The meaning of friction is twofold in that the term refers to friction in social relations, regarding conflict and crises, social movements and activism, or the social tensions of globalisation and mobilisation. The term also refers to frictions generated by material and symbolic parts, such as storytelling and friction fiction in drama, documentary, and transmedia, or data frictions associated with cloud storage and AI technologies within digital society.

When it comes to friction in social relations, it can be a necessary part of social interaction and organisation. In this context, the term mostly conjures negative associations, the parts of communications that fail, or do not align. However, as friction also enables two objects to remain in close contact, there is more to be said about the exchange of energy that it describes. In thinking about queer activist organisation and collaboration since the AIDS crisis and onwards, Sarah Schulman (2016) reminds us that ‘conflict is not abuse’. In fact, she argues that successful mobilisation requires that conflicting positions and groups remain connected in order to facilitate collaboration.

Similar to Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2005), we argue for the study of productive friction. In research on global capitalism and the Indonesian forest, Tsing applies an anthropological perspective on ‘the messy and surprising features’ of ‘encounters across difference’ which can inform our understanding of the global and the local, of ‘unexpected and unstable aspects of global interaction’ (2005: 3). For Tsing, cultural encounters are contingent and generate friction: ‘the awkward, unequal, unstable and creative qualities of interconnection across difference’ (2005: 6).

Such a focus on friction as interconnection across difference can be extended to media and communications, as questions of agency, of instability and contingency, are paramount to research on our encounters with cultural artefacts, formation of communication networks, and the spread of global data systems and digital technologies. For example, Vonderau (2019) identifies key dynamics of friction in the social and environmental impact of data centres in the norther territory of Sweden. The materialities of cloud data storage, or social media channels proves to be a source of tension (Reading and Notley 2015), and research into data storage and energy costs, toxic waste and unethical practices can be a productive friction that challenges the myth of cloud computing or spreadable social media with messy material realities.

As Tim Cresswell suggests social friction is an ‘arrangement of power’ (2013: 108) that ‘holds things in place and [...] is caused by the things, people, ideas, slipping against each other.’ Friction can create either static or kinetic relations between bodies and surfaces, which in the social world may propel us to ask about the continuities between domination, cooperation, and conflict. We wish to examine arrangements of media power through current research in the field of media and communications, global studies and cultural geography: such research recognises frictions and differential power and resources across the global north and south. A focus on friction unsettles normative assumptions about digital media and citizens and publics (Lehuedé 2022). We take inspiration from David Morley’s new research on the frictions inherent in the constitution of technonorms, exploring new developments in the study of media ensembles and assemblages rather than individual technologies, including older legacy media such as public service media and new digital technologies, such as AI (Morley forthcoming 2024).

In the current climate of disinformation and polarization, citizens are grappling with the epistemic friction of information and knowledge which is highly contingent on political economic and media contexts. In their theoretical development of media engagement, Dahlgren and Hill (2023) argue for the contingencies of engagement, recognizing that citizens engage with different forms of public knowledge, such as news, in multiple ways, from watching television news with family to scrolling news feeds on social media, or verifying truth claims in news with various modes of engagement (cognitive and emotional). News frictions generate negative consequences for trust in reliable information and engagement with facts rather than fake news.

However, as a counter to this more negative perception of friction in public knowledge, there is an established area of research in art, film, photography and moving image, and radio and podcasting that explores the creativity of friction in storytelling, editing, or characterization. Just as Morley notes the development of media assemblages, so too complex storytelling and transmedia worlds in gaming and film franchises also go beyond specific geographical or generic borders to examine transmedia frictions across assemblages of older and newer forms of storytelling, for example podcasts that employ radio drama narration and social media storytelling (Kinder and McPherson 2021).

In sum, this international symposium allows for a range of global scholars in several disciplines, from media and communication, film and cultural studies, to sociology, anthropology and cultural geography, and digital technology research, to critically examine the dynamics of friction, providing an original perspective on media frictions and a new understanding of the positive and negative impact of friction in media and society.


Creswell, T. (2015) Place: an Introduction (second edition). London: Wiley Blackwell.

Dahlgren, P and Hill, A. (2023) Media Engagement. London: Routledge.

Kinder, M., & McPherson, T. (eds). (2021). Transmedia frictions: The digital, the arts, and the humanities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lehuedé, S. (2022). When friction becomes the norm: Antagonism, discourse and planetary data turbulence, New Media & Society, pp. 1-16.

Morley, D. (forthcoming 2024) ‘Constituting the Technonormal’ In The Routledge Companion to Media Audiences, editors A Hill and P Lunt. London: Routledge.

Reading, A., & Notley, T. (2015). The materiality of globital memory: bringing the cloud to earth, Continuum, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 511–521.

Schulman, S. (2016) Conflict is not Abuse. Vancouver; Arsenal Pulp Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Vonderau, A. (2019). Scaling the Cloud: Making State and Infrastructure in Sweden, Ethnos, vol. 84, no. 4, pp. 698–718.