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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 17: The culture and epistemology of networks

Thomas Vesting


Legal Theory and the Media of Law employs the concept of media not – or at least not primarily – in relation to processes of perception, the traditional home of the idea of media from Aristotle to Hegel,1 but rather in the context of language and its communicative capacities.2 The historically newer tradition is thus treated as factually primary. The reason for this lies not least in the fact that the prolific career of the concept of media is entangled with the rise of mass media. It is electronic media that first motivated greater reflection on language as a medium, thereby triggering a critique and crisis of language3 that tore asunder the original connection between language and the world and permanently dismantled the representational model of language – the subordination of signs under the realm of being – that had obtained since Aristotle. The primary purpose of this theoretical and conceptual model is to emphasize the role of media in reproducing and modifying society’s symbolic and imaginary orders. Media are vehicles of cultural processes, though the word “vehicle” here must be understood metaphorically. The narrative of a film is not transported in space like bread or produce, nor does it cease to exist once it has been consumed. To the contrary, a film can be rewatched and reinterpreted again and again, even over decades. This form of repeated usability is also characteristic of network culture, where knowledge and information are stored in a virtually infinite number of connected servers,...

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