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Towards a Theory of Postdigital Parity
In conducting postdigital research, the relationship between the pre-digital and the digital can be perplexing. One way to forge continuity between the two entails formulating a flexible principle of parity or functional equality—what I have elsewhere called ‘postdigitalism’s parity thesis’. According to this seminal formulation, the digital and pre-digital should be treated as relatively equal, except when there is a good reason to prioritize one over the other. However, the principle—at least as it is currently formulated—lacks sufficient theoretical grounding to serve as anything more than a rule-of-thumb for conducting postdigital inquiry. The point of the presentation is to rectify this shortcoming, suggesting one or more theories of postdigital parity. The meta-rationale for this project is to offer a demonstration of how to theoretically ground ancillary concepts in postdigital research. Grounding a concept in a robust theory assists the researcher in operationalizing related variables and variable relations, thereby making them more concrete and measurable. Clarifying this relationship holds the promise of offering a clearer direction to postdigital inquiry. This presentation begins with sketch of postdigitalism’s origins in the work of Nicholas Negroponte, posthumanism and the arts, especially music theory. I then proceed to examine the notion of radical symmetry between humans and non-humans, as articulated by Chris Jones. Also considered is the objection that theory, generally, is useless and, therefore, a theory of postdigital parity is unnecessary. Out of these threads of inquiry and a survey of the recent postdigitalism literature emerges evidence of a parity principle in operation. My guiding assumption is that any working parity principle should be appreciated as an emergent norm or regulative ideal within inquiry, not a standard or rule imposed from without. Next, I consider how a theoretically grounded parity principle could sharpen the focus of postdigital research, especially in regard to the relationship between the digital and the pre-digital. Then, three candidates for a theory of parity are proposed: (1) com-post, (2) cybernetics and (3) transaction. Finally, I consider the possibility that the parity principle operates best in a theoretically pluralistic research program, rather than one with a single overarching theoretical paradigm.