Grant Bollmer

is a theorist and historian of digital culture.

I am an Associate Research Professor in the department of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. 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.” The Influencer Factory: A Marxist Theory of Corporate Personhood on YouTube (2024), coauthored with Katherine Guinness, 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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Materialist Media Theory: An Introduction

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Imprint:Bloomsbury Academic
Dimensions:5 1/2" x 8 1/2"

Buy it from the publisher, or from Amazon.

Reviews can be found in Leonardo, MEDIENwissenschaft, Neural, and Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Our technologies rely on an ever-expanding infrastructure of wires, routers, servers, and hard drives-a proliferation of devices that reshape human interaction and experience prior to conscious knowledge. Understanding these technologies requires an approach that foregrounds media as an agent that collaborates in the production of the world beyond content or representation. Materialist Media Theory provides an accessible, synthetic account of the cutting edge of the theoretical humanities, examining a range of approaches to media's physical, infrastructural role in shaping culture, space, time, cognition, and life itself.

More than a mere introduction, Materialist Media Theory provides a critical intervention into matter and media, of interest to students and researchers in media studies, communication, cultural studies, visual culture, and beyond. Media determine our reality, and any politics of media must begin by foregrounding the media's materiality.

Materialist Media Theory is much more than just an introduction. Instead, Bollmer's book is an attempt, and a very successful one, to reshape the domain of media studies by defending a special take on the major issues and stakes of the field as well as by critically rereading a large number of its foundational and contemporary thinkers.” –  Leonardo Reviews

“The book will be especially useful for those interested in media theory. Nonspecialists will appreciate the survey of the major ideas in media theory and the compelling description of the interconnections between scholars. Advanced scholars will find the book helpful context for recent works in this field, for example, Daniel Reynolds's Media in Mind (2019). Summing Up: Recommended.” –  CHOICE

“Grant Bollmer's Materialist Media Theory is a deceptive book: on the surface, it appears to draw a straightforward map of materialist media studies. Through Bollmer's accessible style and relatable case studies, he takes what is a rather abstract concept and makes its implications for the study of media refreshingly concrete and tangible. But beneath this surface, something far more complex is afoot, as Bollmer establishes the core tenets of a materialist approach to media, while subjecting these foundational theories to a rigorous and sustained skepticism. What emerges is an intellectually ambitious and politically urgent manifesto for the methodological and analytical utility of a materialist media studies.” –  David Parisi, Associate Professor of Emerging Media, College of Charleston, USA, and author of Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing (2018)

“Grant Bollmer's Materialist Media Theory is a crystal clear pathway into and a direct response to how 20th- and 21st-century media studies is defined by a distinctly materialist turn. He provides us with succinct yet sophisticated introductions to some of the most opaque theories about the so-called hard materialisms built into our everyday technologes. At the same time, Bollmer always counter-balances his overviews with interventionist reminders of how social, cultural, and political power establishes and perpetuates itself through the material structures of these same technologies. He performs the best kind of pragmatic criticism insofar as he continually reminds us that matter and materiality don't simply extend from technologies to their human users; instead, humans and media technologies are bound together by way of complex assemblages of material forces bouncing back and forth between the one and the other. In short, if you've ever wondered about the place of people and politics in materialist media theory, this book is a must-read.” –  Lori Emerson, Associate Professor and Director of the Media Archaeology Lab at University of Colorado Boulder, USA