Joel McKim

Future Systems: New Communication Ecologies in the Built Environment

This talk will begin with the suggestion that considering the future of communication studies might first require a return to the past and, more precisely, a reengagement with the post-war period in which the very notion of communication theory was being formulated, circulated and popularized. The ecological principles, systems theory and cybernetic thought that emerged during this vibrant moment of cultural history seem more relevant than ever, particularly given that our contemporary systems of communication and organization appear to have fallen so far out of balance. With this assertion in mind, I will outline a few of my own recent research projects that attempt to address various overlapping and often conflicting systems of communication within the urban built environment. These projects range from considerations of the competing claims of memory, city planning and international politics manifested in a post-9/11 New York to the interwoven cultural, economic and media ecologies shaping the development of contemporary Montréal and London.


Joel McKim is a Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. His research focuses on spaces of political communication in the urban environment and the intersection of media infrastructures and architectural design. He is broadly interested in tracing lines of communication across human, material and ecological systems. More specifically, he is completing a book entitled Memory Complex: Competing Visions for a Post-9/11 New York, which examines the intersection of architecture, media and politics in the aftermath of September 11. The book discusses the cultural and political significance of architectural sites ranging in size from the Reflecting Absence memorial at Ground Zero, to the redevelopment of the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island (the final resting place of World Trade Center debris) into Lifescape, a public park and wetlands conservation area. Joel is also completing research on the “mediatic infrastructure” that is increasingly underpinning our urban environments, examining issues of public screen technologies, creative economy initiatives and digital design practices.

His research has or will soon be appearing in the journals Theory, Culture & Society, PUBLIC, borderlands, TOPIA, Inflexions and SITE, and in such edited collections as Informal Architecture: Space and Contemporary Culture (Black Dog Publishing) and DIY CItizenship (MIT Press). He recently co-edited an issue of the journal Space & Culture on the topic “Spaces of Terror and Risk.” Before taking up his current position at Birkbeck, he was a Dietrich Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, an FQRSC Post-Doctoral Fellow at McGill University, and a full-time Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University.


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