Boiler Room Partying: Interpassivity and Interactive Communication

About half a year ago, I wrote in SK: UNCUT about the enigmatic conception of interpassivity. Interpassivity is a theoretical term developed by cultural philosophers Robert Pfaller and Slavoj Žižek in the 1990’s with regard to artworks and diverse cultural phenomena –  a term with a very specific psychoanalytical underpinning. I observed that since the beginnings, reflection on interpassivity slowly developed and influenced the fields of social philosophy, pushed for example by the research group of Gijs van Oenen at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, and also by other social scientists. But although the idea of interpassivity – which was developed as a counter concept against interactivity – has some relevance for communication science, the concept is far from established in the field up to now.

What relevance, you may ask? Just one example. I recently stumbled across this weblog with a short analysis of the so-called “boiler room parties” in terms of interpassivity. Boiler room parties are a phenomenon on the web that recently gained remarkable attention – with several thousand visitors at each boiler room TV event. The idea of boiler room parties and boiler room TV is to broadcast parties organized at secret places as an exclusive event to a larger web audience. But what’s the purpose of showing these parties to a growing public? It is for sure that the broadcast doesn’t aim at inviting more people to the club. The parties will remain secret and exclusive events for a small group actively enjoying the clubbing. However, one can argue that boiler room events represent an opportunity for thousands of visitors to delegate their enjoyment by watching others enjoying in their place. That’s a very specific pleasure and a variation of what Pfaller and Žižek call interpassivity…

boiler room

Once one starts to look, one can find quite some reflections about cases of seemingly “interpassive communication” on the web. What is still lacking is some profound theoretical discussion of interpassivity – especially in contrast to the concept of interactivity that seems so well established. So guess what? I am currently starting a research project about this topic. The project is related to the research group NEMO – New Media, Modern Democracy at Lund University / Campus Helsingborg and is financially supported by the German Fritz Thyssen Foundation with a scholarship. My ambition is to reflect on implications of the cultural theory of interpassivity as established by Robert Pfaller, Slavoj Žižek and Gijs van Oenen with regard to the concept of interactive communication. Master Thesis anyone?

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