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Reading: “Managing Miracles”: Governmentality, avant-garde art, and ‘the TV problem’


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“Managing Miracles”: Governmentality, avant-garde art, and ‘the TV problem’


Christian Sancto

About Christian


Christian Sancto is a research master candidate in the Department of Media and Culture at Utrecht University. His principal research approach is to look at how social and political problematics are articulated in contemporary art practices, primarily through using (and occasionally abusing) theoretical perspectives proffered by continental philosophy. His current thesis project directs Henri Bergson's philosophical formulations of duration and attention towards an analysis of the politics of perception in the work of Belgian artist Francis Alys. 

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This paper examines how workshops for artistic experiments in television production during the late 1960s in the United States opened a space for experimental art practices. This space was contoured by, on the one hand, established avant-garde aesthetic preoccupations with medium specificity, and on the other, governmental concerns with directing television programming toward, as President Johnson put it, “the great and not the trivial purposes”—that is, for the general intellectual uplift of the national population. Two of Michel Foucault’s notions—themselves interrelated—will shape my analysis: governmentality and problematisation. The incitement to experiment that these workshops affected, I argue, was forged by a complex of the medium-specificity orientation of avant-garde art; discursive movements towards problematising television that characterised it as an intellectual and cultural vacuum; and governmental concerns aiming to act on the latter diagnosis by a general project of mass edification through television. An analysis of three artists’ contributions to WGBH’s 1969 broadcast The Medium is the Medium will highlight the aesthetic and political tensions played out in this process: rather than being complicit elaborations of a governmental ideology taken to be hegemonic, that ideology will be taken as one discursive force among others in the artists’ negotiation of television as a technology to be experimented with 

How to Cite: Sancto, C., 2017. “Managing Miracles”: Governmentality, avant-garde art, and ‘the TV problem’. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 2(1), pp.65–76. DOI:
Published on 01 Mar 2017.
Peer Reviewed


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