Necessary Entanglements: Reflections on the Role of a “Materialist Phenomenology” in Researching Deep Mediatization and Datafication


  • Andreas Hepp ZeMKI - Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research, University of Bremen
  • Nick Couldry Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science



Social construction, materiality, entanglement, deep mediatization, data colonialism


This article unpacks the deep engagement of media and communication studies with questions of social construction and the material infrastructures on which media’s role in social construction is based. For that reason, for communication scholars, there is no contradiction between constructivism and realism, and the notion of a materialist phenomenology seems necessary and unproblematic. We take materialist phenomenology further as a concept via the notion of entanglements, drawing on Karen Barad. Then we go on to explore two contemporary debates in media and communication studies which illustrate its broader commitment to understanding the materiality of social construction: first, the broad phenomenon of deep mediatization (Couldry & Hepp, 2016) whereby all aspects of social processes now take mediated forms, and second, the particular process of data colonialism (Couldry & Mejias, 2019) whereby life itself is increasingly the object of colonial appropriation in the form of extracted data.


Adoni, H., & Mane, A. (1984). Media and the Social Construction of Reality. Communication Research, 11(3), 323–340.

Andrejevic, M. (2020). Automated Media. London: Routledge.

Ang, I. (1991). Disperately Seeking the Audience. London/New York, NY: Routledge.

Ansaldo, S. (2022). Mediatization Research and Causality: Toward a Critical Realist Ontology. International Journal of Communication, 16, 4008–4028.

Barad, K. (1996). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Realism and Social Constructivism without Contradiction. In L.H. Nelson & J. Nelson (Eds.), Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science

(pp. 161–194). Dordrecht: Springer.

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the University Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bareis, J., & Katzenbach, C. (2021). Talking AI into Being: The Narratives and Imaginaries of National AI Strategies and Their Performative Politics. Science, Technology & Human Values, 47(5), 855–881.

Berger, P.L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Penguin.

Berker, T., Hartmann, M., Punie, Y., & Ward, K. (Eds.). (2006). Domestication of Media and Technology. London: Open University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and Symbolic Power (G. Raymond, Trans.). Cambridge: Polity. (Original work published 1982).

Brunsdon, C., & Morley, D. (1978). Everyday Television: Nationwide. London: BFI.

Cheney-Lippold, J. (2017). We Are Data. Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Couldry, N. (Ed.). (2000). Inside Culture. Re-Imagining the Method of Cultural Studies. London: Sage.

Couldry, N. (2004). Theorising Media as Practice. Social Semiotics, 14(2), 115–132.

Couldry, N. (2020a). Deep Mediatization: Media Institutions’ Changing Relations to the Social. In L.A. Lievrouw & B.D. Loader (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Digital Media and Communication. New York, NY: Routledge.

Couldry, N. (2020b). Recovering Critique in an Age of Datafication. New Media & Society, 22(7), 1135–1151.

Couldry, N., & Hepp, A. (2016). The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge: Polity.

Couldry, N., & Hepp, A. (2022). Media and the Social Construction of Reality. In D.A. Rohlinger & S. Sobieraj (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Sociology and Digital Media (pp. 27–39). Cambridge: Oxford University Press.

Couldry, N., & Mejías, U.A. (2019a). Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data’s Relation to the Contemporary Subject. Television & New Media, 20(4), 336–349.

Couldry, N., & Mejías, U.A. (2019b). The Costs of Connection. How Data Is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating It for Capitalism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Crawford, K. (2021). The Atlas of AI. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Crawford, K., & Joler, V. (2018). Anatomy of an AI System. The Amazon Echo as an Anatomical Map of Human Labor, Data and Planetary Resources.

Davidson, D. (2001). Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. Cambridge: Oxford University Press.

Dehnert, M., & Mongeau, P.A. (2022). Persuasion in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Theories and Complications of AI-based Persuasion. Human Communication Research, 48(3), 386–403.

Deuze, M. (2012). Media Life. Cambridge: Polity.

Elias, N. (1978). What Is Sociology? London: Hutchinson.

Esposito, E. (2017). Artificial Communication? The Production of Contingency by Algorithms. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 46(4), 249–265.

Flensburg, S., & Lomborg, S. (2021). Datafication Research: Mapping the Field for a Future Agenda. New Media & Society, 25(6), 1451–1469.

Foucault, M. (1970). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Science. New York, NY: Pantheon. (Original work published 1966).

Fürst, S. (2017). Öffentlichkeitsresonanz als Nachrichtenfaktor – Zum Wandel der Nachrichtenselektion. MedienJournal, 37(2), 4–15.

Gehl, R.W., & Bakardjieva, M. (Eds.). (2016). Socialbots and Their Friends: Digital Media and the Automation of Sociality. London: Routledge.

Gerbner, G. (1978). Cultural Indicators: TV Violence Profile No. 9. Journal of Communication, 28(3), 176–207.

Guzman, A.L., & Lewis, S.C. (2020). Artificial Intelligence and Communication: A Human-Machine Communication Research Agenda. New Media & Society, 22(1), 70–86.

Hacking, I. (1999). The Social Construction of What?

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clarke, J., & Roberts, B. (1978). Policing the Crisis. Mugging, the State, and Law and Order. London: Macmillan.

Heidegger, M. (2006). Sein und Zeit (19th ed.). Niemeyer: Tübingen. (Original work published 1927).

Hepp, A. (2010). Researching “Mediatized Worlds”: Non-media-centric Media and Communication Research as a Challenge. In N. Carpentier, I. Tomanic Trivundza, P. Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, E. Sundin, T. Olsson, R. Kilborn, & B. Cammaerts (Eds.), Media and Communication Studies. Interventions and Intersections (pp. 37–48). Tartu: Tartu University Press.

Hepp, A. (2017). Theory and Empirically Based Theory Development. In J. Matthes (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hepp, A. (2020). Deep Mediatization. London: Routledge.

Hepp, A. (2022). Agency, Social Relations and Order: Media Sociology’s Shift into the Digital. Communications. The European Journal of Communication Research, 47(3), 470–493.

Hepp, A., Breiter, A., & Hasebrink, U. (Eds.). (2018). Communicative Figurations: Transforming Communications in Times of Deep Mediatization. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hepp, A., & Loosen, W. (2022). The Interdisciplinarity of HMC: Rethinking Communication, Media and Agency. In A.L. Guzman, R. McEwen, & S. Jones (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Human-Machine Communication. London: Sage.

Hepp, A., Loosen, W., Dreyer, S., Jarke, J., Kannengießer, S., Katzenbach, C., & Schulz, W. (2022). Von der Mensch-Maschine-Interaktion zur kommunikativen KI. Automatisierung von Kommunikation als Gegenstand der Kommunikations- und Medienforschung. Publizistik, 67(4), 449–474.

Hepp, A., Loosen, W., Hasebrink, U., & Reichertz, J. (2017). Konstruktivismus in der Kommunikationswissenschaft. Über die Notwendigkeit einer (erneuten) Debatte. Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 65(2), 181–206.

Hooper, L., Livingstone, S., & Pothong, K. (2022). Problems with Data Governance in UK Schools: The Cases of Google Classroom and ClassDojo. Digital Futures Commission, 5Rights Foundation.

Jarke, J., & Breiter, A. (2019). The Datafication of Education. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(1), 1–6.

Kelle, U. (2019). The Status of Theories and Models in Grounded Theory. In A. Bryant & K. Charmaz (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Current Developments in Grounded Theory (pp. 68–88). London: Sage.

Keller, R., Knoblauch, H., & Reichertz, J. (Eds.). (2013). Kommunikativer Konstruktivismus. Theoretische und empirische Konturen eines neuen wissenssoziologischen Ansatzes. Wiesbaden: VS.

Keppler, A. (1994). Wirklicher als die Wirklichkeit? Das neue Realitätsprinzip der Fernsehunterhaltung. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.

Kneer, G. (2009). Jenseits von Realismus und Antirealismus. Eine Verteidigung des Sozialkonstruktivismus gegenüber seinen postkonstruktivistischen Kritikern/Beyond Realism and Anti-Realism: A Defense of Social Constructivism Against Its Post-Constructivist Critics. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 38(1), 5–25.

Knoblauch, H. (2013). Communicative Constructivism and Mediatization. Communication Theory, 23(3), 297–315.

Knoblauch, H. (2020). The Communicative Construction of Reality. London: Routledge.

Latour, B. (1991). Technology Is Society Made Durable. In J. Law (Ed.), A Sociology of Monsters. Essays on Power, Technology and Domination (pp. 103–131). London: Routledge.

Livingstone, S.M. (2007). On the Material and the Symbolic: Silverstone’s Double Articulation of Research Traditions in Media Studies. New Media & Society, 9(1), 16–24.

Luhmann, N. (1997). Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Malm, A. (2020). The Progress of This Storm. Nature and Society in a Warming World. London: Verso.

Mansell, R., & Silverstone, R. (Eds.). (1998). Communication by Design: The Politics of Information and Communication Technologies. Milton Keynes: Oxford University Press.

Mascheroni, G., & Siibak, A. (2022). Datafied Childhoods. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Merten, K., Schmidt, S.J., & Weischenberg, S. (Eds.). (1994). Die Wirklichkeit der Medien. Eine Einführung in die Kommunikationswissenschaft. Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Morley, D. (2009). For a Materialist, Non-media-centric Media Studies. Television & New Media, 10(1), 114–116.

Muhle, F. (2022). Socialbots at the Gates. Plädoyer für eine holistische Perspektive auf automatisierte Akteure in der Umwelt des Journalismus. Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft, 70(1-2), 40–59.

Natale, S. (2021). Deceitful Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1980). The Model of the Text. In P. Ricoeur & J.B. Thompson (Eds.), Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences (pp. 197–221). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rorty, R. (1998). Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rosa, H., Lessenich, S., & Dörre, K. (2015). Sociology, Capitalism, Critique. London: Verso.

Ryle, G. (1949). The Concept of Mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Schäfer, M.S., & Wessler, H. (2020). Öffentliche Kommunikation in Zeiten künstlicher Intelligenz. Publizistik, 65(3), 307–331.

Schäfer, M.T., & van Es, K. (Eds.). (2017). The Datafied Society. Studying Culture through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Scholl, A. (2012). Between Realism and Constructivism? Luhmann’s Ambivalent Epistemological Standpoint. Constructivist Foundations, 8(1), 5–12.

Scott, S.V., & Orlikowski, W.J. (2014). Entanglements in Practice: Performing Anonymity through Social Media. MIS Quarterly, 38(3), 873–893.

Silverstone, R. (1994). Television and Everyday Life. London/New York, NY: Routledge.

Silverstone, R. (2005). The Sociology of Mediation and Communication. In C. Calhoun, C. Rojek, & B. Turner (Eds.), Sage Handbook of Sociology (pp. 188–207). London: Sage.

Stenbom, A., Wiggberg, M., & Norlund, T. (2021). Exploring Communicative AI: Reflections from a Swedish Newsroom. Digital Journalism.

van Dijck, J. (2014). Datafication, Dataism and Dataveillance: Big Data between Scientific Paradigm and Ideology. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), 197–208.

Weber, M. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York, NY: Free Press.

Williams, B. (2006). Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline. In A.W. Moore (Ed.), Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline (pp. 180–199). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Williams, R. (1980). Problems in Materialism and Culture. London: Verso.

Williams, R. (1990). Television: Technology and Cultural Form. London/New York, NY: Routledge.

Williamson, B. (2017). Big Data in Education. London: Sage.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.

Zuboff, S. (1988). In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Zuboff, S. (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for the Future at the New Frontier of Power. London: Profile.




How to Cite

Hepp, A., & Couldry, N. (2023). Necessary Entanglements: Reflections on the Role of a “Materialist Phenomenology” in Researching Deep Mediatization and Datafication. Sociologica, 17(1), 137–153.