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Department of Media and Communications

Dr. Sarah Kember

Position held:
Professor of New Technologies of Communications

+44 (0)20 7919 7629

+44 (0)20 7919 7616

s.kember (@gold.ac.uk)

Sarah Kember convenes MA Digital Media and teaches the option course After New Media and the core course for the MA Digital Media - Digital Media. Critical Perspectives

Sarah Kember’s research focuses on digital media, questions of mediation and feminist science and technology studies. She is currently investigating the possibilities of life after new media (studies), and has engaged in debates on artificial life and other aspects of the convergence between biology and computer science. She also works on imaging technologies and the relationship between photography and the digital and is developing an innovative approach to the question of remediation and the ‘fusion’ of science and literary fiction.

Areas of supervision

Sarah has seen many PhD students through to the successful completion of their dissertations. Previous students include: Andre Favilla (digital photography and genetics); Sen Yin Li (representations of GM food in the press); Jonas Andersson (p2p file sharing); Eleanor Dare (intelligent/intra-active books) and Gavin Mackie (artificial life and evolutionary computer games). Current students include: Gabriela Mendez Cota (biotechnology and Mexican nationalism); Paolo Ruffino (independent video games); Ben Craggs (tissue culture and the re-materialisation of life); Natalie Dixon (affect and mobile phones); Phaedra Shanbaum (the digital interface in new media art) and Adam Bales (vernacular photography).


Research interests

Sarah Kember is a writer and academic. Her work incorporates new media, photography and feminist cultural approaches to science and technology. Publications include a novel and a short story The Optical Effects of Lightning (Wild Wolf Publishing, 2011) and ‘The Mysterious Case of Mr Charles D. Levy’ (Ether Books, 2010). Experimental work includes an edited open access electronic book entitled Astrobiology and the Search for Life on Mars (Open Humanities Press, 2011) and ‘Media, Mars and Metamorphosis’ (Culture Machine, Vol. 11). Her latest monograph, with Joanna Zylinska, is Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process (MIT Press, 2012). She co-edits the journals of photographies and Feminist Theory. Previous publications include: Virtual Anxiety. Photography, New Technologies and Subjectivity (Manchester University Press, 1998); Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life (Routledge, 2003) and the co-edited volume Inventive Life. Towards the New Vitalism (Sage, 2006). Current research includes a funded project on digital publishing and a feminist critique of smart media.

Selected publications

Life After New Media

This co-authored monograph critically examines the current debate on ‘new’ or ‘digital’ media. It makes a case for a significant shift in the way new media is perceived and understood: from thinking about ‘new media’ as a set of discrete objects (the computer, the mobile phone, the iPod, the e-book reader) to understanding media predominantly in terms of processes of mediation.

The argument is threefold:

(1) In an era when being on Facebook or Twitter, having a smart phone or a digicam, and obtaining one’s genetic profile on a CD after being tested for a variety of genetic diseases has become part of many people’s everyday lives, we maintain that there is a need to move beyond the initial fascination with, and fear of, ‘new’ media; and beyond the belief in their alleged ‘newness’, too.

(2) There is also a need to look at the interlocking of technical and biological processes of mediation. Doing so quickly reveals that life itself has become a transient medium, which is subject to the same mechanisms of reproduction, transformation, flattening and patenting that other media forms (CDs, video cassettes, chemically printed photographs, and so on) underwent previously.

(3) If life itself is to be understood as a medium, we need to critically examine the complex and dynamic processes of mediation that are in operation at the biological, social and political levels in the world, while also remaining aware of the limitations of the stand-alone human ‘we’ that can provide such a rational critique.

The aim in Life after New Media is to achieve something other than merely providing an extension or corrective to the current field of ‘new media studies’. Instead of developing an alternative definition or understanding of new media, the authors refocus the new media debate on a set of processes that have so far escaped close analysis by media studies scholars. In other words, with this book we are not so much interested in moving the debate on new media on, but rather in moving on from the debate on new media; and, in doing so, focusing on the concept of mediation. The distinction is of course primarily heuristic, i.e. provisional and tentative, and the purpose of separating mediation from media is to clarify the relation between them. Mediation does not serve as a translational or transparent layer or intermediary between independently existing entities (say, between the producer and consumer of a film or TV programme). It is a complex and hybrid process, which is simultaneously economic, social, cultural, psychological and technical.

The Optical Effects of Lightning

The Optical Effects of Lightning is a high-concept psychological thriller combining gothic traditions with modern science. In this unusual case of a missing
person, a classic tale of vengeance and obsession unfolds. It has the feel of truth, but the resonance of a mad and desperate endeavour. In thrall to the transformative power of lightning, this quest, which comes to us in the form of a meticulously ordered case file, questions the divide between magic and reason, monstrosity and humanity.

When Matt discovers the disappearance of his lover Suhail, he realizes Suhail has gone in search of his brother Saeed. Suhail blames himself for a horrific childhood accident in which Saeed's face was disfigured during a lightning storm. He comes to believe that just as lightning separated them when they were young, so it can join them again, bringing them back together as one being – fused, reprogrammed and restarted. While Matt urges the police to find him, Suhail seeks a reunion with his brother that may redeem – or condemn him.

‘Sarah Kember has written a gothic tale for the 21st century in this intense fusion of vitalism, science, and sibling emotion… a very ambitious and thought-provoking book!’ (Sue Thomas, author of ‘Correspondence’ and ‘Hello World: travels in virtuality)

Available from amazon.co.uk, wildwolfpublishing.com

Astrobiology and the Search For Life on Mars

This is an open access electronic book and part of a series entitled ‘Living Books about Life’. The aim of the series is to engage with the cultural aspects of new developments in science and technology and this volume explores the field of Astrobiology from a critical theoretical and fictional perspective, linking it to the historical and contemporary aspects of the search for life on Mars. The key features of the book are that it includes all of Percival Lowell’s writing on Mars in addition to the full text of H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds.

It reviews the Viking experiments of the 1970s and includes an article written exclusively for this volume by one of the experimenters, Gilbert Levin who reviews and updates the findings of the labeled release experiment, claiming that he did discover life on Mars 40 years ago.

The introduction connects Lowell’s claim that intelligent Martian life must be responsible for the presence of canals on Mars with Levin’s claim to have discovered microbial life on Mars with another more recent claim by a character named Lou. Lou’s more recent experiment, subsequent to the discovery of liquid water, is that Mars is host to an organism resembling green sulphur bacteria.


Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life (Routledge, 2003) examines the construction, manipulation, and re-definition of life in contemporary technoscientific culture. The book takes a critical political view of the concept of life as information and traces it through the new biology and the discourse of genomics, as well as through the changing discipline of Artificial Life, and its manifestation in art, language, literature, commerce and entertainment.

From cloning to computer games, and incorporating an analysis of hardware, software and ‘wetware’, Sarah Kember extends current understanding by demonstrating the ways in which this relatively marginal field connects with, and connects up global networks of information and communication systems.

Inventive Life. Towards the New Vitalism (with Mariam Fraser and Celia Lury) (Sage, 2006) demonstrates how and why vitalism – the idea that life cannot be explained by the principles of mechanism – matters now. Vitalism resists closure and reductionism in the life sciences, whilst simultaneously addressing the object of life itself.

The aim of this collection is to consider the questions that vitalism makes it possible to ask: questions about the role and status of life across the sciences, social sciences and humanities and questions about contingency, indeterminacy, relationality and change.

All of these questions have special importance now, as the concepts of complexity, artificial life and artificial intelligence, information theory and cybernetics become increasingly significant in more and more fields of activity.
photographies a new journal edited with David Bate, Martin Lister and Liz Wells.  Photographies seeks to construct a new agenda for theorising photography as a heterogeneous medium that is changing in an ever more dynamic relation to all aspects of contemporary culture.

The journal aims to further develop the history and theory of photography, considering new frameworks for thinking and addressing questions arising from the present context of technological, economic, political and cultural change.

We investigate the contemporary condition and currency of the photographic within local and global contexts. The editors seek research papers and innovative visual essays, shorter papers engaging new debates, review essays, cultural events, key developments, exhibitions and conferences.

‘Creative Evolution? The quest for life (on Mars)’, Culture Machine, 2006

‘Cyberlife’s Creatures’, in David Bell and Barbara M. Kennedy (eds) The Cybercultures Reader. Second edition, Routledge 2007

'The Virtual Life of Photography', photographies Vol 1, Issue 2, December 2008 (this article is free to download from the photographies website, and is also available - with a question mark added - on itunes under Photographic Mediation)

'Creative Media: performance, invention, critique' (with Joanna Zylinska) in M. Chatzichristodoulou, J. Jefferies and R. Zerihan (eds) Interfaces of Performance, Ashgate 2009

'Media, Mars and Metamorphosis', Culture Machine Vol 11, 2010

‘Face Re-Cognition’, Photoworks. Contested Evidence, Autumn/Winter November-April, 2011: ISSN: 9-781903-796344, pp50-55 ‘No Humans Allowed? The alien in/as feminist theory’, Feminist Theory 12 (2) 2011, ISSN: 1464-7001, pp183-201 (refereed)

‘Ambient Intelligent Photography’ in Martin Lister (ed) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture, second edition, Routledge, 2013


Content last modified: 11 Feb 2014

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