CCTP 797: Technology / Theory / Culture
Professor Martin Irvine
Fall 2013
[archived version: current course syllabus here]

About the Seminar

This course will provide an interdisciplinary overview of the major philosophies and theories of technology and media with a focus on the interdependencies between the social and technological domains. Students will be introduced to the major methodological issues in this field, and will learn how to practice self-reflexive theory for the interdisciplinary work of CCT. We will recover the background of problems in the philosophy of science and the construction of knowledge, the history of the meaning of “technology” in our culture, cultural semiotics, recent developments in cognitive science, and systems and network theory developed in Mediology and Actor-Network theory. We will study both the “cybercultural imaginary”--the imagery and ideology of technology in popular culture--and major technical systems designs--computers and operating systems, the Internet and Web, and the technology of space in architecture and cities. A major motivation in the course will be “de-blackboxing” technologies, theories, and social environments: we will attempt to crack open what is normally relegated to a closed, inaccessible "black box," like the esthetically sealed i-devices (“I don’t know how it works, it just does”) and the invisible generative/reproductive processes of institutions, ideologies, and disciplines.

The Seminar Blog and Course Grading

The course will be conducted as a real-time seminar with a Web-only syllabus, weekly case studies, and weekly student discussion in the seminar Wordpress site (see the pages on weekly essay instructions and the seminar method and grading.)  For a final seminar research project, students will write a rich-media essay posted in the course site, which will become a publicly accessible web publication.

Required Books

  • Katie Hafner, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998. [ISBN 0684832674]
  • William Gibson, Neuromancer. Ace / Penguin, 1984. [ISBN 0441007465] Begin reading during first week.
  • ----------. Pattern Recognition. New York, NY: Putnam / Penguin, 2003. [ISBN 0425192938]
  • Floridi, Luciano. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. [ISBN: 0745645720]
  • Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media (London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013). [ISBN: 1623567459]
  • Philip Smith and Alexander Riley, Cultural Theory: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2009. [ISBN 1405169079]
  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash. New York, NY: Bantam Spectra, 1992. [ISBN 0553380958]

Recommended Books

  • Regis Debray, Media Manifestos. Trans. Eric Rauth. London and NY: Verso, 1996.
  • George Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. New York, NY: Pantheon, 2012.
  • Thomas P. Hughes, Human-Built World: How to Think About Technology and Culture. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2004. [ISBN 0226359344]
  • Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.
  • Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002
  • Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York, NY: Bantam Spectra, 1995.
  • Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. New York, NY: Avon Books, 1999.
  • Noah Wardruip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003
Click on the + / - to expand and collapse weekly units
1 Introduction to the Theory and Philosophy of Technology, Media & Culture []

Introductory Lecture and Discussion:
What are we talking about when we talk about "technology" and "culture"?

Introductions and Course Background by Prof. Irvine:

Background Readings (we will return to these texts later):

Overview of the seminar:

  • Methods, grading, the seminar Wordpress site, weekly participation and presentations.

Introductory Case Studies: examples from everyday technologies and consumer products

2 Introduction: Theories of Technology and Media []

Learning Objectives:
An orientation to key theories and philosophies of technology and media over the past 70 years. Looking for the ideologies and major assumptions driving theories of technology, especially recent "new" technology.

Learning to Read for the Argument
An introduction to learning how to "read for the argument," learning how to work with the major assumptions and outcomes of a theory or philosophy without getting bogged down or overwhelmed by the length or complexity of the reading. We work in a universe or network of arguments, ideas with consequences, and we always begin by jumping in mid-stream and finding our way in the history of ideas and arguments. I will teach you how to discover the key "take aways" (positions, schools of thought, major assumptions) in an essay, article, or book so that you will begin building your own knowledge repertoire for working with anything else you are reading.

One of the difficulties in surveying the writing and arguments from many disciplines comes from the "boundary work" each field does to demarcate a legitimate field of study and theorizing and posit the objects with which it is concerned. We have multiple and rival vocabularies, arguments justifying claims and the legitimate knowledge boundaries of the field. It's important to learn the key "universes of discourse" and begin to assess how the approaches can be used and what analytical or theoretical work they can do.


  • Review readings from Week 1 (if you missed the reading last week).

Background on the Concept and History of "Technology"

  • Martin Irvine, "Technology Theory: An Introduction" (essay, book chapter in progress)
  • Wikipedia, "History of Technology" for a paradigm presentation of the traditional background.
    Note the trajectory of a "story" with a teleology from early tool making to contemporary technologies. The "emplotment" of a progressive narrative of technology is one of the main ideologies of the modern (and postmodern) world.
  • Leo Marx, "Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept." Technology and Culture, July, 2010.
    Note the shifting semantic space for the word technology:
    Tools, machines, industrialization and automation of machines, electronics and computers: concepts of science, engineering, technology.
    Compare: Technik (German) and technique (French): human control of nature in a built environment, tools and machines for production.
    Tools vs. applied science (instrumental vs. applied knowledge view of "technology")

McLuhan and Media Theory: Medium and Mediation to Remediation (1960s-2000s)

Reference Sources

Discussion Topics:

  • What are some of the main kinds of discourse have we inherited about media technologies? Extrapolating from this weeks readings, what issues are still current in thinking about computers, information, human interaction? What presupposed (unacknowledged) theory of technology do you find in the Apple i-device world? Utopian? Re-mediated? Instrumental?

Introductory Wiki discussion

3 Discourses of Science and Culture: Paradigms and Disciplines []
Learning Objectives and Discussion Questions
Discursive Practices and Paradigms: Models for Knowledge Production

Media and technology theory since the 1970s has been influenced by Michel Foucault's approach to discourse (the socially validated ways of talking about things, framing concepts, vocabularies of disciplines) and the discursive objectification of objects of knowledge and interpretation. Foucault also provides important models for the study of all media culture in the way cultures construct media objects and genres in institutions (for example, the entertainment industries, advertising, the art world, fashion, higher education disciplines, the medical and legal professions, the music industry).

Students who have studied sociology may have encountered the "constructivist" school of thought (which has many variations), and in this respect you will find common starting assumptions in Foucault and in the work of sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and Bruno Latour.

For interdisciplinary studies generally, Kuhn's idea of "paradigms" is more cited than understood, and is usefully compared with Foucault to disclose two different models for how socially constituted objects of knowledge are formed.

Compare Foucault's model of discourse to Kuhn's paradigm: both question the institutional foundations of knowledge and the formation of objects of knowledge, but from different traditions and working "paradigms" of the own intellectual communities. Foucault's theory of discourse, objects, disciplines, and the circulation of power through discourse can be seen as a "paradigm shift" (adopting Kuhn's metaphor) in doing history and cultural theory, both in its "Copernican Revolution" of de- or re-centering discourse and sites of cultural power.

Richard Rorty's view of philosophies (all theories) as forms of "redescription" of questions and problems with no "final vocabulary" (an ultimately true-once-and-for-all system of discourse) is a powerful approach usefully aligned with Foucault. For Rorty, each philosophical or scientific "vocabulary" (a universe of discourse with its own dominant metaphors) is a description of the world that must compete for validity through argumentation, justification, persuasion, and collective use.

You'll see that these philosophers and theorists are united in taking a "systems theory" approach, also found in Latour's "Actor-Network" theory, cultural semiotics, and Debray's "mediology." Yuri Lotman, who established important groundwork in cultural semiotics, viewed language and discourse as "modeling systems" for other "second order" cultural systems in all cultural genres. Debray is looking for how to describe the normally invisible mediations, the configuration of technologies, media, and institutions of mediation (transmission) for different historical moments and the present day.


  • C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (1959) (excerpts: read chaps. 1 and 3).
    • Background to many "science and culture" debates: C. P. Snow's view of the polarization of "two cultures" (sciences and engineering vs. the humanities) in the academic world has been played out in different ways in popular culture as well (think of all the clichés of humanistic people who joke about "not getting" computers). Snow's argument occasioned a fierce debate at the time, and lingers in the "science and culture" wars debates in the past two decades. Much interdisciplinary work since the 1960s has looked at ways to merge the interests of both "sides" or to see the polarization in political and ideological terms. For the question of "technology" on the "science" side of the divide, the question lingers about rival and mutually inaccessible discipline- and knowledge-domain-based cultures in academe, business, engineering, and government (to name only a few).
  • Thomas Kuhn's theory of paradigms and the "structure of scientific revolutions"
    • Excerpts from Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (1957) and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd. ed, 1970). [Read the full paragraphs from the excerpted pages.]
    • Background: Outline of the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (Frank Pajares, Emory University)
    • Note the main principles of a scientific "paradigm" in Kuhn's theory (itself a paradigm): a conceptual model with heuristic value (discovery) and disciplinary norms and protocols (establishing normal science), generative of new discoveries, based in a community of practice with shared assumptions, not final but replaceable through debate, institutional shifts, and/or new empirical evidence.
  • Michel Foucault: Discursive Practices as Structures for Knowledge and Authority
  • Richard Rorty: Philosophy, Metaphor, Redescription and the Consequences of Vocabularies
  • Bruno Latour, Science and Technology Studies, Actor-Network Theory [an introduction]

Supplementary Readings

Questions/Applications to other cases

Student Wiki Discussion

4 Computation, Code, and Information: Key Ideas []

Inventing Computation: Key Ideas
We will study the computer industry later in the seminar. This unit focuses on the development of computation as the core model for computers, information design, and all digital media. We will approach the questions from a non-specialist perspective, but it's important for everyone to get a conceptual grasp of the core ideas in computation because they are now pervasive throughout many sciences, including the cognitive sciences and all information processing (what is happening in the Google algorithm).

Readings and Background

Project: Lessons on Code Academy (

  • Try the self-paced tutorial lessons on the Python programming language and Web Fundamentals provided at Code Academy (see the tracks: Create an account and let the tutorial prompt you through the lessons. Go as far as you can.
  • These lessons will guide you through some basic computing concepts and also let you write some code and see the results when it runs.

Supplementary and Advanced Readings

Student Wiki Discussion

5 Symbolic Networks: Semiosis, Dialogism, Intertextuality, Intermediality []

Learning Objectives: Learning to work with the key concepts

Using the core theories of semiotics, how can cultural semiotics be applied to all forms of media technologies as used today? How does interpretation and meaning-making work across media forms and genres (movies as "commentaries" on books, TV genres, or comics) and cultures (cross-globalization interpretations). How would we describe the semiotic system of the Web, Google, Facebook, YouTube? How do we extend the theory to examples from both high and low culture?

Media, communications, and cultural theory today assumes the concepts of dialogism and intertextuality as foundational ideas. Intertextuality should now be redefined for contemporary media studies as intermediality, or the ongoing dialog among many kinds of cultural expressions in any medium or media technology, especially digital media across networks. We now live in an environment of continual cross-mediation: we can experience similar "content" in print, in advertising on the street, on TV, and on the Web. A new work emerges within a network of prior and contemporary works, and we interpret expression in a variety of genres that cut across our media forms--TV, Web, books and magazines, art works, music.

The model of dialogism (from Mikhail Bakhtin) is a precursor of more recent network theory and other systems theory that focuses on interdependence of relations and ongoing reconfiguration with new information and nodal connections.

The power of the concept of dialogism and intermediality extends both to our ongoing interpretations of existing cultural expressions (texts, images, film, TV, web sites), and also to the generation or production of new works or expressions that are possible from the producer-communities' access to a cultural encyclopedia of contents, symbolic relationships, codes, and rules of formation.

Remember that the theories of intertextuality and dialogism are not ways of describing influences, borrowings, sources, quotations, or explicit sampling on a surface level of recognitions. It's not about matching quotes or words from a dictionary, but about assumed works, genres, codes, and shared cultural knowledge that make any interpretation or new work possible.

The concepts of intertextuality/intermediality and cultural encyclopedia (Eco) usefully merge together the idea of unlimited semiosis in semiotic theory (expressions are always interpreted through additional expressions with no final closure), and Derrida's idea of the supplement, the necessary structure of meaning systems that always attempt to disclose meaning by supplements to expressions, supplements that present themselves as the "inner" meaning contained in a prior expression.

A cultural extension of unlimited semiosis is found in Lotman's incompleteness theorem: every culture experiences itself as incomplete, and continually generates new supplements, commentaries, new expressions, new statements, new works, that extend the fund of possible cultural meanings.

Intertextuality/intermediality and the cultural encyclopedia are thus useful concept to explain how any interpretation is possible and how new works a generated from the internalized rules and codes of a cultural system.

Readings: Semiotic Theory: Background

Dialogism & Intertextuality to Intermediality

Dialogism to Appropriation, Remix & Postproduction

  • Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence," Harpers Magazine, Feb. 2007. [All writing has always already been a hybrid collage of language, sources, references, unconscious quotations, remix of inherited written culture.]
  • Nicholas Bourriaud, Postproduction (2002). Our new production platforms--increasingly using or  modeled on digital production--allow an explicit awareness of new works being remixed like the post-production process in music, movies, and television.

The Cultural Semiotics Model

  • Yuri Lotman, "On the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture" (pdf)
    • Very important essay for this unit. Focus on the key points.
  • Stuart Hall, "Encoding/Decoding."

Working with Bakhtin & Eco: The Activity of Meaning and Interpretation

Important Issues in Cultural Semiotics:
  • Cultural meanings function like a language (some call it a "second-order language"), that is, meanings are learned (not natural), rule-governed (multi-levels of "grammar"), and collective/social (not private or individual). Lotman's corollary: culture is the non-hereditary memory of a community.
  • The semiotic view of technologies and media would examine how technologies (both in material form and conceptual use) are part of a system of meaning in a cultural at any moment, and how the "messages" or "content" transmitted in a media technology are part of a system of meaning inseparable from the cultural value and ideology of the medium itself.
  • Examples: A text on paper is part of a hierarchical system of meanings given in our culture, ranging from privileged genres like a history book, religious text, or a legal document to ephemeral genres like daily newspapers, sales receipts, etc. What the content "means" (the milieu beyond the semantic level of the individual statements) is pre-encoded in the medium, but any of the meanings are not properties of the material form of any media, but learned cultural codes that function as a second order language system. Similarly, we decode both the "content" (an abstract signified decoupled from the medium) in all of our digital media, and the transmedia platform of the Internet/Web, as well as understanding the meaning or cultural value of a medium in total system of media (a hierarchy of privilege, authority, power, prestige, or credibility): text and book over Website, magazine over blog, TV over radio, formal printed document over email, etc.

William Gibson, Pattern Recognition

Student Wiki Discussion

  • Discuss a popular culture or technology example or related group of examples that shows how meanings are nodal points of prior and contemporary relationships, connections and assumptions (movie, music, Website, TV program).
6 Theories of Media Technologies: "Mass Media" to "New Media" []

Learning Objectives
Gaining a foundation in the influential philosophies of media and technology which have shaped discourse and theory since the 1930s and the current terms of the debate about "new" and digital media..

Questions and Problems:
Is there, or can there be, a generalized or generalizable "theory of technology" or "theory of media technology" in relation to culture? The ideology of "technology" is interwoven in much of the discourse of America and the developed world, but it is seldom clear what the referent of the term "technology" is. The most popularized representations of "technology" span both utopian and dystopian views and projections. Which views dominate the various kinds of technology? Consider some of the main traditions of theory and discourse on technology and culture since "critical theory" (various post-Marxist positions like Benjamin, Debord, and Adorno/Horkheimer), including techno-determinist views (McLuhan), and the cross-institutional view of Debray and Latour (whom we will consider in more detail later).


  • Irvine, "Media Theory: An Introduction" (working draft of book chapter)

  • Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility." [Another online copy.] The first English translation. Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, and XII.
    Compare with the more accurate revised translation in the new edition of Benjamin's writings (Harvard Univ. Press, 2003). Benjamin's title in German is "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit" = "The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility."
    Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, and XII.
    • Benjamin was part of the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist writers, but proposed his own more nuanced analyses. His argument is still in the grip of presuppositions about "mass culture" that couldn't deal with emerging populist trends in modernism and possible subversive uses of mass culture.
    • He was writing as at time when Fascist capitalism and state-controlled economies threatened to convert all media and cultural forms into tools of ideology.
    • Note the troubled questions about technology and agency and a historical narrative about technological development in section VI.
    • Benjamin: Philosophical Background (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy): see sections 6-8
  • Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967) [Another online copy.]
    (Selections: Read sections 1-6, 10-11, 17-18, 24-30)
    Background on Debord and the Situationist Movement. | Wikipedia background (weak, but use for outline)

  • Revisiting Marshall McLuhan, "The Medium is the Message" (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man. 2nd Edition)
  • Daniel Czitrom, "Metahistory, Mythology, and the Media: The American Thought of Marshall McLuhan," excerpt from Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982; read pp.172-182.

  • Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (excerpts). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
    A very influential book in the field.
    Read selections from chap. 1 (What is New Media) and chap. 2 ("The Interface")
    Note the categories Manovich set up in chap. 1 for defining "New Media."
  • Lev Manovich, "New Media: Eight Propositions." Excerpt from “New Media from Borges to HTML,” from The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The MIT Press, 2002.

Supplemental Readings in Media Theory

  • Adorno and Horkheimer: "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception." The Frankfurt School philosophy.
    Pdf version. Web/html version.
    First published in German in 1944, a determinist view of popular media as controlled by capitalist state-sanctioned monopolies. Consider the assumed narrative trajectory, myths of origin, teleology, and implied utopia.

Media, Film, Video, Advertising Cases

  • Ridley Scott, Blade Runner
  • David Cronenberg, Videodrome
  • John Cameron's Avatar: The seamless flow between camera work and CGI: it's all in the digital editing platform now.
  • Apple Computer, "1984" Macintosh commercial, broadcast during 1984 Superbowl

Student Wiki Discussion

7 Introduction to Mediology and Network Theory []

Learning Objectives:
After surveying some of the main traditions of theory, can we move beyond replicating the academic, institutionalized authorities to a view that integrates the study of culture, technology, social institutions, history, and economics? Debray proposes a new point of view that takes for granted the intellectual traditions of the modern and postmodern eras, but doesn't get stuck in any of them. Mediology looks for what's left out in traditional disciplinary views and subject matter--the necessary relations between technologies and larger social functions that are often invisible because they are everywhere presupposed and entailed in a network of relationships.

What are the heuristic and self-reflexive possibilities of mediology for current and future studies of culture, media, and technology? How does mediology continue, extend, or critique other theory traditions we have examined: communication theory, semiotics/semiology, postmodernism?



Working with Mediology

New kinds of questions to ask:

  • Missed institutional embeddedness of media? What are the enabling Institutions of transmission for any medium that we take for granted?
  • What are the networks of forces and conditions enabling a medium or technology to have its power, authority, significance of value in a culture?
  • Media as memory systems? Mediaspheres and total, reconfigurable systems of media at any given cultural moment?
  • Hierarchies of media and technologies, cultural significance of various media before content or information is conveyed?
  • Is the technology of the medium separable from the meaning of the content transmitted?
  • Are ideologies separable from the material means (mediums) of transmission (for example, religion, politics, class structures, identities, subjectivities); that is, how is ideology interdependent with the material means of communication, information, and transmission?
  • What information is transmitted in the medium itself by its form and social function?

Mediology Case Studies & Examples for Discussion:

  • The Internet and Mediology: A Look at Our Current Mediasphere
  • The Washington Mall: what is communicated and transmitted through this heavily encoded social space and institutional structures?
  • Media and the Screen: transmission and devices: television, computer screen, iPhone, iPad
  • The Fashion World and the Art World: institutions of transmission, codes, mediation and media channels
  • The Museum
  • The University
Student Wiki Discussion
8 Network Theory, Technology and Society: Latour and Castells []

Learning Objectives:
shares many of the assumptions and conceptual models of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), and converges with other schools of thought surrounding the use of network theory to understand technologies, science, media, and culture. ANT is based on a model of heterogeneous networks, networks with members or elements of different kinds (for example, conceiving a network in which individual actors, institutions, technologies, and industries inter-relate, as opposed a network with homogeneous elements).

How can this broad, interdisciplinary body of theory and approaches be used heuristically to interpret current issues? How could different outcomes or futures for technologies be different if all the "actors" in the network system were recognized or anticipated in design? How does mediology complement the network theory approaches in ANT?

One of the major questions--or meta-question--addressed by the theorists in this unit is that of power and agency: do networks (social, technical, mediated,etc.) structure power, and how do they distribute, circulate, allocate it? How do we recognize different levels or layers of analysis--allowing for different levels of abstraction in questions of networks and material technologies--and enable both macro- and micro-level questions and analyses?

While we dive into the midst of arguments developed in the various schools of thought in network theory, it should be noted that the theorists and their arguments are part of larger debates in the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS), the philosophy of science (longer history), the sociology of science, media, and communications more generally, social constructivism, and newer fields like social epistemology. Each argument is itself a node in larger networks of prior discipline-specific arguments, intellectual histories, institutional positions, disciplines, and communities of practice.


Supplementary Reading

Reference and Resource Sites

Examples of Tangled Agency Arguments about "Technology Effects"

Student Wiki Discussion

  • Find interesting examples and case studies for working with Latour's and Castell's ideas.
9 Technology and the Cybercultural Imaginary (1): The Sublime to Dystopias []

Learning Objectives
Industrial machines, scientific interventions in the human body, and computer technology have a long trajectory of representation in the popular imagination beginning with reactions to the Industrial Revolution in post-Romantic writingand art in Europe and America and in political philosophy in Marx. Much of the representation from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Thoreau's Walden up to Fritz Lang's Metropolis lead to common imagery and ideology up to the present day. What is going on in this trajectory of ideas, ideologies, emotional responses? America also has a unique "official" narrative of itself involving determinist industrialization, progress and supremacy through technology (from steam engines to rail roads, electricity, cars, air flight , telecommunications, and computers), and ongoing paranoia about "big industry" and the anti-Eden of techno-dystopias. Taking in as much of a "big picture" view as we can this week, through around 150 years of discourse and representation, what has been and is driving this narrative "story arc" and the ideologies, repressions, and misrecognitions about "technology" that continue on to today? How do we get from "the Machine in the Garden" to the techno-Frankenstein cyborg dystopias imagined in the past two decades? Fantasies of technology agency? What ideologies about bodies, machines, and human identity are represented in the cyborg, android, and intelligent machines?


  • Frankenstein to Cyborgs and the Matrix
  • Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (excerpts)
    Introduction | Google Books chapters
  • Leo Marx, "The Idea of 'Technology' and Postmodern Pessimism," excerpted from from Does technology drive history?: the dilemma of technological determinism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).
  • A Technoculture Dossier: Key texts on the cultural reactions to industrialization, machines, and technology, c.1820- c.1920.
    Some identifiable currents of discourse and ideology were set in motion in the early 19th century that haunt the discourse of our own time. Most people are unaware of the controlling metaphors, imagery, and ideologies which form the first modern "technoculture." Track the responses to urbanization, machines, factories, the industrialization of city and country, the roll out electric power and telecommunications, views of the alienation of mankind from work and production, and the seemingly overwhelming power of big industrial machines.
  • The Cyborg/Android: Cultural Case Study
    Donna Haraway, "Manifesto for Cyborgs" (excerpt from Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181. Web/html version | Pdf version. Seminal essay for reframing the cultural symbol of the "cyborg".

    Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University Of Chicago Press, 1999. [Excerpts from the Introduction and Chap. 10 (Conclusion).]

    ----------. “Unfinished Work: From Cyborg to Cognisphere.” Theory, Culture & Society, 23, no. 7–8 (December 1, 2006): 159 –166.

Filmography: The Frankenstein Effect (Portions to be Screened in Class)

  • Thomas Edison, Early film, Frankenstein  (silent movie) (Youtube) (info)
  • Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1927) (info)
  • James Whale, Frankenstein (1931) (info)
  • Recent films: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Terminator, The Matrix series

Art, Culture, Machine Projections

Student Wiki Discussions

10 Technology and the Cybercultural Imaginary (2): SF, Film, Philosophy []
Learning Objectives:
"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation...A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data..." --William Gibson, Neuromancer

What do we make of the trajectory in the popular imagination of technoculture dystopian narrative with its fetishizing of technology and interpenetration of material/machine technologies and the body? Human-machine interfaces become brain-neural network combinations? The "cyberpunk" reinvention of the SF novel brought a whole new philosophical approach to the converging worlds of technology, popular culture, science, communications, surveillance, and human-computer/human-machine combinations.

"Cyberpunk" (not a term used by the writers) emerged in the 1980s, at the same time as MTV and the mainstreaming of the punk rock music scenes, a literary-philosophical hack on both the literary-cultural archive and the new cybernetic, computer, surveillance, and the image of the transnational high-tech corporate worlds coming into view. Before commercial and consumer access to the Internet, a new group of writers and film makers were extrapolating from the present into near-future and contemporary worlds that are clearly of this world (not futuristic space travel or aliens) with imaginative dark humor, irony and satire, forming new hybrid genres in the process. As William Gibson famously stated, "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."

This movement beginning in the 1980-90s is also best understood through the intertextual/intermedial and mediological approaches: the hybrid genres were possible only in the reconfiguring media sphere of inherited popular literary and film genres, inherited media technologies and the newer digital/virtual forms; and once the non-SF SF had been inserted (uploaded) into the popular culture system, it spawned new nodes and reconfigurations leading up to the now-cliched stylizations of many movies and TV shows (including all the goth-vampire subgenres of the past decade). "Cyberpunk" is just a handy name for a well-received hack in the codes of the literary and popular culture systems, a move in a larger postmodern game, now a code-set subsumed in OS and cultural networks of just about every fantasy and futuristic genre.

Readings: Primary Texts, Novels

  • William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984). Gibson coins the word "cyberspace" as the mental representation of direct neurological "jacking in" to "the matrix" (computer network). Wikipedia background. This novel also popularized the term "the matrix" for computer networks and the software that runs them. William Gibson's website.
  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992). Before graphical browsers or interfaces for the Net and Web, Stephenson described a fully-realized graphical interface to the Metaverse (the virtual networked world) and computer user identities as "avatars" (popular use from this novel). Wikipedia background. Neal Stephenson's website.

Background and Theory

  • "Cyberpunk" in Wikipedia; see also "List of Cyberpunk works."
  • Richard Kadrey and Larry McCaffrey, “Cyberpunk 101: A Schematic Guide to Storming the Reality Studio,” excerpt from Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press, Durham & London (1991), 17-32.
    [This guide to literary, film, TV, and music works is useful for opening up the network of affiliations and and intermedial relationships that enabled the development of the hybrid genres employed by Gibson, Stephenson, and other writers.]
  • Wong Kin Yuen, "On the Edge of Spaces: Blade RunnerGhost in the Shell , and Hong Kong's Cityscape," Science Fiction Studies, 27/1, 2000.

Filmography: Blade Runner to The Matrix and Japanese Anime

Student Wiki Discussions

11 Mediological Case Study 1: The Computer, Computation, and the Computer Industry []
Learning Objectives:
The computer is a great case for the mediological approach: what were, and are, the networks of conditions and relations that make the computer possible? De-blackboxing the best-known black box leads to histories and political economy of industries and institutions; national and international policy, regulation, and standards; convergence of technologies and sciences at various moments; social demographics and technology adoption patterns; cultural assumptions, everyday embeddedness of digital devices and chips (just as a beginning). The field of forces seen in the mainstreaming of the computer after WWII and the conditions leading to the PC revolution allow us to map out the many invisible forces and relationship nodes that mediology and Actor-Network Theory are all about. (This is, of course, a huge topic, and we'll leave out many other topics like the invisible computer design of everyday things and the embedding of computer chips in almost every industrial made device from cars to micro-wave ovens).

Readings: A brief social history of the computer to the rise of the PC

History Background

Important Arguments by Major Founders of Contemporary Thinking about Computers, Technology, Information, and Intelligence

Operating Systems and Interfaces

Supplementary Reading:

Student Wiki Discussions

  • For your wiki essay this week, find an aspect of the computer, computation technologies, or digital information that allows you to "de-black box" it by connecting some of the main relationships, dependencies, and conditions that enabled the computer and computing devices to have their power in our current "information age" (largely led by the US): in the related industries and institutions; policy and government funding; private investment and entrepreneurial culture; various states of the material technologies (hardware, and/or software); standards-making across institutions and manufacturers allowing development of markets and the creation of industry ecosystems; social conditions leading to the adoption of technologies, market conditions, and consumer uses. Try thinking "mediologically" in looking at the necessary contexts, conditions, and structures/systems of mediation and transmission (examples: government investment in the computer sector during and after WWII (especially IBM) and unregulated private development (leading to the PC); the transition from the business and government markets to "personal" computing markets; accelerated miniaturization, processing speed, and storage/memory required to converge to enable more complex PC software right down to current "smart" devices).
12 Mediological Case Study 2: The Internet and Web []

Learning Objectives:
What can a mediological analysis of the Net and Web open up for a newly visible analysis of forces usually blackboxed? With the convergence of telecommunications, computing, and digital media, the Internet and Web have subsumed our prior media into a new mediasphere, a system of ongoing reconfigurations of material technologies, software and algorithms, content, and the institutions and industries that create the "Internet" as such.

Using the Internet and Web as a paradigm of mediation and transmission issues: the significance of the convergence of all digital (digitized) media forms across a global network using common protocols and standards; the industry, policy and technology ecosystems that enable the Internet to function and grow with new innovations. Given that Internet protocols are "open" and standards based on industry collaboration and consensus (except in cases on monopoly dominance) and that networks are distributed systems with no one center, where are the real sources of power and authority?


History and Background of the Internet

Philosophy of Internet Design and Architecture

Internet protocols and architecture are an "open system": what are the consequences of this?

Architecture, Infrastructure, and Systems

The World Wide Web, HTML, and Interfaces to the Web

  • Background history of hypertext and hypermedia (linking among files and documents)
  • Tim Berners-Lee's original proposal for the Web (1989) (pdf)
  • Ted Nelson, The Xanadu Project: First Hypertext System Model (this paper, 1999).
  • Lev Manovich: "New Media from Borges to HTML." Introduction to The New Media Reader. Edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003, 13-25. (File from author’s site:

Background for a Mediological View of the Internet (Irvine)

Student Wiki Discussions: A mediological and ANT view of the Internet

  • The Internet and all its subsystems provide on of the most complex systems for thinking about mediations, interdependencies, and agencies. Most people only see functions presented at the interface level--and an interface works by making itself invisible (by design and by our cultural expectations). The complexity of the computer and network architecture are invisible. For your writing, take a case--like an app or digital media type--and build out a complexity model of dependencies, histories of technological development, economic ecosystems, institutions of mediation (standards, policy and regulation, industry groups, patents?), markets and demographics?
  • Questions: what is the difference between a "web browser" and an iPad app? Should we resist talking about "the Internet" as a reified, uniform "technology" and look to the variety of subsystems and subcomponents that must be orchestrated to work together? What does it mean to be "on the Internet"?
13 Mediological Case Study 3: The City, Infrastructure, Technologies of Space []

“I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: An urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future.” (Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, 1970:1)

This is Henri Lefebvre's opening statement in The Urban Revolution (1970), written at a time when over one third of the world’s population lived in cities or metropolitan regions; today more than one half of the world’s population is concentrated in cities and large metropolitan regions. Cities are the material, spatial, economic, technological, and social centers of the world, and the era of information technology and the Internet has not diminished the movement of concentration in urban areas, but instead has aided concentration or agglomeration. This week is devoted to considering some major aspects of the real spaces/places of cities and transformation through digital information, global networks, and re-concentrations of capital (all forms) in global informational cities.

Learning Objectives and Topics:
The City and/as Technology: Material Spaces and Global Networks

The City as architecture, infrastructure, nodes of communication and information.
Cities as concentrators and aggregators of technology.
Infrastructure: the "city of atoms" (materials and space) and the "city of bits" (the space of data and information flows, software and digital design, data centers, Internet and telecom switching centers).
The movement of people in, out, and through cities is information: human traffic flow in highways, transportation systems, streets, shopping centers, offices.


Cities in Macro Globalization Views: Global City, World City, Megapolis

City, Space, Place, and Post-Digital Post-Internet Reconfigurations

City Infrastructures and Visualizations

Space, Place, Networks and Digital Media & Art

Sites for Urban Studies Research

Student Project for Wiki Discussion

  • Study a major neighborhood in Washington, DC for as many signs of the (1) the messaging system of the city and the meaning of built space and the styles and designs of architecture, (2) information flows with the movement of people and things, (3) visible and hidden/assumed infrastructure for utilities and communications in the daily use of technologies and media by people moving and working in the city. Choose one location: (1) intersection of 14th and U Streets, and 2-3 blocks in each direction from the intersection, (2) intersection of K Street and Connecticut Ave., and 2-3 blocks in each direction from the intersection, (3) the Washington Mall, from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building, and views along the way. Where are people moving from/to? Road traffic, metro, walking? How many are using cell phones/smart devices? How many observable wireless Internet places/zones are there (coffee shops, bars, restaurants, more)?
14 Final Essay Projects: Discussion and Presentation of Projects []

Final Project Instructions

Group review of blog writing and presentation of final project ideas.
Final essay due date: one week after last day of class.