Henrik Kaare Nielsen


The Faculty of Humanities

Department of Aesthetic Studies

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Henrik Kaare Nielsen

Interface Culture between Consumerism and Democratic Citizenship

Through the lens of this subproject the Internet represents a new social and cultural field of pratice - a comprehensive and complex field for action and for formation of experience that distinguishes itself from other fields of practice by virtue of its virtual nature. At the same time, the virtual field of practice is profoundly integrated in “real-life” practice and the associated conflicts and ambivalences, just as it forms its meanings in an exchange with non-virtual forms of experience and significations.

In this constellation, the graphic interface that became predominant on the Internet with the World Wide Web from 1993 onward plays the key role as the dialectical mediator not just between human and machine, but also between the physical and the virtual world of experience. The interface gives digital technology material, perceptible form and in so doing makes the virtual space manageable for human action and creation of meaning. The interface thus has the status of the essential condition for practice and for formation of experience in cyberspace, while at the same time its interactive character offers the user possibilities for forming and controlling it. In other words, this concerns a dialectical condition of practice, whose real potentials and risks depend on the choices we make individually and socially in dealing with it.

In this perspective, the aesthetics of the interface is of primary interest, in that the aesthetic shaping of this condition of practice largely conditions the processes of perception and experience that arise in dealing with technology, thus also contributing to defining the horizon within which we make our choices. In the sense of the aesthetics of reception (Eco, Iser) the aesthetic shape of the interface will always articulate a specific model recipient whose features have an organizing (but not in a strict sense determining) effect on the actual reception and the kind of aesthetic experience linked to this. An aesthetics of the interface oriented toward the recipient in his/her role as consumer therefore contains perspectives for the potential of virtual space as a democratic public sphere that are entirely different from those offered by one that adresses the critically reasoning citizen.

The subproject builds upon my book Kritisk teori and samtidsanalyse (Critical theory and analysis of contemporary society) from 2001 and will critically discuss the basic theoretical point of view outlined above with regard to other theoretical positions in the area, including in particular postmodern tendencies and system theory. By extension, in dialogue with concrete analyses of interface aesthetics I aim to develop a subtle analytical lens capable of focusing on the positive potentials and risks of the interface and the Internet from the perspective of democratic citizenship.

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Revised 2010.02.17