Grant Bollmer

is a theorist and historian of digital culture.

I am a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland. My research investigates a wide range of topics related to digital media, including emotion recognition, selfies, memes, influencers, terrible videogames, motion capture, virtual reality and empathy, among many other topics. 

I am the author or coauthor of five books. Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection (2016),  examines the history of connectivity in Western culture as it crosses the development of technological, biological, financial, and social networks. Theorizing Digital Cultures (2018),  provides a model for the study of digital media that synthesizes British and German approaches to media and culture. Materialist Media Theory: An Introduction (2019), attempts to update and revise the claims of Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis in relation to a variety of recent theoretical innovations, especially New and Feminist Materialisms. The Affect Lab: The History and Limits of Measuring Emotion (2023) is a history of the American psychology of emotions through the lens of specific tools used to identify and produce emotion, using this history as a critique of any neurological or biological foundations of “affect theory.” A book coauthored with Katherine Guinness, The Influencer Factory: A Marxist Theory of Corporate Personhood on YouTube, will be published in 2024, which uses the backgrounds of YouTube influencer videos to examine the infrastructures of contemporary capitalism.

Among other awards, I’ve been the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a residency at the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was a contributor to an issue of the magazine esse: Arts + Opinions on “Empathy,” which received an honorable mention for “Best Editorial Package” from the Canadian National Magazine Awards/Les Prix du Magazine Canadien. Formerly, while I was employed at NC State, I was an NC State University Faculty Scholar, a recipient of the NC State CHASS Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in the Humanities, and recipient of the Robert M. Entman Award for Excellence in Communication Research.

This, however, is perhaps my proudest achievement. The above image is a meme by @cyborg.asm on Instagram, referencing the article “Do You Really Want to Live Forever,” which I coauthored with Katherine Guinness. The original meme can be found here and the article can be found here.


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Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection

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Imprint:Bloomsbury Academic
Illustrations:20 bw illus
Dimensions:6" x 9"

Buy it from the publisher or from Amazon (these links are to the paperback version).

Reviews have been published by NECSUS, MEDIENwissenschaft, Screen Bodies, and the International Journal of Communication (which published three separate reviews).
Social media's connectivity is often thought to be a manifestation of human nature buried until now, revealed only through the diverse technologies of the participatory internet. Rather than embrace this view, Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection argues that the human nature revealed by social media imagines network technology and data as models for behavior online. Covering a wide range of historical and interdisciplinary subjects, Grant Bollmer examines the emergence of “the network” as a model for relation in the 1700s and 1800s and follows it through marginal, often forgotten articulations of technology, biology, economics, and the social. From this history, Bollmer examines contemporary controversies surrounding social media, extending out to the influence of network models on issues of critical theory, politics, popular science, and neoliberalism. By moving through the past and present of network media, Inhuman Networks demonstrates how contemporary network culture unintentionally repeats debates over the limits of Western modernity to provide an idealized future where “the human” is interchangeable with abstract, flowing data connected through well-managed, distributed networks.

“Part an archaeology of connectivity, part critical analysis of contemporary culture, Inhuman Networks offers an inspiring take for media studies. Grant Bollmer's rich, multi-layered book shows that social media does not just mediate but performs a subtle yet effective moral code: the networks prescribe senses of the self, community, value and direction. The so-called human exists only if it routes.” –  Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art, UK author of Digital Contagions (2007) and Insect Media (2010)

“Bollmer's Inhuman Networks represents the best of the cultural studies tradition of taking the object seriously, learning everything one can about it, putting it into historical and cultural contexts, and then rigorously critiquing it. Combining media archaeology and genealogy, Bollmer crafts critiques of the admonition to connect or be considered inhuman. However, he also challenges misguided calls for total refusal of connection, instead insisting we humans re-engage with practices of collectivity and commonality.” –  Robert W. Gehl, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Utah, USA, and author of Reverse Engineering Social Media

“Bollmer's Inhuman Networks issues a bold and welcome critique of social media's culture of connectivity. This accessible, provocative analysis of the “network” concept is shaped by network theorists predating the network society: anatomists deciphering the flow of bodily fluids, railroad conglomerates arguing about rail gauge, defenders of branch banking, and conspiracy theorists. Bollmer deftly shows how the conjunction of these early modern discourses of the network combine with contemporary digital technologies to forge “nodal citizenship,” a reduction of the human to an information node in a broader technological network. A must-read for anyone interested in communication, media studies, cultural theory, and political economy.” –  Damien Smith Pfister, Department of Communication, University of Maryland, USA and author of Networked Media, Networked Rhetorics

Inhuman Networks masterfully exposes the stunted understandings and logical fallacies undergirding widespread economic and cultural assertions that unless we are connected through social media we are less than human. Bollmer convincingly argues that enlightenment understandings of “human nature” are being supplanted by neoliberal and normative narratives of networked communications as the way to finally achieve full humanity. Yet this is a disempowered form of “humanity” constituted through capital and data alone and ultimately less important than the inhuman(e) routers through which individuals “connect” in empowered and irrelevant ways.” –Ken Hillis, Professor of Media and Technology Studies University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA

“As social media becomes more pervasive in many people's lives globally, the complex entanglement of the human and inhuman across practices, cultures, flows and networks are yet to being fully understood. Grant Bollmer's Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection offers a thorough and thought-provoking discussion of how we might re-imagine social media beyond a human-centric model bolstered by problematic metaphors around connection. From metaphors such as “networks” to “contagion”, Bollmer takes us on a fascinating journey in and around the messy relationality between technology, desire and humans. This book puts the complex human and beyond-human dimensions of social media in context historically and conceptually in ways that are both poetic and inspiring.” – Larissa Hjorth, RMIT Distinguished Professor School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Australia