Critical Theory B, Spring 2005:
Critical Theory, Network Politics, and “New” Media
Instructor: Dale Carrico, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesdays, 9.00-11.45, McMillan Conference Room
Office Hours: After class and by appointment.
In this course we will focus our attention on some of the ways in which critical theory has tried to make sense of the ongoing impact of emerging information and communication technologies on public life, cultural forms, creative expression, and ethical discourse.
Our conversation this term will take as its point of departure the assumption that the basic categories through which we make sense of individual and collective agency, dignity, and claims of right are transforming under the pressure of emerging and converging digital networked information and communication technologies. Over the course of the term, we will survey a number of canonical and contemporary theoretical and polemical works all provoked by the problems and possibilities of these technological transformations.
To the extent that “new” media really are something new, it is hard to imagine a temperament less suited in some ways to think about these impacts than philosophers and critical theorists. Hegel pointed out that philosophy paints its gray on gray only when a form of life has grown cold. And true to form, even relatively recent and influential “new” media theory often seems quaint in its assumptions quite soon after it has been written.
Typically, when theorists speak of “new” media they mean to describe digital media in particular. And since digital media are in fact still consolidating their hold over the circulation and communication of information today, we will mostly stick to that understanding ourselves. But it is important to realize that there are possibly newer new media always emerging as well for which the enabling technologies, working assumptions, and expected effects are quite different.
There will be important differences in the discussion of media and surveillance, depending on whether one wants to focus on issues of digital encryption or biometrics instead. There will be differences in the discussion of media and intellectual property, depending on whether one wants to focus on copyright or patenting genetic information. There will be differences in the discussion of media and the manufacture of consent, depending on whether one wants to focus on the consolidation of broadcast media, the rise of social software tools and practices, or the mandated use of neuroceuticals on the basis of medical information.
In an important sense the course will be a collaborative performance, and so our more specific focus and problems and interests will depend in a significant measure on your own circumstances, concerns, and on the texts that you yourselves happen to respond to most forcefully. It remains to be seen just what conclusions we will find our way to by the end of the term and the end of this conversation.
In addition to exploring these personal and public lives of emerging media, the course will also provide an occasion for further training and practice in the writing of argumentation based on close textual reading, and will be a workshop in critical thinking, reading, and deliberation skills.
Students will be expected to develop sustained and coherent written arguments about the theoretical perspectives and various ideas we will be reading and discussing here. Further, everyone is expected to actively participate in the community of the course. Our class meetings will normally take the form of a seminar (with occasional lapses into lecture since I probably cannot help myself). Overall, I will provide you many different avenues for participation, and you can surely find one that suits your needs and temperament. In any case, I will always expect you to be prepared to discuss the readings assigned for each course meeting.
I will assign a short diagnostic essay (2-3pp.) at the beginning of the term that will not receive a letter grade, and then three short papers (just 5-7pp. each) over the course of the term. One of your papers will provide the point of departure for the class discussion of an essay from our virtual course “reader,” and these informal presentations will take place throughout the term. The other two papers will be due at mid-term and on the final class meeting. In addition to these short papers I will also expect everybody to register to participate in a regular way on the collaborative blog, “BloggingTEC: Technology, Ethics, and Culture.”
Many of the materials and activities associated with the course are online, but I can arrange to provide materials and alternative activities for anyone for whom online access is unavailable or awkward. Please speak to me about this as soon as possible, and we will arrange an alternative together. Despite the emphasis on online material and work, the regular attendance and participation of your physical body in the physical classroom is nevertheless a strict requirement.
If you must miss a class, please let me know in advance that this is taking place (unless of course circumstances make that especially difficult) so that I can smoothly accommodate your absence, and keep you on track. If you miss more than three classes, come what may, you will certainly fail the class. Both the readings and assignments in this initial version of the syllabus may change somewhat according to my emerging sense of what your needs and interests are, individually and as a group.
Paper #1 (5-7pp. transcript of a class presentation on a text from the Virtual Reader): 20%
Paper #2 (5-7pp. on an essay in The Digital Dialectic): 20%
Paper #3 (5-7pp. on a section, idea, theme, or problem in Smart Mobs): 30%
Participation (includes: Diagnostic Essay, weekly blogging, and class discussion): 30%
Required Texts and Available Resources:
Peter Lunenfeld, ed.: The Digital Dialectic: New Essays in New Media
Howard Rheingold: Smart Mobs: Transforming Cultures and Communities in the Age of Instant Access
Our Course Blog: “BloggingTEC: Technology, Ethics, and Culture”:
Log in to Blogger.com and create a free account there if you haven’t got one already. E-mail me once you have done this and I will add you to the list of contributors to our blog, whereupon you can post contributions, comments, and relevant links provoked by our discussions, readings, assignments, material you find elsewhere that you want to introduce into the discursive mix, what have you.
I will ask that everyone pay regular attention to the posts on a few especially provocative or relevant blogs, and that you be prepared to register your ongoing impressions of the posts you find there both on our own blog and in class discussions.
Social Design Notes
Again, if you do not have easy or regular access online, let me know this and we will arrange alternative ways for you to participate in this dimension of the seminar.
Rather than create a costly additional printed reader, I am providing this list of pieces available online as a Virtual Reader from which we will select a piece for discussion each week. Each week someone will choose a text from the list and prepare for the next meeting a short introduction which will constitute the point of departure for an ensuing in-class discussion of the piece. Some of these texts are available online in different editions and rather than specify which one you should pick, I think we will let the possible confusions that might arise from this provide a topic for discussion. The same thing goes as well for the many differences and difficulties of variously accessing and making hard copies (or not) of the pieces you find online. Obviously, the number of works here exceeds the number of people in the class as well as the number of class meetings available to us. The texts you choose to discuss, and the order in which you choose to discuss them will be some of the ways in which you will have a definitive impact on the discursive trajectory our conversation takes over the course of the term.
Christopher Allen, “Tracing the Evolution of Social Software”
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “California Ideology”
John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
James Boyle, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain”
James Boyle, “Enclosing the Genome?”
David Brin, “Three Cheers for the Surveillance Society!”
Jamais Cascio, “Leapfrog 101”
Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs”
Donna Haraway, “The Promises of Monsters”
Jeron Lanier, “One Half of a Manifesto”
Jeron Lanier, “Why Gordian Software Has Convinced Me to Believe in the Reality of Cats and Apples”
Lawrence Lessig, “The Creative Commons”
Lawrence Lessig, “What Things Regulate Speech”
Jessica Litman, “Sharing and Stealing”
Steve Mann, “The Post-Cyborg Path to Deconism”
Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), “Material Memories”
Mark Poster, “CyberDemocracy”
Nick Rombes, “Professor DVD”
Valerie Solanas, “The SCUM Manifesto”
Charles Stross, “The Panopticon Singularity”
Bruce Sterling, “Viridian Design Speech”
David Weinberger, “Why Open Spectrum Matters”
Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”
Mark Winokur, “The Ambiguous Panopticon”
If there is some exciting text in technocultural, techno-ethical, techno-critical theory or media criticism which is among the many not included on this list, but which you would especially like to present a paper on and co-facilitate a class discussion around, just let me know in advance. The text must be freely available online and you must suggest the text amply enough in advance for me to have a look at it, and talk it over with you a bit. You may as well consider the Virtual Reader to be indefinitely open-ended.
Some Supplementary Resources for Argumentative Writing:
Four Habits of Argumentative Writing
Finding Your Argument
Peer Editing Worksheet
A Provisional Schedule of Meetings:
January 18: Introduction to the Course.
January 25: Diagnostic Essay Due. Blog survey. Discussion of Peter Lunenfeld’s Introduction, “Screen Grabs,” and essay “Unifinished Business,” from The Digital Dialectic. Discussion of the short Laurie Anderson piece, “The Language of the Futrue.”
February 1: Blog Survey. Discussion of Michael Heim, “The Cyberspace Dialectic,” in The Digital Dialectic. Presentation and discussion of Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
February 8: Blog Survey. Discussion of Carol Giglliotti, “The Ethical Life of the Digital Aesthetic,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
February 15: Blog Survey. Discussion of Katherine Hayles, “The Condition of Virtuality,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
February 22: Blog Survey. Discussion of Erkki Huhtamo, “From Cybernation to Interaction,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
March 1: Blog Survey. Discussion of William J. Mitchell, “Replacing Place,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
March 8: First (5-7pp.) Paper Due. Blog Survey. Discussion of Florian Brody, “The Medium Is the Memory,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader. Roughly half of the Presentations should be done at this point.
March 14-25: Spring Break
March 29: Blog Survey. Discussion of George P. Landow, “Hypertext as Collage-Writing,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
April 5: Blog Survey. Discussion of Lev Manovich, “What Is Digital Cinema?” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
April 12: Blog Survey. Discussion of Bob Stein, “We Could Be Better Ancestors Than This,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
April 19: Blog Survey. Discussion of Brenda Laurel, “Musings on Amusements in America,” in The DD. Presentation and discussion of an essay from the Virtual Reader.
April 26: Hand in paper topics for Final Paper. Blog Survey. Begin discussion of Smart Mobs. All Presentations should be complete at this point.
May 3: Blog Survey. Continue discussion of Smart Mobs. Peer Editing of Final Paper Drafts.
May 10: Final (5-7pp.) Paper Due. Blog Survey. Conclude discussion of Smart Mobs. Concluding Remarks for the Class. General Bacchanal.