presents the list as an example of what media materialism makes available. I position listing as a cultural technique that processes distinctions foundational to concepts and categories of social and imaginative life. The third argument proposes that lists cannot be easily dismissed or endorsed. Their complicated and often contradictory operations demand a precise tracing of how they function. The fourth argues that lists endure in our thoughts, texts, and programs because they negotiate tensions and paradoxes that have beguiled humans for centuries, e.g. between entropy and order or wonder and horror.

These arguments are developed in four chapters. The first traces the list as a format that structures knowledge in popular music. The second maps listing as a cultural technique of administration in Nazi Germany. I show the Nazi census to be a limit case of a way of seeing and doing, what I term a ‘logistical worldview,’ that can be traced to fifteenth century double-entry bookkeeping. The third explores algorithmic lists of code and protocol in digital culture. These function not only administratively but also in ways that reveal a poetic capacity. The latter is the focus of the final chapter, which uses the words of Jorge Luis Borges and the images of Chris Marker to show the list as an imaginative form that clears a space for Heideggerian poeisis.