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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The Affect Lab: The History and Limits of Measuring Emotion

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Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

$28.00 paper ISBN 978-1-5179-1546-9

$112.00 cloth ISBN 978-1-5179-1545-2

290 pages
45 b&w photos
5 1/2 x 8 1/2

August 2023

Buy it from the publisher, or from Amazon.

OPEN ACCESS EDITION AVAILABLE on University of Minnesota Press’s Manifold Platform.

Examines how our understanding of emotion is shaped by the devices we use to measure it

Since the late nineteenth century, psychologists have used technological forms of media to measure and analyze emotion. In The Affect Lab, Grant Bollmer examines the use of measurement tools such as electrical shocks, photography, video, and the electroencephalograph to argue that research on emotions has confused the physiology of emotion with the tools that define its inscription.

Bollmer shows that the psychological definitions of emotion have long been directly shaped by the physical qualities of the devices used in laboratory research. To investigate these devices, The Affect Lab examines four technologies related to the history of psychology in North America: spiritualist toys at Harvard University, serial photography in early American psychological laboratories, experiments on "psychopaths" performed with an instrument called an Offner Dynograph, and the development of the "electropsychometer," or "E-Meter," by Volney Mathison and L. Ron Hubbard.

Challenging the large body of humanities research surrounding affect theory, The Affect Lab identifies an understudied problem in formulations of affect: how affect itself is a construction inseparable from the techniques and devices used to identify and measure it. Ultimately, Bollmer offers a new critique of affect and affect theory, demonstrating how deferrals to psychology and neuroscience in contemporary theory and philosophy neglect the material of experimental, scientific research.

“Moving compellingly through a series of instruments drawn from the histories of experimental psychology, psychiatric photography, and spiritualism, Grant Bollmer provides an important materialist rebuke to the liberatory strain in affect theory, which frequently treats affect as ‘an eternal truth of the body rather than a momentary fragment.’”

David Parisi, author of Archaeologies of Touch: Interfacing with Haptics from Electricity to Computing

“The Affect Lab argues that beneath affect theory lies media. Far from being natural or biological—and, most fundamentally, far from being universal—affect is the product of the concrete technical operations that are necessary to access it in the first place. By challenging affect theory to examine its own technical basis, The Affect Lab will reboot the field for our times and, in the process, fundamentally change our views of how affect operates and the roles it plays in lived experience.”

Mark B. N. Hansen, author of Feed-Forward: On the Future of Twenty-First-Century Media