Mark Poster, 1941-2012

November 8, 2012

A scholar who was crucial in bringing French critical theory to the US, and went on to analyse contemporary media, has died.

Mark Poster was born in New York on 5 July 1941, studied at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and completed a PhD in history at New York University in 1968. He then joined the staff of the University of California, Irvine and was to remain there for more than 40 years until his recent retirement, becoming emeritus professor of history and film and media studies, although this included three years as a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.

Despite a long career within a single institution, Professor Poster was notable for the boldness and range of his intellectual interests. He first won fame with a study of Jean-Paul Sartre and his circle, Existential Marxism in Postwar France (1975). The book played an important role in promoting the "theory boom" within American universities, and certainly gave him a prominent position within it.

One sign of this was the Critical Theory Institute that Professor Poster helped to set up at UC Irvine as a reading group, and which went on to become a leading centre for research.

He edited and introduced a translation of Jean Baudrillard's Selected Writings (1988, 2001) and became a particular expert on Michel Foucault. He also ensured that all graduate students in the history department took a pioneering obligatory module in theory.

Despite his achievements in this area, Professor Poster later switched track and turned his analytical tools on to new media and the political opportunities opened up by the internet.

He was appointed to the first chair in UC Irvine's department of film and media studies in 2002 and also wrote a number of seminal texts, from The Mode of Information: Post-structuralism and Social Context (1990) to Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines (2006).

"As a scholar," recalls Jon Wiener, professor of history at UC Irvine, "Poster often pushed the boundaries - first pushing historians to engage more with theory, then pushing theorists to engage more with new media.

"Foucault stood at the centre of his thinking for the past two decades - he organised what I think was the first Foucault conference in the US, at the University of Southern California in 1981. Foucault himself came, and so did the media - Time magazine among others."

Professor Poster died of pneumonia on 10 October and is survived by his wife, Annette Schlichter, and two daughters.

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