Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Media Studies


Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford


The question of what constitutes media has received little attention in Marxism and where it does, the concept is an empty abstraction. While Marxists have extensively theorized the concentration of mass media ownership, and analyzed mass media content as ideology or propaganda, critical discussions of what a medium is in the capitalist mode of production have been mostly lacking. That is to say, Marxism does not have a media ontology. Media is therefore a critical gap in Marx’s political economy. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap by asking what is a medium in the capitalist mode of production?, answering it with a valueform theory of media and a concept of “capital’s media” that takes the circulation of capital as its starting point. The dissertation goes beyond Marxism’s mass media myopia and moves the concept of media towards logistics and infrastructure. The contributions this dissertation makes are to (1) develop a theory and category of capital’s media as a phenomenon of the circulation process of capital; (2) stake out an approach to investigate media phenomenon outside of pure political economy and cultural studies approaches; and in the process (3) contribute towards a rehabilitation of Marx’s analysis of circulation. To make these contributions this dissertation relies on a theoretical framework that is primarily based on Marx’s value theory, but enriched with concepts from Canadian- German media theory (Harold A. Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Wolfgang Ernst, and Hartmut Winkler) and Paul Virilio’s dromology. This dissertation has two components to its methodology: an original “circulationist” reading of Marx’s political economy that is developed from the heterodox Neue Marx-Lektüre (New Marx Reading), and a set of empirical case studies that includes the shipping container and intermodal transportation, distribution centers, and point-of-sale and payment systems Positing a category of capital’s media, this dissertation concludes that nothing by its very nature is a medium but instead that things function as media when they appear in that category. More specifically, a thing, such as a container ship or distribution center, appears in the category of capital’s media when they function within and for the circulation process.