CfP: Ruins and the Contemporary

Digital Culture & Society, Vol. 10, Issue 1/2025
Edited by: Daniel Vella and Mathias Fuchs

Abstract Deadline: 7 July, 2024

“When its singular asset can no longer be produced, a place can be abandoned. The timber has been cut, the oil has run out; the plantation soil no longer supports crops. The search for assets resumes elsewhere. Thus, simplification for alienation produces ruins, spaces for abandonment for asset production. Global landscapes today are strewn with this kind of ruin.” (Tsing 2015: 6)

This issue of Digital Culture & Society addresses the complex thematic field of ruination and decay in contemporary culture. In our lived environments, our media landscapes, and our social media feeds, we are surrounded by ruination: the ruins of war, ecological disaster, post-industrial decline, austerity, social collapse, and infrastructural decline.

The cultural fascination with ruins is nothing new. Architects, poets and commentators like Rose Macaulay (1953), Christopher Woodward (2002) and Robert Ginsberg (2004) have extensively and critically investigated the significations of ruins in Western culture. Salvatore Settis (1997) unpacks the multivalence of the figure of the ruin when he writes that:

“In their persistent presence, ruins speak to us of the structures they once were, of the people who made them, of those who commanded them to be made, and of those who for a time made use of them. In their evocation of absence, they speak of those who destroyed them or abandoned them or failed to protect them from the irresistible ravages of Time. In their present state, ruins speak of those who have tried to make sense of them, or have been drawn to represent them, or have used them as objects of memorialization.”

It seems, however, that in the contemporary moment, our relation to ruins takes on new shapes, radically different from that which spurred the Grand Tourists to make their pilgrimages to the sites of Classical antiquity. Ruins have long lost the solemn serenity of a memento mori art historian Hartmut Böhme could still write about in 1989, meanwhile, comparing the aestheticization of ruins in Western culture from 1337 to the present with an interest in “Memory – Scripture” (Böhme 1989: 287), with “the City of Rome as a focal point for a longing for ruins” and ruins in the “Posthistoire” (302). In our present moment, ruins do not primarily signify the monumental remainder of a lost Classical golden age to which the cultural elite can lay a claim of affinity, nor do they only anchor melancholy Romantic contemplations of loss and transience. Though the games and subsequent TV adaptations of The Last of Us (2023) and Fallout (2024) imagine the present in ruins (Fraser 2015), such images speak to us in a different register to Hubert Robert’s 1796 painting of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in ruins. Ruins are no longer simply the object of reflection at a safe distance, or a medium of historical awareness. Rather, in the midst of war, irreversible climate change, and massive economic and ecological disasters, ruins are what surround us. Increasingly, the natural and built environments we inhabit and are familiar with are marked by ruin, and they are present in literature, film, digital games (Vella 2010), and in news feeds saturated with images of the ruins of Ukraine and Gaza.

Living in Ruins. (img. REUTERS)

We find ourselves in a society that cannot be completely convinced of a hope for salvation via either technology or politics, and does not want to accept an apocalyptic end of times. Berlin-based techno club “22 kW of Sound” describes the attitude of their clientele in these words:

“We are living in a world, where parts of reality seem dystopian and a few dystopias are already real. We do not close our eyes – yet we will keep dancing and we need to dance.”

Such a response to William Gibson’s observation that dystopia is not a future possibility but already an unevenly distributed reality invites interrogation. Is this the answer to the problem? Is there a way out apart from dancing? Or have we returned to a seventeenth-century fatalism expressed in the words “[…] non si può guarire, bisogna morire.” (We cannot be cured, we all must die!) (Filippo Neri quoted from Färberböck/Mayer 2023:33).

It is in the spirit of such an interrogation that we invite contributors to consider what to make of the ruin in contemporary culture and society. Robert Ginsberg reminds us that “[t]he poetics of ruin must have room for the politics of ruin” (2004: 144). How do we react to “brand new” ruins as opposed to the ruins from antiquity (Hell/ Schönle 2010) ? How can we cope with geopolitical processes that create abandoned spaces in one place and crowded hubs in other places (Fraser 2016; Springer 2017; Dzenovska 2020)? How shall we respond to the collapse of the infrastructure that we used to take for granted: transport, energy, health services and heating? How does the image of the ruin resist the discourses of technocapitalist positivism and neoliberal promise? What are the skills we need to learn to live among the ruins? Do we have to develop a new kind of “rubble literature” (Buchanan 2007) to be able to talk about what is happening on our planet? How does the materiality of the ruin trouble, or resist, the promise of the digital and its reconfiguration of social reality? Can ruins help us imagine “the world without us” (Weisman 2007), and in doing so, let us glimpse a posthumanist vector out of the Anthropocene (or the Capitalocene)?

The ruin is an inherently polysemous figure that can be approached along many different paths. . For Ginsberg, for example, theorising about ruins can follow any of the following trajectories:

– The Ruin as Matter,

– The Ruin as Form,

– The Ruin as Function,

– The Ruin as Incongruity,

– The Ruin as Site,

– The Ruin as Symbol, and

– The Ruin as Aesthetic Experience. (Ginsberg 2004: vi)

Our approach for this journal issue will encompass ruins in media, architecture and society. We welcome discussions on specific types of ruination – physical, digital and otherwise – and the impact thereof, including considerations of related themes like emptiness and collapse of infrastructure. This issue of Digital Culture & Society pursues the discussions introduced at the “Crumbling Worlds” conference held in January of 2024 at the ifk (International Research Institute for Cultural Studies) in Vienna.

We invite academic papers and art work on the topic of ruination from different directions and with the perspectives of different disciplines: Cultural Studies, Sociology, Media Studies, Critique of Architecture, Literary Studies, Urban Planning, and the Arts.

Paper proposals may relate to, but are not limited to, the following questions concerning ruins in Digital Culture and Society:

– Ruins in digital media

– Digital technologies and the understanding of ruins

– Ruination as the shadow of modernity and extractivist modes of economy

– The cultural semantics of ruins in (pop-)culture

– Material processes of decay of media

– Depopulation, migration, abandonment and the flows ofcapital and power

– The topos of the ruin in literature and the fine arts

– Emptiness

– The ruination of nature

Ruinensehnsucht – the longing for decay

– Ruins and posthumanism

– The ruins of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene

– Destroyed buildings in war zones and media coverage

– What is a digital ruin?


Journal Sections

When submitting an abstract, please state to which of the following issue sections you would like to submit your paper:

  1. Field Research and Case Studies (full paper: 6.000 – 8.000 words)

We invite articles that discuss empirical findings from studies that investigate ruins and ruination in contemporary culture. These studies might be based on empirical investigations or autoethnographic research.

  1. Conceptual/Theoretical Reflection (full paper: 6.000 – 8.000 words)

We encourage contributions that reflect on the conceptual and/or theoretical dimension of destruction, decay and ruination, and discuss how shifting boundaries between apocalyptic scenarios and a continuation of life as usual can be defined, described, and differentiated.

  1. Entering the Field (2.000 – 3.000 words; experimental formats welcome)

This experimental section presents initial and ongoing empirical work in digital media studies. The editors have created this section to provide a platform for researchers who would like to initiate a discussion concerning their emerging (yet perhaps incomplete) research material and plans as well as methodological insights.


Deadlines and contact information

Expressions of interest/Initial abstracts (max. 300 words) and short biographical note (max. 100 words) are due on: 7 July, 2024.

Authors will be notified by 21 July, 2024, whether they are invited to submit a full paper.

Submission of full papers: 10 November, 2024.

Final versions with the amendments suggested by reviewers are due: 31 January, 2025.

Please send your abstract and short biographical note to Mathias Fuchs and Daniel Vella <>.

Based on the abstracts, the journal editors will pre-select authors that will be invited to submit a full paper. All full papers will be peer reviewed.

Publisher and Open Access

DCS is published by transcript. All articles will be published as open access on our website 12 months after the initial publication. Previous issues are available here:

Selected References

Backe, H.-J./Aarseth, E. (2013) “Ludic Zombies: An Examination of Zombieism in Games”, in: Proceedings of DiGRA 2013: DeFragging Game Studies.

Böhme, H. (1989) “Die Ästhetik der Ruinen”, in: Der Schein des Schönen, eds. Dietmar Kamper & Christoph Wulf. Göttingen, pp. 287-304.

Buchanan, Kurt (2007) Rethinking Trümmerliteratur. The Aesthetics of Destruction Ruins. Brigham Young.

Dzenovska, Dace (2020) “Emptiness. Capitalism without people in the Latvian countryside”, in: ae. Journal of the American Ethnological Society.

Färberböck, P./Mayer, A. (2023) “An (idea)historical approach to Plague Games and death in the streets”, in: The Middle Ages in Modern Games, 2023 Conference Proceedings Vol. 4

Fraser, E. (2015) “Awakening in ruins: the virtual spectacle of the end of the city in video games”, at: Marx at the Movies, UCLAN, July 1-2, 2015.

Fraser, E. (2016) Tracking the Process of Abandonment: Victoria Lucas’ Decaying Urban Spaces. The Double Negative, 7/6/2016.

Freud, S. (1975) “Jenseits des Lustprinzips”, in: Sigmund Freud Studienausgabe, eds. Alexander Mitscherlich et al., Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, Vol. 3.

Fuchs, M. (2017) Longing for Decay in Computer Games: “Ruinensehnsucht” In: Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association 3(2):37-56 (2017) DOI: 10.26503/todigra.v3i2.68

Ginsberg, R. (2004) The Aesthetics of Ruins. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi.

Hell, J/ Schönle A.  (eds.) (2010) Ruins of Modernity. Duke University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2008) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press.

Krzywinska, T. (2008) “Zombies in gamespace: form, context, and meaning in zombie-based videogames”, in: McIntosh, S. and Leverette, M. (eds.). Zombie culture. Autopsies of the living dead. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2008, pp. 153–168.

Macaulay, Dame R. (1953) Pleasure of Ruins. Walker And Company.

Macho, T. et al. (2019) Wer hat hier gelebt? Augenreise zu verlassenen Orten. Brandstätter Verlag

Martin, P. (2001) “The Pastoral and the Sublime in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion”, in: Game Studies, International Journal of Computer Games Research, volume 11 issue 3.

Lacan, J. (1991) Subversion des Subjekts und Dialektik des Begehrens im Freudschen Unbewussten (Berlin/ Weinheim: 1991, containing the essay from 1960), pp. 165-204.

Settis, S. (1997) “Introduction,” in Irreversible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, ed. by Michael S. Roth and others, The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, Los Angeles, CA.

Springer, F. (2017) History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town. Bye, S. (trans.), Restless Books.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2015) The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press

Vella, D. (2010) “Virtually in Ruins: The Imagery and Spaces of Ruin in Digital Games”. Masters Dissertation, University of Malta.

Weisman, A. (2007) The World Without Us. Virgin Books.

Woodward, C. (2002) In Ruins. Pantheon.