Simulation and Social Theory


Sean Cubitt

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  • Theory, Culture & Society

    Theory, Culture and Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It also publishes theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

    EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, Nottingham Trent University


    Roy Boyne, University of Durham

    Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen

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    This book percolated through more than a decade of talking, reading and teaching, and is gratefully dedicated to all those students who hopefully don't need it any more. I owe thanks to all my colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University, but especially Adrian Mellor, whose generosity of heart, infectious enthusiasm and dedication to clarity I have aspired to for years. Particular help with the book, with longer-running discussions and general intellectual first aid came from John Armitage, Warren Buckland, John Caughie, David Connearn, Dimitris Eleftheriotis, Alison McMahan, Maggie Morse, Lydia Papadimitriou, Daniel Reeves, Alison Ripley, Zia Sardar, Vivian Sobchack, Yvonne Spielman and Patti Zimmerman. Chris Rojek and Jackie Griffin at Sage have been a wonderful editorial team. Thanks also to Justin Dyer for judicious copy-editing. None of what follows can be blamed on any of the above.

    Part of Chapter 4.iii appeared in a different guise as ‘Orbis Tertius’, in Third Text, no. 47, Summer 1999, 3–10. An earlier draft of parts of Chapter 3.iii appeared as ‘Paul Virilio and New Media’ in Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 16 no. 5, special issue on Virilio, October 1999, 127–42. My grateful thanks to the publishers for allowing me to rework them here.


    For Adrian Mellor

    and all our students

  • Annotated Bibliography of Further Reading

    Generations of working-class people have struggled with and been enlightened by the first chapter of Marx's Capital on ‘The Commodity’: the best translation is (1976), Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, trans. Rodney Livingstone, NLB/Penguin, London. Otherwise, still the best introduction to Marx's thought is The Communist Manifesto: I use the translation in Karl Marx (1974), The Revolutions of 1848: Political Writings Vol. 1, ed. David Fernbach, NLB/Viking, New York, 62–98, although there is an excellent new centennial edition available from Verso. I'm not aware of any beginner's guides to Bataille: the introduction to Botting and Wilson's (1997) The Bataille Reader, Blackwell, Oxford, is a good starting point.

    Despite the number of excellent introductory texts in semiotics, by and large it is worth reading the originals. Ferdinand de Saussure's (1974) Course in General Linguistics, rev. edn, trans. Wade Baskin, Fontana, London, is still a classic, as are Roland Barthes's (1972) Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, Noonday, New York, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’ (1966) The Savage Mind, no translator credit, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, both of them masters of prose style. Of particular interest to this study is the more technical Umberto Eco (1979), A Theory of Semiotics, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

    Like many German-language thinkers, Freud provided his own introduction in the form of the (1966) Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, and the (1965) New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, both trans. James Strachey, Norton, New York. To get a flavour of his thinking in action, read the third section of The Interpretation of Dreams (1996), trans. James Strachey, Pelican Freud Library, Harmondsworth. Lacan's notorious obscurantism is slightly less apparent in his seminars, which are now beginning to be translated, than in his Écrits: one of the best short accounts of his work is in Chapter 3 of Robert Lapsley and Michael Westlake (1988), Film Theory: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

    The author's notes on ‘Semiotics for Beginners’ and ‘A Young Person's Guide to the Psyche’ can be found at the website associated with this book (

    A masterpiece of condensation and clarity, Armand and Michèle Mattelart's (1998) Theories of Communication: A Short Introduction, trans. Susan Gruenheck Taponier and James A. Cohen, Sage, London, is the best overview of the field for busy students. The history of technology has become a major field of research over recent years. Early classics include Lewis Mumford (1934), Technics and Civilization, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, and Siegfried Giedion (1948), Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History, Norton, New York. Among responses to Innis and McLuhan's technological determinism, see especially Merritt Roe Smith and Leo Marx (eds) (1994), Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Two influential recent accounts can be found in Bruce Mazlish (1993), The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines, Yale University Press, New Haven CT, and Don Ihde (1990), Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth, Indiana University Press, Bloomington. A more materialist account of technological development can be found in G.A. Cohen (1978), Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, Princeton University Press, Princeton, which analyses the contradiction between the means (i.e. technology) and the mode (e.g. capitalism) of production, and Andrew Feenberg (1991), Critical Theory of Technology, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Especially relevant to communication theory is Brian Winston's admirable survey of the economic, political and social constraints on the introduction of new media technologies in his (1998) Media, Technology and Society, A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet, Routledge, London.

    There are a number of good, readable introductions to aspects of information theory. Jeremy Campbell (1982), Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language and Life, Simon and Schuster, New York, is still an excellent overview. Howard Gardner's (1987) The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution, rev. edn, HarperCollins, New York, and Philip Johnson-Laird's (1993) The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science, 2nd edn, Fontana, London, are both excellent introductions to contemporary psychology and its links to artificial intelligence, computing and linguistics. The best one-volume introductions to linguistics and modern genetics are respectively the extremely readable Steven Pinker (1994), The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind, Penguin, Harmondsworth, and Steve Jones (1994), The Language of the Genes, rev. edn, Flamingo, London. More controversial in their fields are the writings of Richard Dawkins, notably The Selfish Gene, 2nd edn (1989), Oxford University Press, Oxford, and River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1996), Basic Books, New York, in genetics, and Daniel C. Dennett (1991), Consciousness Explained, Harmondsworth, Penguin, and (1996), Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness, Basic Books, New York, in psychology.

    The best introductions to the work of the Frankfurt School are those by David Held (1980), Introduction to Critical Theory: Horkheimer to Habermas, University of California Press, Berkeley, and Martin Jay (1973), The Dialectical Imagination, Little, Brown, Boston. Among the many introductions to postmodernism, the most lucid are Steven Best and Douglas Kellner (1991), Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations (Critical Perspectives), Guilford Press, New York; Steven Connor (1997), Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary, 2nd edn, Blackwell, Oxford; David Harvey (1990), The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Blackwell, Oxford; Angela MacRobbie (1994), Postmodernism and Popular Culture, Routledge, London; and Madan Sarup (1993), An Introductory Guide to Post-structuralism and Postmodernism, University of Georgia Press, Athens. The two most commonly cited among the primary texts are Jean-François Lyotard (1984), The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Manchester University Press, Manchester, and Fredric Jameson (1991), Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, London. Scott Lash (1990), Sociology of Postmodernism, Routledge, London, is a more complex and demanding but inspiring account of the interplay between German, French and Anglo-Saxon traditions in the exploration of contemporary society.

    Guy Debord and the situationists have attracted a good deal of interest. One extremely relevant study is by Sadie Plant, who is also one of the leading lights of cyberfeminism. Her book The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age, was published by Routledge, London, in 1992. The whole text of The Society of the Spectacle can be accessed at, where you will also find further writings by and about Debord and extensive links.

    There is now a substantial literature on Baudrillard. Those I have found most useful are Mike Gane's two books, both from 1991 and both from Routledge, London: Baudrillard: Critical and Fatal Theory and Baudrillard's Bestiary: Baudrillard and Culture; Garry Genosko's (1994) Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze, Routledge, London; Douglas Kellner's (1989) Jean Baudrillard: From Marxism to Postmodernism and Beyond, Polity, Cambridge, and his (1994) anthology, Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Blackwell, Oxford; and Nicholas Zurbrugg (ed.) (1997), Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact, Sage, London. There is a well-maintained site devoted to Baudrillard on the Web (

    Paul Virilio has attracted less interest in the English-speaking world, but there is an excellent special issue of the online journal Speed devoted to his work at The journal Theory, Culture & Society (vol. 16, nos 5–6, October-December 1999) is a special issue on Virilio edited by John Armstrong, whose collection of critical esays on Virilio, Paul Virilio: From Modernism to Hypermodernism and Beyond, and anthology of interviews with him, Virilio Live!, were both both published by Sage, London, in 2000. It's worth noting that some early translations of Virilio are not entirely accurate: my favourite example comes in a citation of Euler's famous mathematical problem of ‘the seven points of the City of Konigsberg’ (1991b), which should read as the seven bridges (ponts), not points.

    Most of the critical writing on Umberto Eco clusters around either the novels or the technical writings on semiotics. However, Professor Eco does maintain a comprehensive website (in Italian) at, and there are excellent sites devoted to his work at Porta Ludovico,, and at The Umberto Eco Page,

    Alternative views to those posed in this chapter can be found eloquently argued in the pages of Armand Mattelart (1996), The Invention of Communication, trans. Susan Emanuel, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; Christopher Norris (1990), What's Wrong with Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hemel Hempstead; and Roy Bhaskar (1986), Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation, Verso, London. Hal Foster's (1996) The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, is an excellent account of the vicissitudes of the real in contemporary art. The hermeneutic tradition on which both Rorty and Vattimo draw and which forms the backdrop to the concept of mediation advanced here owes a lot to the philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. For introductory texts, try A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. Mario J. Valdés, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hemel Hempstead (1991) and Gadamer's (1981) Reason in the Age of Science, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, or his (1986) The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays, trans. Nicholas Walker, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

    Most of the more important work on Disney World is cited in the chapter. For animation studies, see Norman M. Klein, (1993), 7 Minutes: The Life and Death of the American Animated Cartoon, Verso, London, and Eric Smoodin (1993), Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartons from the Sound Era, Roundhouse, Oxford. While I was preparing this manuscript, a call for papers for the first conference devoted to Disney Studies was circulating: no doubt there will be more publications on its heels. Mark Dery's (1999) The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink, Grove Press, New York, gives a frighteningly vivid journalistic account of the hyperrealisation of leisure in the USA.

    There were a number of important analyses of military technologies predating the Persian Gulf conflict, notably Jeffrey T. Richelson's (1989) America's Secret Eyes in Space: The US Keyhole Spy Satellite Program, Harper and Row, New York, on satellite surveillance, and H. Franklin Bruce's (1988) War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, Oxford University Press, Oxford, which deals with both technologies and the fictions that surround them. Manuel de Landa's (1991) War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Swerve Editions/Zone Books, New York, was in press when the war began. Nonetheless it is an extraordinarily well-researched and persuasive argument that has an importanty bearing on simulation theory's analysis of warfare. Other than the essays cited in the chapter, two important books came out in the following year: Douglas Kellner, who has published extensively on Baudrillard and postmodernity, brought out (1992) The Persian Gulf TV War, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, and the same firm also published an important anthology edited by Hamid Mowlana, George Gerbner and Hebert I. Schiller (1992), Triumph of the Image: The Media's War in the Persian Gulf – A Global Perspective. On more recent conflicts, especially in Mexico, South East Asia and the former Yugoslavia, it is worth visiting the archives of the nettime discussion network at

    There has been an explosion of publishing about computers, the digital industries and cyberculture. The single most authoritative account, theoretically informed but even more shaped by a massive research project into the facts and figures, is Manuel Castells’ three-volume The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (Blackwell, Oxford) comprising The Rise of the Network Society (1996), The Power of Identity (1997) and End of Millennium (1998). Also important are Dan Schiller (1999), Digital Capitalism: Networking the Global Marketing System, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA; David Morley and Kevin Robins (1995), Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes and Cultural Boundaries, Routledge, London; and Stanley Aronowitz, Barbara Martinsons and Michael Menser (eds) (1996), Technoscience and Cyberculture, Routledge, London. Sadie Plant, who also wrote on the situationists, is one the more articulate theorists of cyberculture to deploy simulation theory: her (1997) Zeros and Ones:Digital Women +The New Technoculture, 4th Estate, London, is a fascinating book. One of Baudrillard's first translators and the editor of the Selected Writings, Mark Poster, is the author of two important books: The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context, Polity, Cambridge (1990), and The Second Media Age, Polity, Cambridge (1995). My own thinking is influenced by N. Katherine Hayles (1999), How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, and Margaret Morse (1998), Virtualities: Television. Media Art, And Cyberculture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington. For further readings in this field, see


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