Lev Manovich – Cultural Analytics


The MIT Press, ISBN-13: 978-9083065502, English, 336 pages, 2020, USA

The eagerly awaited new Manovich book is built around an idea he started to publicly formulate in the second half of the 2000s: to use “computers to automatically analyze cultural artefacts in visual media, extracting large numbers of features that characterize their structure and content”. As we are now part of an endless stream of diverse media, with major companies already using unreachable computational power to analyse and extract tons of potentially sensible data from these, data analysis can potentially be a counter tool to reveal underlying patterns of cultural artefacts. Manovich, who co-founded the Cultural Analytics Lab, leading a number of projects detailed in this book, touches on a soft spot in digital culture, exploring how cultural researchers might supersede the alleged and automatic ‘thinking’ results of industrial AI tools. In this scenario, the increasing ‘quantification of culture’ poses a serious problem of scale, pushing institutions to embrace big data as an unavoidable asset. The author is quite affirmative through almost self-sufficient chapters, asking that we consider cultural analytics as an instrument “to question all categorical boundaries” and to extend and enhance the classic humanities methods of research. In this sense it presents as a primary (re)starting point for digital media theory.