Several years ago I started hearing lots of folks talking about “gaslighting.” It’s hard to imagine yourself succumbing to manipulation — so, while I pitied those folks who had been made to doubt themselves, I assumed that, because I typically interacted with reliable folks, I was somehow immune. Guess what? I’m not.
In late December of 2018 I had a pleasant Twitter conversation with a graduate student in the UK. We briefly discussed, through the exchange or five or six tweets, the value of having good editors; she told me she’d be coming to the East Coast, and I said I hoped our paths crossed. A week later, she sent me a cryptic 100-word Twitter (private) DM, which indicated that she’d “heard rumors” and “seen evidence” of my bad behavior, and that she’d be blocking me immediately. I couldn’t ask for clarification or proffer an apology if one was due. She had instantaneously cut me off.
I was devastated. What had I done? I asked around — among acquaintances who might’ve been in her orbit, among my Very Online friends — to see if I had slighted anyone, committed any serious faux pas, offended people. No one had a clue. Still, the charge stuck with me. I dwelled on it for weeks. I considered offering a General Public Apology to All the People of Earth, just to cover my bases. I talked to my colleagues and editors about what they thought I might’ve done. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t make myself write anything because I feared that I might inadvertently commit further transgressions — whatever they might be. Then several weeks later I had an email exchange with a faculty colleague from this same British university, and I casually asked if he had ever interacted with my stranger-interlocutor.
Oh, boy. He had stories. She had apparently leveled similar claims at other colleagues. She’d publicly charge folks with ambiguous misdeeds, offering no specific grievance or constructive recommendations for redress, then depart. I shouldn’t take it personally, he said. Still, the fear of making further mistakes has stuck with me. I want to do right by people. I want to uphold community standards and be responsible and kind.
Just a couple weeks later, while I was visiting Carnegie Mellon and Pitt (I remember all of this happening on the treadmill in the hotel gym), I received another Twitter DM from a European stranger. She “warned” me that an international colleague with whom I had collaborated was known for exploitation. I expressed concern and sympathy for her experience; noted that I, personally, had witnessed no such behavior; and asked what she wanted me to do with this information, how she wanted me to respond. She never replied. That afternoon I gave one of the worst talks I’ve ever given in my life (sorry, Pittsburgh). I was totally preoccupied. I couldn’t help but wonder and worry about my responsibility: what was I to do with this ambiguous caveat for which I had absolutely no empirical evidence, or even an identifiable plaintiff?
Almost exactly a year later, while I was in London, Ontario, the same person contacted me again, this time to inform me that my work was a joke. The fact that I had recently liked a tweet by this particular “exploitative” colleague indicated that I was sucking up to him, that I was a hypocrite, that my work had worth only through my association with him. My books were “laughable,” but he helped to legitimate them. I expressed my regrets for being unable to engage with her on these terms, then blocked her. She then emailed me to launch the same insults and lament my “betrayal.” It was clear I was dealing with an unstable individual. I blocked her email address and haven’t heard from her since. Let’s hope that chapter’s over.
It was then that I realized: oh, this is gaslighting! I’ve been gaslit! (Or maybe it’s just plain old trolling? Whatever — gaslighting sounds better.) And then it dawned on me that this had happened before. In my marriage, for example, I was made to feel guilty for the fact that I didn’t have substance-abuse problems or major debt. I was literally told, on our first night of (ultimately futile) couple’s therapy, that he resented the fact that I “didn’t suffer like [he] did.” Wow. It took three years of therapy to work through those feelings. (Shout out to Janet Shapiro! Woot woot!)
And just last week it happened again. I announced an upcoming talk via Twitter, and a (tenured) colleague from a nearby institution — who’d written a great article on a similar topic four years earlier — jumped into the discussion to inform others that my talk was “based on” her article, then shared a link to said article. I said yes, Colleague, your work is valuable and useful. I cited your article — and I even dedicated a whole paragraph to its contributions — in a previous piece. That didn’t suffice. So I continued: this most recent essay — the one that provides the basis for my upcoming talk — was an art review in a popular venue, not a scholarly article, and it was informed by myriad sources.
That wasn’t good enough. The public accusations continued for days. [What follows is a paraphrase; I can’t bear to look at the original conversation:] I should’ve reached out to her, asked for permission. I should’ve acknowledged that my review would not have been possible without her work (despite the fact that numerous popular writers, scholars, and artists have worked with similar ideas over the past two decades, and especially over the past two months!). I was undermining feminist citation. I was a bad example for junior scholars. I model poor practices for my students; she chooses to teach differently. These are all matters that concern me deeply, and I’m told by lots of folks that I’m a pretty good advisor and public role model. I hope that’s true. She hit me where it hurts.
When I noted a desire to discuss these complex issues — writing for public venues, “owning” ideas, drawing from various sources of inspiration for our work — in a more appropriate venue, my colleague stated that these grievances must be aired publicly, so junior scholars could understand their importance. As if all of this were about generous mentorship.
And it went on.
Ultimately, I muted. The grievance could still be going on, for all I know. As the tweets piled up, I heard from roughly two dozen colleagues and acquaintances — most of whom were familiar with the plaintiff — who informed me that I was being gaslit, noted that they’d either seen this behavior from her before or experienced it themselves, and encouraged me not to engage.
Still, it pains me to see repeated, misleading, character-damaging accusations leveled publicly — and to realize that a public retort on Twitter, a grossly insufficient medium, would only exacerbate the disagreement. Yet I can’t allow myself to be gaslit. Again.
So, I offer my response here. Parts may be cryptic, and that’s intentional:
I’m terribly sorry if you feel slighted. I wish this conversation could’ve happened in more appropriate manner, rather than exploding in public.
Your 2016 article about PowerPoint is fantastic. I assign it in my classes. I cited it in an article. I publicly engaged with and extolled your work.
Yet I, too, have been thinking about slides since I read Edward Tufte’s and David Byrne’s work nearly two decades ago. A Dexter Sinister slide-show / overhead projector performance at The Kitchen in 2008 also profoundly influenced me. No, I never cared about sides enough to write about them — but I did explore some related ideas in the classroom. I remember showing Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg Address PowerPoint in my “Textual Form” class at Penn in 2003. I’ve been inviting students to share creative slide-deck presentations for years. In my “Media and Materiality” class in 2012, we spent some time on “slideshow art.”
And as you know, over the past two decades I’ve also written 100 or so essays, articles, and books about how media are arranged and presented in various spatial contexts, about site-specific interfaces, about graphic design, etc. — all themes that are applied in my two Art in America pieces. For the past 15 years I’ve published a bunch of pieces about how to critique interfaces, which is essentially what I’m doing in the article that offends you so deeply. And in 2015, a year before you published your article, I published an article about dashboards and control rooms, which are, essentially, spaces where authority figures look together at slides on screens — which is essentially what’s happening in Cuomo’s press conferences.
I say this not to suggest that “I got there first.” Who cares? Lots of folks “got there” before both of us did. Instead, I’m merely noting that my thoughts about presentation software weren’t birthed, as you suggest, with your presentation in [remote Scandinavian city] (which, to be quite honest, I don’t remember*) or your article. But yes, your article, in building atop previous work on PowerPoint, helped me understand the history of these platforms and how they technically structure content.
[*My forgetfulness is in no way a reflection on the quality of your talk. I typically arrived in [remote Scandinavian city] after an overnight flight, and I was always very tired during my visits there.]
Last summer I gathered dozens of examples of PowerPoint, Google Slide, and Prezi art for use in an “intentionally bad slideshow” workshop in my undergrad “Tools” class, and I shared all that material online. An Art in America editor asked if I’d like to write about it. I figured it could be a good “teaching text,” to help my students appreciate contemporary artistic (mis-)applications of the software — a topic that is *not* a central concern in your article. I drew on my training in art history to *supplement* the work that I, as well as you and your predecessors — Henry Petroski, Robert Nelson, Edward Tufte, David Byrne, Dexter Sinister, Darsie Alexander, etc. — had already done. Art in America is an art magazine; I thus emphasized artistic examples and references. It is also a non-scholarly venue, which means that it adheres to different referencing standards — but in the 2000-word (i.e., short) published article I still CITED AND DEDICATED A WHOLE PARAGRAPH TO YOUR WORK. (I also included a link to our class website, where readers could find dozens more relevant resources.) This, to me, is one of the great joys of scholarship and creative production: we can build on one another’s work. Yet as you told me recently, you found the existence of my article “troublesome.” You expected me to reach out to ask for permission to reference your published work. I’ve never had anyone do that with me, and I certainly don’t expect it. I honestly don’t know of anyone else who does.
A month later, as the pandemic stormed in, and as seemingly *everyone* on social media and in the popular press was offering tiny “think pieces” about Cuomo’s PowerPoints, Art in America asked me again if I’d like to write a review of his press conferences *as a creative performance*. Countless folks on social media, in newspapers and magazines, etc., were already talking about how Cuomo’s press conferences — and particularly his slides — lent him a sense of competence and authority. This was not a novel or scholarly insight. I wanted to understand what, graphically and performatively, made his presentations so charismatic (perhaps deceptively so).
Art and performance reviews are typically based on observation and aesthetic judgment. My Cuomo review was a description and analysis of what I was (and what others were) seeing in real-time. And guiding my observation were my undergraduate training in rhetoric and political communication, my dissertation work on the aesthetics of public deliberation processes and formalism in media and architecture, my postdoc work in art and design history (which included much thinking about the slide projector as a pedagogical medium), and my own decades of publications on media and space. Honestly, Colleague, your PowerPoint article was only one of about a thousand ideas that were running through my mind as I wrote the review; it wasn’t a major influence. I’m sorry, but it’s true. My review focused on graphic design and rhetoric. Your article does not; it makes a different, valuable contribution. As does all of our predecessors’ work.
Art and performance reviews in popular venues rarely, if ever, feature scholarly citations. And online reviews in this particular publication allow links only to sources for direct quotes. If I *were* to have cited some sources in my 1000-word online review, though, those that most influenced me were Joe McGinnis’s The Selling of the President, David Reinfurt’s A New Program for Graphic Design, Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies, and Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Still, I linked from the Cuomo review back to the original article — the one on PowerPoint art — for readers who wanted more context.
The Cuomo piece, which seems to most upset you, is a popular review, not scholarship. Your work stands as an important work of scholarship. Mine stands as a short, ephemeral review in the popular press. Our work does different work. Nobody’s work is “erasing” anyone else’s.
You also asked why I didn’t reach out. That’s because, in the past, you haven’t responded to my emails. And when we’ve found ourselves at the same conferences and events, you’ve often left the room when I’ve presented. You seemed to have very little interest in my work or me.
Finally — again, since you asked, Colleague — yes, lots of people have written about libraries and dashboards and Hudson Yards (and *many* other topics I’ve addressed in my work) without citing me (you did it yourself, in an interview about public libraries). These folks drew from other sources of inspiration. It sometimes stings, but yes, it happens. And it’s rarely nefarious.
In June 2017 I submitted my dossier for “rank review” — the non-lethal review for promotion to full professor. Unlike the tenure review, this procedure wasn’t “up or out.” In other words, if I failed, I wouldn’t be fired; I’d simply remain an Associate Professor.
Well, folks, I passed. I received the good news late last spring, and I met with the various deans involved in my review last month for a heartening debriefing meeting.
But I found very little public discussion about, and very few tips for, the full-professor dossier. Since I apparently did something right in my own rank review (thanks, in no small part, to an excellent editorial review by a generous senior colleague), I figured I’d share some of my dossier materials — my statement of purpose and table of contents — in the hope that they’ll be useful for others.
As you’ll see in my statement, below the TOC, I aimed to achieve a few specific goals:
I sought to describe the integration of my scholarship, teaching, and service — to demonstrate how all three areas of responsibility informed and advanced one another (yes, this required a bit of rhetorical massaging and revisionist history);
I aimed to find a cohesive, coherent framework for my eclectic, purposefully undisciplined work. I realized that an external reviewer might see my publications and talks and projects — which are strewn across architecture, urban studies, media studies, art, library science, and geography (and beyond) — and wonder what kind of a weird mongrel I am. I had to show that that medley was methodical (even if it wasn’t). By presenting myself as a “mediator” between disciplines, and between fields of scholarship and practice, I aligned myself with the core intellectual concerns of my home discipline, Media Studies. But then, in order to dispel fears of interdisciplinary dilettantism, I also had to demonstrate that my work has been recognized and validated by folks in the other disciplines with which I’m in dialogue.
I justified my choice to publish primarily in open-access (and sometimes para-academic) venues by framing these platforms as consistent with the values — and aesthetics — that are central to my work.
In the teaching section, I aimed to display the range of courses I’ve taught, identify the principles that unite them, highlight my successes, non-defensively contextualize the struggles — and frame those challenges as opportunities for me to practice resilience and adaptability.
In the service section, I aimed to convey both the volume and quality of my service. Having served on close to a hundred internal and external faculty reviews, I’ve seen lots of “service” narratives that are simply a lifeless list of committees. And what’s more, many candidates provide no evidence of their service in the dossier appendices. If we’re to value good university citizenship — and ensure that service is equitably distributed — we need to do a much better job of accounting for our own contributions and asking other to do the same. So, in my dossier, I sought to describe my concrete contributions in each committee or appointment; link those service activities, whenever possible, to the skills and interests that animate my scholarship and teaching; offer some indirect evidence that my colleagues must apparently regard me as a collegial, reliable collaborator; and convey my ongoing commitment to being a good citizen in my department, school, university, and larger community.
Below, you’ll find my seven-page table of contents (which includes only my post-tenure work), and below that, my personal statement.
Spring 2017 was perhaps the season when “epistemological” became a household word. Or close to it. The term appeared with increasing regularity in major newspapers, and lots of people were questioning the state of “facts,” the party politics of datasets, and the veracity of evidentiary records. It was thrilling to see such heady topics enter public discourse, but the circumstances surrounding their rise were really quite tragic. The White House’s new occupants equated “truth” with the “strong beliefs” of a president who took his briefings from cable news and conspiracy theorists. This was an era of Wikileaks and ransomware, of rogue federal agency Twitter feeds and disappearing climate data. Meanwhile, the climate itself was threatening our scientific repositories: melting Arctic permafrost flooded the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway’s “doomsday” archive of biodiversity. Amidst all this eco-precarity, cyber-insecurity, and epistemological uncertainty bloomed a thousand counter-forces: virtual private networks, encrypted streams, and citizen archivists who sought to preserve security, uphold accountability, and embrace the pursuit of truth.
How do these institutions and individuals – executive branches and courts, intelligence agencies and archives, news organizations and informal networks of activists – inform what we know to be true? How, by creating and preserving or redacting and discarding various media, do they cultivate the epistemological ground upon which we tend our cultural narratives and public knowledges? Such questions have animated my work – in publication and creative scholarship, in the classroom, in my service at The New School, and in the local and global communities – for the past eighteen years. I’ve been examining how material infrastructures mediate intellectual infrastructures, and vice versa – how our material world, and the spaces and objects we design within it, both shape and are shaped by our structures of thought. And because different infrastructures are typically entwined, or nested within one another, my exploration has traversed scales: from the scale of the object (the book, the file card, the field guide, the screen, the interface, the desk, the closet), to the architectural scale (the library, the archive, the urban intervention, the control center, the exhibition, the subterranean repository), to the urban scale (ancient urban record-keeping and acoustics, computational urban visions at the World’s Fairs, contemporary smart cities), to the scale of the networks and “clouds” that link together and extend beyond these other sites of mediation (logistical systems, data flows, ubiquitous surveillance, technical standards, cultural conventions).
To take a concrete example of this scalar integration: the classification scheme begets the filing system, which begets the filing cabinet, which begets the office, which begets the skyscraper, which begets urban form, and so on. The data model begets the interface design, which cultivates the user experience, which constructs the user as a certain kind of “subject” and embodies a particular epistemology and ideology. These systems of influence (and I do stress influence, rather than determinism) work in both directions: from the macro to the micro scale, from the material to the conceptual, and back again. We can find countless historical and contemporary instantiations – and even speculative future visions – of this chain of infrastructural influence (it’s not hard to imagine a Google-governed global brain!). Such systematic thinking has informed all areas of my professional practice: my scholarship, my teaching, and even my service, as I’ve observed how the various material and ideological and bureaucratic dimensions of an institution are integrated.
My work has been grounded in several fields of exploration within media studies. First, ever since my undergraduate days I’ve drawn on theories of media’s materiality, which compel us to examine not only what’s projected on the screen or printed on the page, but to look at the screen and the page themselves, as well as the cultural conventions and technical apparatae informing their production, distribution, and consumption. Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis provided early material inspiration, and I supplemented this foundation with the work of German culture and media theorists like Walter Benjamin and Cornelia Vismann, anthropologists like Arjun Appadurai and Daniel Miller, feminist scholars like Donna Haraway and N. Katherine Hayles, and media historians and theorists including Lisa Gitelman, Jonathan Sterne, and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Lynn Spigel and Beatriz Colomina, both of whom examine the materiality of media architectures (and the epistemologies they embody), have been guiding forces for my research since graduate school. Second, and related, is the field of media archaeology, particularly the work of Friedrich Kittler, Jussi Parikka, and Markus Krajewski, who shares my nerdy interest in index cards and classification schemes. Media archaeology arrived, via new German-to-English translations, at the perfect time for me (and for other scholars and artists): it provided a corrective to all the breathless new-media scholarship espousing a placeless, disembodied, frictionless digital future. By questioning the newness of “new media” and focusing on alternative material histories of media, media archaeologists drew my attention to deeper histories and to other materially oriented disciplines like archaeology proper. Finally, I’ve found the cross-disciplinary work in information and media infrastructures to provide a capacious framework for my wide-ranging research and teaching interests. Information scientists Geoffrey Bowker and Paul Edwards, sociologist Susan Leigh Star, and media scholars Lisa Parks, Nicole Starosielski, and John Durham Peters have helped to create an infrastructural community for my own infrastructure research. And this work has inspired me to think of my teaching as a means of providing supportive infrastructures for my students’ work.
While I am clearly rooted in media studies, the field in which I earned my PhD and in which I’m based at The New School, I draw on those other disciplines I studied in graduate school, and which continue to inform my work: architecture, urban studies, geography, and library and information science. These other-disciplinary lenses have helped me to think through the “nested infrastructures,” both material and intellectual, I mentioned earlier. I’ve been delighted to discover that my work has resonated strongly in these other fields. I’ve been invited to publish and present in geography and architecture venues, to teach in urban programs, to lead design schools, to keynote archivists’ and librarians’ conferences, and to help build disciplinary infrastructures within and between these and other fields. I was even invited to serve as multimedia editor of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians and to consider becoming a strategist for one of the U.S.’s top library systems.
Yet I’ve remained where I am because this intra-infrastructural space suits me. It’s where I do my best work. I’ve been pleased to hear repeatedly that my respectful and purposeful approach to interdisciplinarity – my willingness to read the literature in other fields, to speak humbly with people in other fields, to acknowledge the specialized labor in those other fields, to see the connections between disparate fields – has allowed me to win the respect, and my work to win the recognition, of scholars and practitioners in diverse areas. My grounding in media studies has enabled me to serve as a mediator between these various spaces of thought and practice. The New School has provided an ideal home for me to do this work with students and colleagues, with local collaborators, and with globally distributed academic and professional communities. The university’s pedagogical, epistemological, and social infrastructures – traversing disciplines and bridging design and social research, theory and practice, university and city, local and global, scholarship and public engagement – have both scaffolded my own development and enabled me to help build frameworks for my students’, my colleagues’, and the institution’s own growth.
I have proven myself an active scholar and creative practitioner, engaged at the international scale in my scholarly field and various areas of professional and creative practice. I’ve published and presented widely. I have proven myself a dedicated and talented teacher and advisor, serving Media Studies and a variety of programs throughout the university, as well as a global network of students. And I have proven myself a dedicated and attentive university and community citizen, serving in administrative posts and on boards and many committees, liaising between existing programs and professional fields, mentoring faculty, working collegially with staff, and helping The New School and other institutions to envision their futures. The New School has recognized my work with awards for my teaching and research, and students have acknowledged my dedication and skill through their positive evaluations and continued contact for years after they’ve graduated. My New School colleagues have also acknowledged my collegiality through their continued invitations to join them in the important work of mentoring, advising, and institution-building. I hope to continue cultivating these mutually beneficial relationships by taking on new leadership roles, and for this reason I am seeking promotion to full professor at The New School.
In this dossier I will reflect on my scholarship, teaching, and citizenship, in that order. In the process, I will refer to the documents in the appendices, which demonstrate my contributions to my department, to the university, to the academy, and to global communities of practice. The volume of material and the size of my image-intensive files have prevented me from combining all of this material into a single pdf. Instead, you’ll find six separate sections: (1) this introductory section, with the table of contents, my c.v., and this personal statement; (2-4) Appendix A, which includes evidence of my scholarship and creative and professional practice, and which, because of its size, is broken into three parts; (5) Appendix B, which includes evidence of my teaching and advising; and (6) Appendix C, which includes evidence of my citizenship. Please see the table of contents, above, as well as the tables of contents at the beginning of each appendix, for more information about what is included in each section. I have not used continuous pagination; each appendix is numbered separately. In what follows, when I refer to material in the appendices, I’ll note the appendix letter and page number(s); thus, a reference to Appendix A, Part 1, pages 3-11 will be formatted as such: (A1:3-11).
One final note: Much of my work is born-digital, or has been thoroughly documented on digital platforms. This online documentation does not always readily lend itself to capture in the form of a static pdf. While I have attempted to include pdfs of all critical resources in this dossier, those documents sometimes are infelicitously formatted and, with all their superfluous whitespace and junk code, unnecessarily long. I encourage you to view my born-digital material in its native digital format, and I provide URLs to enable you to do so.
SCHOLARSHIP AND CREATIVE PRACTICE
INFRASTRUCTURES OF PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE. Since Summer 2011 I have published one short-form book, thirty-two articles (plus five translations and reprints), six book chapters (some of them reprints of journal articles), and four book/exhibition/multimedia reviews. Another full-length monograph is scheduled for publication in November of 2017, and (at least) six more articles and seven more chapters are due to be published by Summer 2018. All books are available in Appendix A.1, articles in Appendix A.2, and chapters and reviews in Appendix A.3. I also have two more books, a monograph and an edited collection, in development. My work has been cited widely, in disparate fields, and has led to many global invitations for me to contribute additional publications and present my research. Over the past six years those presentations have included roughly eighty invited talks (on nearly sixty different topics), including six plenary or keynote addresses, and fourteen academic conferences, including two for which I organized panel discussions. I have many more such presentations, at notable venues, lined up for the coming year and beyond.
I’ve also been offered five fellowships – including a Spring 2016 senior fellowship at the Internationales Institut für Kulturtechnologieforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM) at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, which is among the most prestigious fellowships in media studies – as well as one invitational curatorial position and another invitational faculty position, two individual grants, and five collaborative grants (A3:322-42). In addition, I’ve organized or co-organized eight public conferences, symposia, event series, exhibitions, and/or scholarly platforms. I am including this work in the Scholarship section of this dossier (A3:247-313) rather than the Service section because it demonstrates a high degree of disciplinary knowledge, interdisciplinary integration, and professional skill, and it has created infrastructures for the development of further scholarly and creative work by various academic and creative communities – and particularly by my students. Many of these events have, in fact, been integrated into my classes. Such platforms represent another means of “making public” my scholarly and creative work, yet they have the distinction of inviting others to contribute, in real-time, to the creation of new knowledge.
This concern with public knowledge infrastructures has also informed my choice of venues for publication. Particularly since receiving tenure I’ve become much more attuned to publication platforms themselves as knowledge infrastructures. I’ve actively sought out venues whose operational values match the values I espouse in my research – openness and accessibility (and, equally important, good design!) – as well as those that The New School embraces through its commitment to public scholarship and civic engagement. Thus, I’ve steered away from those peer-reviewed publications that are secured behind paywalls and rely on uncompensated editorial labor while their parent companies uphold exploitative copyright policies and charge exorbitant subscription fees. I’ve focused instead on open-access venues. Most of my articles are freely available online, and even my 2015 book, Deep Mapping the Media City, published by the University of Minnesota Press, has been made available through the Mellon Foundation-funded Manifold open-access publishing platform. In those cases in which I have been asked to contribute work to a restricted peer-reviewed journal or costly edited volume, I’ve often negotiated with the publisher to allow me to “pre-print” my work as an article in an open-access online venue, or to preview an un-edited copy.
I’ve been invited to address the ethics and epistemologies of scholarly publishing and pedagogical platforms in a variety of venues, including the Columbia University Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, the Bard Graduate Center, Fordham University’s Digital Pedagogy Workshop, the Cornell Conversations in Digital Humanities Series, and the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative (you’ll find a full list of my presentations in A3:314-21). I also often chat with graduate students and junior scholars about their own “publication politics” and appropriate venues for their work, and I review their prospectuses and manuscripts.
The most personally rewarding and professionally valuable publishing experience of my post-tenure career has been my collaboration with Places Journal, a highly regarded non-profit, university-supported, open-access venue for public scholarship on landscape, architecture, urbanism. After having written thirteen (fifteen by Fall 2017) long-form pieces for Places since 2012, I’ve effectively assumed their “urban data and mediated spaces” beat (you’ll find my Places publications, along with all of my articles, in Appendix A2). I work with paid, professional editors who care not only about subject matter – they’re just as much domain experts as any academic peer reviewer I’ve encountered – but also about clarity and style and visual presentation. My research and writing process for Places is no less time- and labor-intensive, and the editorial process is no less rigorous, than would be required for a traditional academic publication, but Places (and my work with other open-access venues) allows my work to reach a global, interdisciplinary audience in a timely manner, via a smartly designed platform that allows for rich illustration. This public scholarship has a different “impact” than pay-walled publications in prestige journals. Yet the response to my work on social media, the number of citations it’s received (in both scholarly and popular literature), and the number of invitations it’s generated, suggest the promise of such alternative infrastructures for academic publishing. By making my work open and accessible, I’ve still managed to meet many of the prestige- and scarcity-driven markers of academic excellence (for more on my work’s impact, see A3:343).
MEDIA OBJECTS. My work often starts with the small and concrete, with a particular media object, and then demonstrates how big and complex that small thing is when we situate it within its broader cultural, political-economic, and infrastructural contexts. One such object is the file. I’ve spoken at ArtCenter College of Design and the University of Amsterdam about how humble index cards, folders, and fiches constitute the formal and functional bases of our organizational and computing systems, and how they establish a logic and ideology for the ways we organize the world. As I describe in my “Indexing the World” “Small, Moving Parts,” and “Bureaucracy’s Playthings” articles, files are mediators of larger epistemologies and ontologies, from the institutional to the global scale. Zines, too, are modest media objects whose format embodies an ethic of production and a community’s politics. My “Click/Scan/Bold” article examines the state of architectural design and discourse through the rise of architects’ little magazines and zines in the early aughts. I was invited to further address the politics of “little” publications for Arquine, a Mexican design magazine, and at Paper Tiger Television’s 30th anniversary workshop in 2012.
And as the daughter of a cabinetmaker, I’ve long considered the functional, affective, and even intellectual dimensions of furniture: how a particular bookshelf structures my engagement with media and frames my intellectual labor. I began my work on “intellectual furnishings” – the epistemologies embodied in desks, chairs, and media storage equipment – as a 2014-15 fellow at The New School’s Graduate Institute of Design, Ethnography and Social Thought, and I continued this work as a 2016 senior fellow at the IKKM. I’ve been invited to present this work elsewhere: at the University of Buffalo’s Media Study program, in Columbia University’s “Book History” colloquium, and as part of the “Critical Infrastructure Studies” panel at the 2018 Modern Language Association conference. And I have published, and am publishing, parts of this research in Harvard Design Magazine; VOLUME, a prominent Dutch architecture magazine; Places Journal; and Perspecta, Yale’s architecture journal. This research also informed my contributions to “Furnishing the Cloud,” a 2015 New School exhibition exploring ergonomics for the cloud-computing era (A3:298); as well as my work with Parsons’ Architecture program and the New York Public Library’s Correctional Services to design new book carts for the librarians in New York’s correctional facilities. We documented our work in a self-published book (A3:108).
I’ll be expanding this furniture research in my next monograph, tentatively titled Case Studies: An Intellectual History of Media Furniture, and [REDACTED]. Other “epistemological tools” and equipment – from time-telling devices to archival and urban interfaces – have been the subject of many talks and publications, including my “Interfacing Urban Intelligence” and “Animated Aberrations” articles. I’ve shared this work in a variety of venues, from Utrecht University, to the VERGE Transdisciplinary Design conference at The New School, to a transportation infrastructure symposium at the Center for Architecture in New York.
I also study the infrastructural lessons embodied in individual artworks and exhibitions. I was invited to speak about “archival aesthetics” – what archive-inspired artwork can teach us about the ideologies and epistemologies of archival practices – as a keynote at the 2014 “Digital Preservation” conference at the Library of Congress, and as an invited faculty member at the 2015 Princeton-Weimar Summer School on “Archive Futures.” I emphasize that these aesthetics are more than visual; multisensorial ways of knowing have long been a theme in my work. I was invited to lead a panel on multisensory exhibition design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012, and I then examined these “embodied” curatorial techniques for the Senses & Society journal (A2:453). I’ve also written about the infrastructural intelligences underlying a number of other artworks: Brian Tolle’s Threshold installation at The New School (A3:16), artist Simon Denny’s Secret Power project at the 2015 Venice Biennale (A2:4), and artist Zoe Beloff’s media archaeological installations (A2:177).
The archive itself, and the mediated objects within its collection, have been common themes in my work, too. In various invited presentations – at UnionDocs, Poets House, the New Museum, and the new National Audiovisual Institute in Warsaw, Poland – and in various publications I’ve discussed sound archives, social media archives, and archival infrastructures for marginalized communities. My “Media Archaeology of Poetry and Sound” and “Preserving Yesterday’s Tech” articles focus on sound archives and the challenges of preserving volatile media archives. And to celebrate the accomplishments of the legendary NYPL Labs, the library’s recently shuttered R&D unit, its former director and I published an interview about building archival infrastructures for urban memory (A2:88). I address related issues about the library as a mediator and bulwark for public information literacy and privacy in my “Public In/Formation” article.
MEDIA ARCHITECTURES. The archive and library as physical spaces, as media architectures, have been primary concerns since my dissertation. At invited talks at Johns Hopkins, Smith College, the Pratt Institute, the Yale School of Architecture, and elsewhere (including a keynote at the 2014 Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarians’ [RBMS] national gathering) I’ve discussed the value of imagining these institutions as architectural and media infrastructures. My “Library as Infrastructure” article has circulated widely, was recently translated in Bahasa Indonesian, and inspired a 2016 interview in a Dutch information science magazine (A2:227). I’ve also written, in “Middlewhere” and “Behind New York’s Library Networks,” about the widely distributed physical and digital logistical systems connecting branch libraries, research institutions, and media repositories. Some of those repositories are housed in reclaimed limestone and salt mines. I’ve examined these massive “geologic” archives, where we aim to preserve our media artifacts for a posthuman future, for Harvard’s New Geographies. At the opposite scale are small pop-up, guerilla libraries, from Occupy camps to street-corner book-shares. I’ve written about how these “little libraries” reflect our relationships to privatized, restricted information resources and urban landscapes (A2:606).
Many of these media storage infrastructures embody contradictory values: closing off in order to keep open the possibility of access over the longue durée, and adopting logistical systems perfected in the private sector in order to optimize a public service. Several colleagues and I explored such political issues in our “Democratizing the Archives” working group, supported by a 2012-13 Innovations in Education Grant. My own work has examined media architectures embodying ideologies quite far removed from those of the democratic public library. I’ve written, for example, about surveillant “smart city” command centers and the history of the “urban dashboard” in “Mission Control,” a widely circulated article that was later anthologized in two edited collections.
MEDIA CITIES. The so-called “smart city” has been the subject of many of my recent articles in Places and other venues, and of several events in which I’ve participated (and some of which I’ve helped to organize; see, e.g., A3:248). My articles “Interfacing Urban Intelligence,” “Methodolatry and the Art of Measure,” and particularly “Instrumental City,” about the smart technologies and techno-solutionist ideologies embedded in New York’s Hudson Yards development (A2:244), have been cited widely, and have led to many speaking invitations (including a recent invitation to deliver a keynote in China, which I sadly had to decline).
In addition to critiquing “smart” infrastructures and computational models of urbanity, I also aim to promote alternative urban visions and historical frameworks for thinking about data-driven planning. My “Paju Bookcity: The Next Chapter” article, completed with the support of a visiting scholarship from the Korea Foundation (A3:338), examines a South Korean media enclave where book publishers and other media companies have taken a stand against rampant technological development and reckless urban growth. “A City Is Not a Computer” and “Auditing Urban Intelligence” – a piece co-authored with 21 students in my Spring 2017 “Urban Intelligence” class, and slated for publication in MIT Press’s Leonardo Electronic Almanac – examine other situated, embodied, social, local, low-tech, and non-human intelligences embedded in our cities. The “Indexical Landscapes” symposium I organized in 2015 for the Media Design Practices program at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA, likewise considered various landscapes, like factory farms and container ports, that “index” their own logics of operation (A3:275). These are not new phenomena. My “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure” chapter, my “Of Mud, Media, and the Metropolis” article, and my forthcoming book, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5000 Years of Urban Media, all historicize the “smart city,” demonstrating that cities always have been “responsive” mediated environments. As I write in the introduction to the book,
For millennia, our cities have been designed to foster “broadcast”; they’ve been “wired” for transmission; they’ve hosted architectures for the production and distribution of various forms of intelligence and served as hubs for records-management; they’ve rendered themselves “readable” to humans and machines; they’ve even written their “source code,” their operating instructions, on their facades and into the urban form itself. They’ve coded themselves both for the administrative technologies, or proto-algorithms, that oversee their operation and for the people who have built and inhabit and maintain them.
MAPPING INFRASTRUCTURES. Over the years I’ve also explored methods for excavating the deep history of urban mediation and identifying its historic infrastructures. One such method is mapping. My 2015 short-form book, Deep Mapping the Media City, based on a keynote address I delivered at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in 2013, was written to serve as a teaching text and methodological provocation. Drawing on our work in my 2010-13 “Urban Media Archaeology” studio (B:234), I propose multisensory cartography as a means of examining the richly intertwined infrastructures of our mediated cities. This work has generated some excitement among geographers, who have invited me to talk and write about “maps as media” in their own disciplinary venues (for more about the impact of my mapping work, see A3:343). Sound mapping offers particular methodological challenges and opportunities. My “Ear to the Wire” article and “Sonic Archaeology” chapter, which I began developing in a 2012 fellowship at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (A3:342), examine what we can learn by listening to cities past.
Yet these cartographic and sensory methods apply equally well to contemporary investigations. My “Infrastructural Tourism” article, which surveys methods for mediating and experiencing infrastructure (communications infrastructure in particular), has led to many talks and master classes, from Amsterdam to Sydney (A3:314, B:9). I extended this research in my 2016 “Cloud and Field” article, which explores “extreme” infrastructural field work in which researchers and designers seek to “visit” The Cloud – our global atmospheric information infrastructure – and develop field guides in various media forms to trace their journeys. Here, we see that nesting of infrastructures I mentioned earlier: tiny field guides function to illuminate a vast media geography. These methods have proven to be illuminating and provocative pedagogical strategies, both in my own classes and in other universities, where faculty have incorporated my work into their syllabi. Multisensory cartographic methods serve as both intellectual and material “scaffolding” (as I describe in a chapter for the Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities) for teaching and learning about mediated objects, architectures, infrastructures, cities, and landscapes (A3:74).
TEACHING AND ADVISING
TEACHING RESPONSIBILITIES. Many of the courses I teach are inspired by, or have inspired, my scholarship. Since Fall 2011 I have taught nine different classes: required and elective; lecture, seminar, and studio; theory, production, and hybrid-format; graduate-only and mixed grad/undergrad. These courses regularly attract students from across the university. Both my Fall 2016 “Maps as Media” and Spring 2017 “Urban Intelligence” classes, for instance, drew students from eight different graduate and undergraduate programs. As I’ll address in the Citizenship section below, The New School has sought to encourage such cross-program integration, and I’ve been a part of these initiatives both as a committee member and as a model of such integration.
Course codes, descriptions, and enrollments are listed on B:3-8. Appendix B features six of my classes, which represent a range of topics, pedagogical approaches, goals, and student populations. I begin with a traditional graduate seminar, “Bookshelves to Big Data,” which also happens to be one of my favorite classes. Next is a hybrid grad/undergrad, theory/practice studio, “Maps as Media”; followed by another hybrid course, “Urban Intelligence,” which was supported by an Innovations in Education Grant that allowed me give each student a $200 materials budget, thus encouraging some ambitious experimentation (and allowing me the great pleasure of reconciling lots of receipts!). My final featured course is “Understanding Media Studies,” a challenging and much debated “intro to grad studies”-style lecture course that’s been required of all of Media Studies’ first-semester MA students since 2008, yet which only seven of Media Studies’ 33 principal faculty have been asked to teach. I share this class to demonstrate how I’ve attempted to adapt to institutional change, evolving student needs, and (within reason) student demand.
I’ve also included the syllabi for two other representative and popular classes: my “Media and Architecture” seminar and my now-retired “Urban Media Archaeology” (UMA) studio, both of which were instrumental in the development of my new book, Code and Clay. For UMA, we partnered for four years with Parsons faculty and students to develop our own custom-designed, open-source mapping platform, the Urban Research Toolkit (URT), to feature the students’ research on historical urban media infrastructures (A3:313). After four years of volatility – of student developers and designers pulled from the project by prestigious internships and jobs, of unstable technical infrastructure and no promise of institutional preservation – we pulled the plug on URT, and I retired the course. Still, the class built atop that technical platform was a memorable success – one I was asked to share at numerous conferences, from UCLA to the Harvard metaLab to Bard College, and which I chronicled in my Deep Mapping book.
In the sections that follow I’ll highlight these six courses, as well as other courses I’ve developed, as I address my teaching philosophy and methods and my development as an instructor. In Appendix B you’ll find evidence of how I’ve operationalized these approaches in each class and through my advising. I’ve included not only syllabi, but also sample pages from the websites I build for each class (and which, students often note, are an integral part of our class’s organization and cohesion), sample class lessons and presentations, samples of student work, and samples of my feedback on students’ projects. (You can find additional syllabi and course materials in the Teaching section of my website, wordsinspace.net.)
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY. As a scholar inspired by architecture and infrastructure, I think of teaching as the collaborative creation of an infrastructure for students’ guided, self-directed, and, ultimately, life-long learning. Now, please pardon me while I belabor this metaphor: I begin constructing each class by laying a pedagogical and theoretical foundation and establishing a methodological framework. My students and I collectively build out the scaffolding, and then each student experiments and tests ideas and projects within that structure. Despite the collaborative nature of the job, it’s still my responsibility to plan meticulously and come prepared with all the necessary tools and supplies. My student evaluations demonstrate that I’m famously well prepared, and that my courses are consistently well organized. This prep work is essential: in order to create a space for students to explore their own interests through a variety of scholarly and creative forms, I’m responsible for introducing them to, and helping them to select carefully from, a variety of critical concepts, methods, and tools of presentation. In my “Maps” and “Urban Media Archaeology” classes, for example, we don’t simply make maps. We pull apart the map as a historical, political, technical, epistemological, and aesthetic medium. We explore diverse approaches to cartography, and then we make maps that have embedded within themselves gestures toward their own self-critique.
My pedagogical “infrastructuring” (to borrow a term from Susan Lee Star and Karen Ruhleder) is guided by a few hypotheses and bits of folk wisdom:
The small and local are infinitely big and complex. In the classroom we ask big questions: What constitutes fact or evidence? Whose experiences are excluded from the archive? How do maps define spatial ontologies? Do classification systems reify prejudices? What values should guide how we use technology in urban design? And in addressing those questions we engage with some big theories, from Foucault’s “archive” to Haraway’s “situated knowledge.” I’ve found that the most effective way to engage with those big ideas (particularly for theory neophytes) is to home in on a concrete “thing” – to start with a delimited case study, a modest field site, a familiar media object – then spiral out by exploring the networks and interlocking infrastructures that extend from that seemingly small thing, and concurrently pushing the analysis from the concrete to the abstract. In my “Urban Media Archaeology” and “Maps” classes, students investigate each week’s central theories and critical concepts through “map critiques,” which require them to start with a single cartographic object and build an analytical scaffolding that ultimately connects back to the week’s theoretical framework. In “Bookshelves,” too, students share “application exercises” that bring our theoretical readings to life in real-world places, things, exhibitions, and current events. Students’ evaluations indicate that they enjoy these exercises, which often evolve into their final projects.
The intellectual is material and ideological and aesthetic. We examine case studies through multiple lenses: aesthetic, political, and epistemological. The built spaces we survey in “Media as Architecture,” the “smart” infrastructures we explore in “Urban Intelligence,” the soundscapes we experience in “Sound and Space,” the media artifacts we collect in “Media and Materiality”: all lend themselves to such multifaceted analysis. And by examining what politics and epistemologies are embodied in our existing media objects and architectures, students can then imagine designing them otherwise. In “Bookshelves,” we worked with renowned speculative designers Fiona Raby and Tony Dunne to imagine physical and virtual interfaces for future knowledge repositories. And in “Urban Intelligence,” students developed proposals for intelligent cities that critique the “smart city” model; their work is featured on our class website and in an article we’ve jointly authored for Leonardo Electronic Almanac (A2:12).
Methods and tools are epistemological and political assemblages. All of my classes are, in one way or another, methodology classes. In “Bookshelves” we explore practices for organizing, digitizing, circulating, and preserving various media objects. In “Urban Intelligence” we interrogate data-driven planning. In “Understanding Media Studies,” we compare and contrast the various research methods and production strategies employed by our guests, who range from scholars to artists to engineers (I strive for multiple forms of diversity: 60% of our Spring 2017 guests were women and 60% were people of color). Through their analysis of existing work, students then recognize the weight of their own methodological and technical choices. My goals are to help students realize that methods and technologies are empowering political tools they can wield to effect change in the world, and that with that power comes ethical responsibility. The exhibitions they curate for “Media and Materiality” and the atlases they construct for “Maps” (which many students then integrate into their theses) are more than mere class assignments; they have the potential to become tools for social practice. And in Spring 2014, when I was asked to design a “Digital Archives” class to feature some newly acquired archival material, my students and I (without the promised technical support) partnered with the university’s archivists and devised our own methods for showcasing and contextualizing these materials while also honoring the archival labor that made them accessible.
Knowledge is embedded in people and places. For each lesson, I aim to develop a balanced collection of readings: I match challenging theoretical texts with accessible applications in public scholarship, then add technical or “grey” literature from professionals who enact those theories in their practice. We don’t just read about “The Archive” through Derrida. We also engage with the literature in library and archival science, and we enter the archive itself. Each fall my “Bookshelves” class descends into the bowels of the New York City Municipal Archives, where we talk to archivists as they process new acquisitions, to conservators as they preserve historic NYPD photos, and to digitization experts as they calibrate their equipment to digitize a set of maps. In “Urban Intelligence,” we began our Spring 2017 semester with a visit to Intersection, Alphabet’s urban tech division, to see their work in Hudson Yards, New York’s biggest “smart city” development. Later that semester, through a public event I co-organized with the renowned Storefront for Art and Architecture, students engaged with seventeen practitioners from such diverse fields as urban informatics, preservation, policy, anthropology, and more (A3:248). To take one final example: I redesigned “Understanding Media Studies” for its final iteration in Spring 2017 to incorporate more student engagement with our guest presenters’ larger bodies and communities of work, with assignments designed first to prepare the students to ask our guests smart and probing questions about their methods and motivations, and then to develop a critical response reflecting on those discussions and drawing parallels between our guests’ work and the students’ own goals (B:189-206). In short, I strive to demonstrate that theory and practice are not separate, hierarchically ordered worlds – one scholarly, the other applied. Embedded, embodied, situated knowledge enacted by skilled practitioners in our archives, administrative offices, map labs, design studios, and elsewhere serves as a critical anchor for, or perhaps an antidote to, ungrounded theory.
Theory is a cultural production. Finally, I aim to demystify (and, I’ll admit, desacralize) theory by helping students put it into context. Rather than reifying theory’s Great Men, we strive to historicize theoretical movements, investigate their politics, and examine what cultural or political-economic contexts, what “intellectual infrastructures,” might explain the rise of a particular thinker or idea at a particular time. We discuss theory as cultural symptom, as academic currency, as cultural capital, and as political instrument. Through this “profaning” of theoretical gospel, I hope to encourage students to regard theories not as truisms, but as critical apparatae that help us make sense of things, frameworks that help us ask questions, tools that help us do things in the world.
EVALUATION AND DEVELOPMENT. I frequently check in with my students throughout the semester about their progress and satisfaction with the class, and I carefully review their comments on my end-of-semester evaluations. Building on my 2011 Distinguished University Teaching Award, my post-2011 evaluations are strong, with most ratings in the top two categories. Students commonly express appreciation for my organization, knowledge, enthusiasm, and accessibility; for my ability to clearly explain complex texts and topics; for my skill in leading inclusive and engaging discussions; and for the thoroughness, promptness, and helpfulness of my feedback. A student in my Fall 2012 “Urban Media Archaeology” class described me as “Thorough. Enthusiastic. Open-minded. Challenging. Up-to-date. Shannon really pushes you to do your best. And you want to do your best because you know that SHE’s doing HER best.” Many students have referred to a variety of my classes as “the best class [they’ve] taken in the program” – or at The New School, or anywhere. A student in my Fall 2013 “Archives, Libraries, and Databases” class wrote: “I feel so lucky to have had Shannon as a teacher. She manages to explain every concept with much clarity and always provides references and examples of creative applications of the various subjects we talk about. She facilitates discussions in an effortless invisible way so almost everyone participates and shares their thoughts. Her feedback on student work is helpful and insightful. We often laugh together in class, how wonderful is that?” A Fall 2015 “Maps as Media” student offered: “You can tell by the readings line up and the structure of the class that she put a lot of energy and thought into the preparation of the course.” A Fall 2016 “Maps” student wrote: “her interactions with students were helpful and respectful. There were diverse students from different backgrounds, and she was fair with all the students including international students. She tried to communicate with people who are not used to this academic domain and considered carefully about each student’s interest.” Finally, a Spring 2017 “Urban Intelligence” student said: “Shannon is one of the most amazing professors that I’ve ever met. She is not only clever, but also very organized, helpful, respectful, responsible, and motivating. She is absolutely THE BEST.”
Students occasionally offer constructive criticism about our readings, assignments, or course structure. I carefully consider their recommendations and often incorporate them in syllabus revisions. For instance, in “Maps,” which is a relatively new class, I’ve acted on my Fall 2015 students’ suggestion to build in more incremental assignments and a mid-semester critique, and I plan to use a Fall 2016 suggestion to have students weave more critical insights from the readings into their final atlases. UMS students from 2014 asked for more time to reflect on our guests’ presentations, so I integrated more open discussions in 2017. Other students’ comments address equipment, facilities, and technical support issues that are, to a large degree, beyond my control; and a few others offered anomalous critiques.
There are two classes for which I received mixed evaluations, and which require explanation. First, as part of an agreement between the School of Media Studies (SMS) and the Independent Film Project (IFP), our Spring 2014 “Sound and Space” class was chosen to take place in the brand-new Made in NY Media Center in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Seizing the opportunity, my colleague Barry Salmon and I spent much of the Fall 2013 semester making plans for Dumbo-specific field recording exercises and soundwalks, a sound symposium in the Center’s auditorium, and even an end-of-semester student exhibition in the Center’s gallery. After the first week of the Spring semester, however, the agreement between SMS and IFP fell through, and the course was abruptly resituated in a cramped, technically deficient lab on campus (whose roaring HVAC system created tremendous communication challenges with my hearing-impaired colleague). Ultimately, our months of site-specific planning were rendered futile, and those plans proved impossible to translate to the new location. The students, like their instructors, were justifiably disappointed. Second, my less-than-stellar evaluations for “Understanding Media Studies” are consistent with, or higher than, those of my colleagues who’ve also taught this ever-complicated class. I offer some historical context for the course and its challenges on B:222.
Despite these occasional internal complications, my teaching has received a great deal of positive attention from across The New School, where I’m regularly invited to give guest lectures in colleagues’ classes and to serve as a guest critic in their studios. You can find a list of my 35 guest lectures and additional critiques on B:9-12. I’ve been invited to teach in a number of different programs in Parsons and Eugene Lang College, but infrastructural complications have often prevented me from doing so. My courses have also resonated beyond The New School. I’ve been invited to offer master classes and workshops in Seoul, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Sydney, and at Smith College, Cornell University, and elsewhere. My “Bookshelves” class has drawn a variety of external auditors – from library administrators to celebrated poets – who’ve greatly enriched our discussions. Eminent archivist Rick Prelinger has called it “THE class on the future of memory and access practices” (see B:35). The course website has also circulated widely, generating invitations for me to speak about the class and my “media studies approach” to librarianship and archivy in 2014 keynote addresses at the Library of Congress and the national rare books and manuscript librarians’ gatherings, and at the New York Art Resources Consortium conference at MoMA in 2015. For my invited talk at the 2017 Association of College and Research Librarians’ conference I was again encouraged to address the “Bookshelves” class. I’ve also been invited to share my “Urban Media Archaeology” and “Maps” classes in a variety of venues, among artists, geographers, digital humanists, and information designers, many of whom have told me that the “Maps” class in particular has inspired them to rethink the way they teach cartography. And “Urban Intelligence” elicited an invitation from Columbia University Press to transform the class into a short book (I’m still ruminating on the offer; see B:151).
Despite these commendations, I always seek to improve my teaching by remaining current, responsive, and engaging. I’m always exploring new texts and case studies, refreshing my presentations, planning new field trips, exploring new external partnerships, and reading about the latest developments in higher education. For my studio classes, I enjoy working with teaching assistants from various Parsons programs, so we can learn from each other in developing exciting and innovative design workshops and tutorials. You’ll find several examples of such pedagogical experimentation in my “Urban Intelligence” class documentation (B:122-44).
STUDENT ADVISING. My work with individual students likewise enriches my teaching (and inspires my research and service). Ours is a Masters-only program. I typically work with 20 to 30 Media Studies MA advisees, yet I also meet regularly with dozens of Masters students from across Parsons, as well as a few PhD students and undergrads. The Parsons students frequently invite me to consult on their class projects and theses and to attend their program critiques. As I mentioned above, I also work closely with my teaching assistants, involving them in planning meetings, encouraging them to integrate their own work into the class, and inviting them to co-facilitate lessons. While they assist me in leading my classes, I aim to help them develop their teaching skills. And nearly every week I meet with at least one New School alum to discuss her current work and future plans. I commonly review current advisees’ and alums’ PhD applications and conference abstracts, and I typically find myself writing a couple dozen recommendation letters each semester. Students from other local and global universities frequently seek me out, too. In all, I spend at least ten hours each week on routine academic advising, both in-person and virtual. I offer a more thorough description of my advising work, along with samples of my advising correspondence, on B:245, B:299.
THESIS AND INDEPENDENT COURSEWORK ADVISING. Over the past six years I’ve advised ten independent studies, served as primary advisor for eleven Masters theses in Media Studies and various Parsons programs, and served as secondary/external reviewer for six more. Among those students, four have won the School of Media Studies’ Thesis Award, two have won academic excellence awards, and six are currently enrolled in PhD programs at Brown, Columbia, and NYU. While still working on their theses, several of these students presented their work at competitive conferences, published their research in peer-reviewed journals and edited collections, and screened their work in festivals. I typically assisted by forwarding relevant CFPs and offering help with proposal-writing and revisions.
We have no media PhD program at The New School, yet I’m currently serving on two PhD committees, one at Columbia and one at NYU. I’ve also served as an external reviewer for four dissertation and proposal defenses at NYU, the University of Copenhagen, Cornell, and the University of Melbourne. I’ve also advised a postdoctoral fellow and two visiting scholars (one a Fulbright scholar) and served as external advisor for a curatorial fellowship. I’ve worked to help these folks get grants, develop new classes, publish their work, and build their professional “infrastructures.” I list all of my independent advising activity and provide samples of my feedback on B:246-98.
DEPARTMENT SERVICE. I’ve been a reliable, engaged University Citizen since the moment I arrived at The New School in 2004. Within my first five years, I served as Thesis Coordinator (acting as external reviewer on about 50 theses per year), Admissions Coordinator (reviewing roughly 400 applications per year), and Director of Graduate Studies for a program with 500+ students and 60+ faculty. I also filled in for our Student Advising Coordinator and Executive Secretary for a few months, too. Phew. While the past six years have been less administratively burdensome, I’ve remained actively engaged in faculty governance and program development. You’ll find a complete list of my internal service activity on C:3-6. Within the School of Media Studies, I’ve served for three semesters as organizer, producer, and M.C. of our Monday night lecture series, for which I brought nearly 50 scholars, artists, media-makers, producers, and alums to campus (see A3:265, A3:282). I also contributed to a Spring 2014 working group dedicated to the redesign of our New Student Orientation and authored a series of 13 student advising guides meant to serve as a resource for faculty across the program (C:71). In addition, I chaired the “Media Archaeology” curriculum committee, charged by our then-dean to develop a focus area in the field. You’ll find our report on C:66. Finally, I served on six School of Media Studies faculty review committees and acted as chair for two of them.
DIVISIONAL SERVICE. For the Schools of Public Engagement division, I served on two faculty review committees and worked for several years as a member of our space planning committee, which was charged with envisioning workspaces, classrooms, and labs for our new facilities at 79 5th Avenue. Two other divisional service appointments have proven to be my most labor- and time-intensive obligations for the past several years. First, in Fall 2016 I served as co-chair of the Media Studies Working Group, charged with developing a strategic plan for the school. Our work involved extensive primary and secondary research, including regular consultations with our own faculty and faculty in other programs, and student focus groups, as well as periodic presentations to upper-level administration and board members. You’ll find our final report and presentation on C:22-65. Second, I’ve served for four years as a member of the division’s time-intensive Renewal and Promotions Committee, which is responsible for vetting all divisional faculty reviews, up to twelve per semester.
UNIVERSITY SERVICE. My university-level service is thoroughly documented on C:3-6, yet my most substantial contributions have been in resource, faculty, and program development. I’ve contributed to a working group that sought to develop policies and practices for The New School to better manage its digital assets, and I’ve served on faculty search committees in Parsons’ Architecture and Communication Design. I’ve also participated on two iterations of a committee charged with creating infrastructures and incentives for cross-divisional, cross-disciplinary collaboration. This work has been particularly relevant to me, given my own inter-disciplinarity, my long history of cross-divisional collaboration, and my frequent invitations teach in other programs. In the same collaborative spirit, I consulted on the development of the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism program at the New School for Social Research and the curriculum for the inter-divisional undergraduate Urban Studies major. [REDACTED]
Finally, from 2008 to 2012 I participated in various iterations of a cross-divisional, praxis-oriented PhD committee. In 2013, the Provost charged me with transforming that past committee work into an official program proposal. I worked with a research firm to study “practice-based” and “design-led” PhD programs around the world, planned a “stakeholders” meeting with various industry and cultural representatives who could potentially hire our graduates, and developed the academic portions of the New York State proposal. You’ll find a draft on C:7-21. Ultimately, the Provost’s office tabled the proposal because of uncertainty regarding its funding, but I’ve learned recently that the PhD discussions have been revived, and I hope to be a part of them.
SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY AND PROFESSION. I’ve contributed to the broader academic community by serving on five external tenure and program review committees and reviewing manuscripts for a variety of university presses and journals, from Yale University Press to Big Data & Society. I’ve also served on a number of editorial boards: MediaCommons, the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab’s Sensate project, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Amsterdam University Press’s MediaMatters series. Extending beyond academia, my research and teaching have opened several opportunities for me to serve the local and international design communities. I was invited to act as a juror and consultant on two Architectural League of NY projects: its 2013 “Little Libraries NY” competition and its 2014-15 “Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries” design study, with which I was intimately involved (C:81-92). I’ve consulted (pro-bono, or nearly so) on a number of other projects with a variety of cultural institutions and design firms, including the New York Public Library and the New York Transit Museum. I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to many more such collaborations. You’ll find all of my professional and community service listed and documented on C:72-92.
Finally, my library-related publishing and teaching – and the fact that I’m approaching the subject not as a librarian, but through the lenses of media and design – have led to my appointment to the board of directors for the Metropolitan New York Library Council, which serves nearly 280 libraries and archives in the metropolitan area. This forward-thinking institution is developing resources, services, and fellowships to aid its member institutions, and to serve as a model for other institutions around the country and the world (see C:74-5). Their staff have contributed to my classes and have even invited my students to consult on various projects. I look forward to continuing my work with Metro.
GOALS FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
I’m eager to build more intellectual, pedagogical, technical, and social infrastructures at various scales: within my own classrooms, between classes and programs, at the university scale, between The New School and the city, between The New School and other global cities and landscapes, within my own discipline, and between media studies and the various fields of research and practice with which I’ve connected. I most enjoy working in these interstitial spaces, serving as an epistemological and institutional mediator. I’m most stimulated by collaborating with faculty colleagues and students from diverse programs, asking questions and offering responses that draw together disparate methods and intelligences.
I’ve received several forms of confirmation that I do my best work in these in-between spaces, too. My classes draw students from multiple programs. Students from across the university seek me out for advising. I’m frequently recruited for committees in, or between, other divisions. I’m invited to consult on projects at a wide variety of cultural institutions. I’ve entertained invitations to teach classes or take positions in other New School programs and to apply for jobs in other fields at other institutions. I like being distributed and networked, and I’m eager to serve in the kind of mediator role that is required by so many of the stickiest, most pressing challenges of our time – including those I mentioned at the very beginning of this document.
What does this mean for me at The New School? My goal is to assume leadership positions that allow me to build these connective infrastructures. I’d love to serve as a University Professor, bridging disciplines and divisions, and run a transdisciplinary lab (many of my courses are already mini-labs in themselves!). I could leverage my relationships with external organizations, pursue funding, and explore new collaborative networks. More modestly and immediately, I’m eager to incorporate some of these same inspirations and values into my two book projects and future public scholarship, and perhaps to transform my “intellectual furnishings” project into an exhibition, as many international colleagues have encouraged me to do. I look forward to developing my existing courses and building new ones, including some housed in other programs and divisions and offered in partnership with colleagues in other fields. And I’m committed to shaping the future of media and design studies and doctoral education at The New School. As a full professor in a leadership position, I can help to build these pedagogical, intellectual, technical, and social infrastructures for new ways of thinking and acting in the world. The New School, in all its perpetual newness and “becomingness,” is an ideal environment for such connective work.
In recent months I’ve met with a number of advisees and freshly-PhD’d job candidates and junior scholars who’ve wanted to talk about the day-to-day responsibilities of a faculty member. I will humbly acknowledge that I’m seen as someone who’s fairly productive, and who puts a lot of energy into her teaching — and these folks want to know how I structure my time. Quite a few of our conversations end with some variation on this theme: “Wow, they sure don’t tell you that in graduate school” — “that” meaning the amount of time dedicated to things other than the romanticized “life of the mind,” as well as the number of competing demands for one’s time and attention. [Others have attempted to quantify and itemize professors’ labor: see this 2014 Boise State study; this 2016 THE survey of various studies; and this list from the American Association of University Professors. And plenty of scholars, from Karen Gregory to Mel Gregg, have critiqued labor in the academy.]
I honestly don’t know if my experience is representative. Actually, I don’t think it is. I’ve served as a referee on a number of faculty review cases for other institutions, and I’ve often been surprised by the relative lightness of the candidates’ service experience: just a handful of committees during their six pre-tenure years. By the time I was up for tenure, in 2012, I had directed a ~600-student graduate program; helped to implement a new union contract; coordinated all admissions (400+/year) and theses (~40/year); and served on at least three dozen other committees. My external reviews suggest that such a heavy load isn’t common — but then again, I’m reviewing tenure cases at other institutions. Renewable-term or non-tenure-track faculty most likely carry a much greater administrative burden.
I can’t even compare myself to my colleagues at my own institution, since service invitations and appointments aren’t directed through a central clearinghouse, where someone keeps track of who’s doing what; and there’s little transparency regarding our colleagues’ responsibilities. I do, however, have a sense that the olde adage is true: “sucking at service means you get to do less of it.” Non-responsive, non-participatory folks typically aren’t invited to join in on future endeavors. Which is good news for them: with fewer committees, they have more time for their own work. (It might sound like I’m advocating for calculated failure or learned helplessness. I’m not. I’d hope that everyone would want to pitch in, so that particular faculty aren’t left carrying a disproportionate burden.)
Teaching and advising are really hard to quantify, too. We might all be teaching X-course loads, but our outside-the-classroom obligations might vary dramatically. We all spend different amounts of time prepping for class, reviewing student work, meeting with advisees, and overseeing theses and dissertations.
All this is to say: I have no idea how my own workload matches up to my colleagues’ at my own institution or at other institutions. All I know is that, for me, it’s a lot of work. It’s rewardingly exhausting, but it’s often overwhelming. Some days I convince myself I’m going to have a heart attack and die before I’m 42. J.K.! … Or am I?
So, what’s my not-necessarily-representative experience? I’ve been tracking my hours over the past few months, so I’ll be painfully, indulgently specific.
I teach two (or three) classes each semester, each of which meets once per week. Thus, I spend five to eight hours in the classroom. I realize that many teachers have a much heavier load, and they’re responsible for many more students.
But those “contact hours” are only a small portion of my teaching investment. For each class — even those classes I’ve taught before — I typically spend around five hours each week on prep, for a total of 10-15 hours (and sometimes up to 20, if I’m trying out something new). On top of my formal prep, I spend about 90 minutes immediately before each class reviewing students’ weekly reading responses and questions and incorporating them into my lesson plan. I stagger students’ assignments throughout the semester — so, most weeks, I spend four to six hours reviewing six to ten students’ assignments. When full-class assignments are due, which happens about six times per semester, I spend 10-15 hours reviewing each group of assignments. That probably sounds ridiculous. You’re probably thinking: girl, you need to streamline. I’ve tried — but as I encounter more and more students who have very little research experience, and who need a lot of help with writing and project management, I have a hard time passing the buck. I figure it’s my responsibility to help them identify areas for improvement. So, long story short; those five to eight “contact hours” scale up to around 20 to 30 hours per week (and sometimes more) on basic teaching. Add to that all the times I serve as a guest lecturer or guest critic in my colleagues’ classes — at least 30 hrs/ year.
And when I’m teaching a new class — as I did last spring, and as I’ll be doing again this coming spring — I’ll spend 40 to 60 hours designing the syllabus during the semester break. Yet that work builds upon months, if not years, of work: collecting resources, noting potential assignments and activities, etc. I have a “course planning” note on my phone where I keep a running list of texts, guest speakers, case studies, etc. I might add to new or continuing courses.
Then there’s advising. Faculty are commonly asked to set aside three hours per week for advising. I typically spend six to ten hours each week meeting with students — students in my own program, students from across the university, and a few students from other local grad programs — plus another few hours on email and Skype advising. In addition to providing basic academic advising, I also advise theses and dissertations. The time commitment here is highly variable: it depends on how many projects I’m advising simultaneously, where each advisee is in his/her process, and how many rounds of revision we need at each stage. This semester, for instance, I’ve read five dissertation chapters, which typically take me about five hours each, from three different advisees. I’ve worked through four drafts of a Master’s thesis proposal, which has required about 15 hours of advising, and I’ll soon read and respond to a full, completed thesis, which will likely take at least ten hours. And when I serve as an external reviewer for a dissertation, which I do a few times a year, I typically dedicate 15 hours to the task.
I keep in touch with alums, too. Each week, I spend an hour or two speaking with alums about their career goals and future plans. And I’m always writing reference letters and making reference calls — a few dozen calls for job opportunities every spring and summer, and a few dozen letters of recommendation for PhD applications, or for PhD candidates looking for jobs and fellowships, every fall. Each (prospective)PhD is roughly a six-hour investment: I typically meet with students to discuss their options, I write a custom letter for each applicant, I provide feedback on their statements of purpose and cv’s, and then I tweak the letter template for each institution and grapple with the schools’ idiosyncratic admissions and HR software. I should also account for all the letters I write for colleagues — for fellowships, grants, other jobs, etc. In all, I probably dedicate the equivalent of a full work week — about 40 to 50 hours — to letters of recommendation each fall. These past two weeks alone I’ve spent about 15 hours on the task. [Edit: scratch that earlier estimate; I did several more letters in December, upping my total investment to roughly 60 hours.]
I also regularly meet with junior colleagues about their publications, teaching, and faculty reviews. This, like advising, is almost always enjoyable — and it usually happens over food, so it’s hard to consider it “work” — but it still requires an investment of several hours every month. In addition, I commonly meet with visiting scholars — faculty from other schools, doctoral candidates or postdocs from abroad, itinerant research fellows who want to speak with me about their work — as they’re passing through New York. I dedicate a couple hours each week to these meetings.
And, oh, the committees! While I haven’t held an administrative position for a few years, my service responsibilities are no joke. I’ve chaired program development, curriculum, and faculty review committees. They all require a significant investment of time. A tenure committee, for instance, involves reviewing a 500+-page dossier (which requires close attention, since people’s jobs are on the line here; I should also note that I reviewed a 3000+-page (!!!) dossier last year for another institution); looking through hundreds of student evaluations; reading several dense external letters; meeting with colleagues to discuss the candidate, often debating at length over contentious cases; and then drafting and iteratively revising a committee report, which is a slow and meticulous process, since every word can be scrutinized by reviewers up the food chain. I typically serve on one of these committees every year, dedicating about 20 hours to the process. And most years I do a few external reviews, for other institutions, too; these take about ten hours each.
And for each of the past four years, I’ve also served on my division’s über-review committee, which reviews all of the other faculty review committees (we are the infamous committee on committees!) — up to twelve cases every fall semester — to ensure their adherence to a sound and just process (i.e., how does the evidence support the decision?). This committee’s both a joy — working closely with dedicated collaborators, learning more about our colleagues’ amazing work — and a holy terror: imagine coordinating eight people’s schedules to set consistent meetings; reading between one and three ~500-page dossiers every other week; meeting bi-weekly to review multiple cases; then collaboratively authoring reports — which, again, must be carefully wrought because they’re politically charged. I’d say that this review committee has easily required a 100-hour investment each fall.
But wait! That’s not all! We’ve got search committees. I’m on two this year. The first one required a ~40-hour investment. The second one’s beginning next week. We’ve also got all the little ad hoc committees and working groups and consultations and admissions reviews (and all the crappy enterprise software one must navigate in order to complete these tasks).
In general, I’d say I spend at least ten hours (and, occasionally, up to 30 hours) each week in service-related meetings and independent activities at school. Yet I also do a good deal of external service, too. I serve on editorial and advisory boards, contribute to design studies and competitions, consult on event and exhibition planning for other cultural institutions, and review manuscripts for journals and presses. The latter, again, requires a good amount of time. I can typically read a journal article manuscript and write up a review in three or four hours; I do this five to ten times each year. I also review three to ten book manuscripts each year, dedicating ten to fifteen hours to each project. This is fun, and it’s enlightening, but it’s work — and it typically happens on weekends.
And then there’s research. That typically happens in the summer. If I do any writing at all during the academic year — and particularly during my committee-heavy fall semesters — it happens between midnights and 3am’s or on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I do do a number of talks and conferences throughout the year (which gives me lots of waiting-at-the-gate and airborne time to read dossiers and theses), and I manage to find time to put together presentations for these events — but, really, pretty much all my heavy lifting happens during the holiday and semester breaks (which are productive times simply because there are no meetings!).
I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff (like the crappy software we have to use for our annual reviews, which requires that I spend 15 hours every spring on data entry!). For the most part, this is how I spend my time. I probably over-prepare, I probably read too closely, I probably offer too many comments on my students’ work. I’m a little bit obsessively thorough, and, try as I might, I don’t know how to fix that. I should say no to more stuff, but saying no makes me feel guilty. I’m never sure what my colleagues are doing, so I’m never sure if I’m doing “enough.” Yet I do know I’m not alone in this uncertainty.
For the past five or six years I’ve been on various iterations of the same committee — one charged with rethinking the PhD. Our more specific charge has been to investigate what doctoral-level training should mean at an institution that regards design, artistic production, and media-making as intellectual pursuits — research-based, informed by theory, and potentially theoretically generative. While we were having our discussions, lots of other professional organizations and institutions were having similar conversations about “praxis-based” PhDs, and some schools (like Carnegie Mellon) even put such programs into place. Of course Australia and the UK (and schools in a few other places) have been doing this sort of thing for years.
Last year, the Provost charged me with filtering those years’ worth of experience and dialogue (including, most recently, with the wonderful Lisa Grocott, Clive Dilnot, Simone Douglas, and Joseph Heathcott) into the creation of an official formatted-in-accordance-with-state-requirements proposal for a new PhD program. I worked for a couple months with an external research organization to flesh out our committees’ “environmental scans” of the various design-, arts-, and praxis-oriented doctoral programs around the world, then set to work on the proposal. There are quite a few parts of that document — including all the stuff about budgets and faculty workload, etc. — that I’m not qualified to complete. I’ve done what I can, so now I wait for the “operationalizers” to help me workshop these ideas and address the nuts and bolts. I’m not sure when, or if, that’ll happen. But because I dedicated a good part of the past several years of my life to this project, I kind of want some of these ideas to see the light of day. So, here are a few excerpts from the proposal:
Design/Media Praxis PhD
What defines and distinguishes this program are: 1) its orientations toward praxis, that is, the integration of theory and practice in the active creation of new artifacts, processes, and understandings; and 2) its embrace of a wide variety of research methods, creative approaches, and means of dissemination.
At its core is the conviction that various forms of practice – including but not limited to designing, media-making, curating, art, performance, and writing – can generate new knowledge and understanding of the world, and therefore can constitute fully legitimate pathways of scholarship.
Forms of acting, making, and practice outside the traditional limits of doctoral research require inquiry as much as do the classic academic disciplines. This is acutely the case in the arena of complex problem-solving/possibility-seeking – of central importance in The New School’s mission – where creative, transdisciplinary practices are well suited to exploring solutions through the production of new artifacts, processes, and understandings.
The advanced reflection made possible through this mode of doctoral study allows the exploration of knowledge through creative practice, without forsaking scholarly rigor.
Students enrolled in the program would propose and pursue a project germane to any of the fields of study represented at the graduate level at The New School, subject to approval by their advisors and programs/departments.
All projects would be hybrid, incorporating both writing and some form of practice or action-research. The form of such projects could range from a designed object or system to a documentary film to a written dissertation with supporting media, depending upon the student’s objectives and the project’s demands.
The form of the dissertation in turn informs, and is informed by, the choice of methods, which might range from traditional qualitative methods to iterative and performative approaches to experimental design research.
The program emphasizes the careful selection of multimodal methods and means of dissemination, and the applicability of students’ experiences to fields and professions that may extend beyond, but are in meaningful partnership with, the academy.
The dissertation project can be designed to prepare the student to practice not only as an academic, but also professionally as an informed high-level actor in the increasingly complex spheres of action that will emerge over the next decades.
The relation of the Praxis PhD to the traditional PhD
Students wishing to complete traditional dissertations in the social sciences or in urban policy may pursue a PhD through one of our existing programs in the New School for Social Research and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. The Praxis program will serve students interested in transdisciplinary projects that employ methods, and make use of modes of presentation and dissemination, that are not typically employed in traditional doctoral programs.
The Praxis PhD program will emphasize the process of scholarship. As part of working collaboratively, faculty will address methodologies of collaboration and team-management. Participants will consider socialization within and between various fields and professions, as well as the range of knowledge/s and practices desirable in a collaborative community. Students will of course cultivate particular areas of expertise and skill, but will also develop proficiency in various methods of inquiry, forms of production, and modes of dissemination.
The Praxis PhD will emulate the commitment of traditional doctoral training to doing work of breadth and depth with a small group of advisors and peers. However, unlike the traditional doctorate, which tends to frame the dissertation as its primary end-goal, the Praxis PhD program will regard the dissertation also as an exploration of the intellectual skills and competencies we want student to develop through their education. The dissertation, and the research process, will allow students to demonstrate both the expertise and understanding gained in a particular field, and the knowledge gained about what it means to be a scholar-practitioner working in a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment…..
The process of scholarship will be an emphasis of the program. As part of working collaboratively, we’ll address processes of group-building and methodologies of collaboration and team-management. We’ll consider how we socialize within and between various fields and professions. We will also consider the range of knowledge/s and practices we’d want a collaborative community to have. Students will of course cultivate particular areas of expertise and skill — they will enter the program with Masters degrees, which certify that they’ve cultivated a solid foundation in a particular area of specialization, and they’ll further develop that knowledge through elective cognate courses — but will also develop literacy in various research methods and modes of publicizing or disseminating their work.
There has been much debate over the length of time and the cost that U.S. students invest in completing PhDs. We aim to decrease time-to-degree without sacrificing rigor, by offering more flexible scheduling options, including minimal residency requirements and instructional formats that aren’t constrained by the traditional 15-week course.
The Praxis PhD program will consist of 30 credits, distributed across three years of coursework and supervision. Students are required to be registered full-time, and in residence in New York City, for the first year of study. Years two and three can be completed remotely, but students must return to New York twice each year, for two two-week workshop/conference/exhibitions. The distribution of courses is as follows:
Year One / Semester One
Core Studio I (required 3-credit praxis studio): A team of faculty will guide students through a case study requiring interdisciplinary investigation and engagement. In this semester, students will focus on problem definition, design research, and methodology. In the process, students will learn about collaboration strategies, including how to build international partnerships; project and team management, how to “do interdisciplinarity,” etc.
Methodologies and Epistemologies (required 3-credit seminar/workshop): This seminar examines how epistemologies and methodologies are mutually informed; offers an overview of methods represented within the humanities, social sciences, design, and fine arts field; and helps students develop strategies for choosing among methods – and particularly choosing from among the methods courses available at The New School – as appropriate for their own dissertation projects, and in other applications and contexts. We will also examine how the myriad media and design modalities – from documentary and data visualization to field recordings and various approaches to prototyping – can function as research tools and techniques. In addition, during this course students will begin to develop their Literature Reviews / Environmental Scans, and their Portfolios/Process Journals (about which more below), which they will maintain throughout their enrollment in the PhD program, and which will be an integral part of the submitted dissertation project.
Praxis Symposium (required 3-credit symposium): Each week students will meet with two faculty from across The New School, paired to highlight their common concerns and disparate approaches, or with representatives from various faculty research clusters, labs, or centers, who model the type of interdisciplinary, collaborative work that Praxis students are preparing to do. Faculty will discuss practical and ethical issues germane to their practice, lead students through close readings of texts that are central to their work, and lead workshops on methods that are likewise integral to their practice.
Elective: In consultation with an advisor, students can choose from among all graduate courses at The New School. Elective credits might be used to develop a cognate area or to cultivate new design or production skills.
Year One / Semester Two
Core Studio II (required 3-credit praxis studio/workshop): A continuation of Core Studio I. In this semester, students and faculty will employ the methods they’ve chosen in Semester I, evaluate the results, and iterate. They’ll also examine the variety of means through which students can disseminate their work – e.g., traditional or experimental publication, video documentaries, interactive platforms, curated exhibitions, designed artifacts and systems. In the process, students also explore how they can continue to uphold rigorous academic standards, including citation and peer review, in these diverse modalities.
Three Electives: In consultation with an advisor, students can choose from among all graduate courses at The New School. Elective credits might be used to develop a cognate area or to cultivate new design or production skills.
Students must enroll in six credits (at no cost?) of Internship, Applied Fieldwork, and/or Research Methods (about which more below). If the Internship/Applied Fieldwork involves intensive research that allows for the development of a strong set of research methods, students need not enroll in separate Research Methods courses. These determinations are to be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the student’s advisors.
Students are welcome to audit additional Elective courses to further develop their cognates or cultivate their design and production skills. If they remain in New York, they can choose from among all graduate courses offered at The New School or from any local consortium institution. If they are working remotely, students can take a graduate course at a local institution. Or they can design an independent study with a New School advisor.
Each semester students must participate in online Professionalization Workshops (about which more below; no credit)
Students entering the program with limited design and/or production experience must participate in a self-directed summer tutorial(?). (How will we level the playing field for students who enter the program with different skill sets? Should this be a concern — or should we simply allow students to learn from one another in the first-year courses, and to fill in their individual gaps via Elective coursework?)
During the second semester of their second year, students must submit an approved Literature Review / Mediagraphy / Environmental Scan.
During the second semester of their third year(?), students enroll in Dissertation Proposal Supervision (no credit) with their dissertation supervisors. They defend this proposal publicly during the summer Praxis PhD Conference/Exhibition.
Each semester beyond successful defense of the dissertation proposal, students must enroll in Dissertation Supervision (no credit) with their dissertation supervisor. The faculty member and student determine how frequently they will meet, either in-person or virtually. The student is also responsible for maintaining his/her Process Journal, about which more below.
Each Fall, students must participate in the annual two-week Praxis PhD Workshop (should this have credits attached to it?), on-site in New York.
Each Spring/Summer, students must participate in the annual two-week Praxis PhD Conference/Exhibition (should this have credits attached to it?): Here students demonstrate their annual progress and receive feedback from their student colleagues, all Praxis PhD faculty, and a group of external critics, designers, scholars, and other professionals.
Internships / Applied Fieldwork
Students are required to complete at least three credits’, but no more than six credits’, worth of internship(s) or applied fieldwork. The program faculty and External Partnerships Administrator (EPA) will cultivate relationships with various New York-based design and media production companies, cultural institutions, not-for-profits, development organizations, etc. — all potentially eventual employers of graduates of the PhD program — and identify opportunities where our students’ particular areas of expertise and skill sets could be put to good use in addressing real-world problems. Students are also welcome to cultivate their own external partnerships and propose their own internships.
Students must submit, and have approved by both their advisor and the EPA, an extensive proposal, developed in consultation with the external organization, that offers (1) a description of the specific project(s) the students will undertake in partnership with the external organization; (2) a list of the student’s responsibilities and expected time commitment; and (3) a discussion of the cognate knowledge, research methods, design and/or production skills, and modes of dissemination the student will likely cultivate through completion of the internship. Each student’s advisor and the program’s EPA will ensure that the nature of the work is appropriate for doctoral-level students, and that it will support the student’s course of study. If the proposal is approved, external organizations must sign a contract agreeing to the nature and extent of work the intern will undertake.
Students may also propose to undertake self-directed (but faculty advisor-supervised) Applied Fieldwork, potentially involving partnerships with multiple organizations. For instance, a student might choose to investigate the design of urban interfaces for the new Hudson Yards development project in Manhattan; his or her work might involve liaising between various government agencies, design and technology firms, and the city’s data managers. Again, students are required to submit an extensive Applied Fieldwork proposal, which must be approved by the student’s advisor and the program’s EPA.
Students will be able to choose from a variety of variable-credit methodology courses represented within the humanities, social sciences, design, and fine arts fields – ranging from qualitative methods to iterative and performative approaches to experimental design research – based on the nature of their dissertation projects. The New School already offers a suite of such one-, two- and three-credit graduate methods courses, some dedicated to a particular method – interviewing or content analysis, for example – and others dedicated to the integration of a variety of methods for a particular application – e.g., participatory design research, or data gathering and analysis. Praxis PhD students are welcome to take these courses, provided they are offered for graduate credit. The PhD faculty will also develop new courses based on student interest and need; many will be offered online and/or during intensive summer or intersession periods. In addition, a core requirement for the Praxis PhD will be a methodology seminar, to be taken in students’ first semester, that discusses how methodologies and epistemologies are mutually informed, offers an overview of the various methods options available, and addresses strategies for choosing and mixing methods as appropriate for students’ individual projects.
Professionalization Workshops (need a better name!)
While students are working remotely throughout years two and three, the program will host monthly online workshops on various aspects of professionalization – e.g., team-building, grant-seeking, event planning, software for project management, job-seeking. The workshops will allow for asynchronous discussion and occasional synchronous presentations with Q&A.
There is, of course, much in traditional doctoral education that is worth retaining – particularly, the commitment to doing work of breadth and depth with a small group of advisors and peers. However, unlike the traditional doctoral program, which tends to frame the dissertation as its primary end-goal, our Praxis PhD program will regard the dissertation also as an exploration of the intellectual skills and competencies we want student to develop through their doctoral education. The dissertation, and the process leading up to it, will allow students to demonstrate both the expertise and understanding they’ve gained in a particular field or practice, as well as the knowledge they’ve gained about what it means to be a scholar-practitioner, particularly one working in a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment.
To this end, the dissertation must be accompanied by an online Process Journal in which students reflect on and analyze their work process – their choice of methods and modes of representation, their integration of lenses from myriad disciplinary fields and practices, how collaboration and professional work have informed their project – throughout the dissertation development process, and after the dissertation has been successfully defended. Students are encouraged to explore various forms of writing and modes of presentation in this journal.
All dissertations will be hybrid, incorporating both writing and some form of practice or action-research. This work represents, in the words of Clive Dilnot, a “critical reflection on, and analytical translation of, enacted practice into knowledge.” The form of such projects could range from a designed object or system to a documentary film to a written dissertation with supporting media, depending upon the student’s objectives and the project’s demands. The dissertation project can be designed to prepare the student to practice not only as an academic, but also professionally as an informed high-level actor in the increasingly complex spheres of action that will emerge over the next decades. Thus, students are encouraged to partner wit external organizations – design firms, cultural organizations, etc. – in the design and evaluation of their dissertation projects.
Dissertations are intended to address significant real-world or practice-based problems, rather than focus on the students’ own self-defined design and/or creative work. As education journalist Andrew McGettigan writes in regard to the art practice PhD, “a frame has to be constructed that places the practice in relation to a significant problem and thereby escapes the solipsism that might result by beginning from one’s own work…. Research that advances knowledge goes beyond a personal exploration and requires a clear sense of how what is being pursued will be of significance to a broader community of academics and practitioners.”
During the annual Praxis PhD Workshop, in the Fall semester, students in the second year will participate in a Dissertation Proposal Lab. They must submit a dissertation proposal by the end of the following semester, and that proposal will be defended – in front of the dissertation committee and two or three external reviewers – within the two-week period of the annual Praxis PhD Conference/Exhibition. For the third – and, if necessary, fourth – year, students will enroll in Dissertation every fall, during the annual Praxis PhD Workshop and Conference/Exhibition. Students will also present their work-in-progress each spring at the Praxis PhD Conference/Exhibition, where they will receive feedback from their committee and a panel of invited guests.
First, I want to thank Kate [Eichhorn] for organizing this event, and for inviting me to take part. It’s an honor to be working not only with her, but also with Jussi and Lisa, whose work has proven tremendously inspirational for my own.
And second, I’d like to thank Jussi for his provocative paper.
This event is actually taking place during my Urban Media Archaeology graduate studio, which meets right upstairs in a lab – where we’ll be headed for our second half of class right after we conclude here tonight. This is the fourth year I’ve taught the course with the talented programmer/artist/scholar Rory Solomon, who exemplifies the “critical engineer” that Jussi mentioned in his paper as an Anglophone outlet for media archaeology. Over the years Rory and I have worked with students to construct alternative histories of urban media infrastructures, which might stretch the definitions of both “media” and “infrastructure.” We’ve had students piece together the histories of walking tours, newspaper delivery, video game arcades, zine distribution in radical social movements – even food trucks and breweries and carrier pigeons. We’ve been creating multimedia maps of these histories on a platform we’ve built, in collaboration with colleagues from Parsons, on OpenStreetMap, a free and open alternative to Google Maps.
Given that I am technically “teaching” right now, I wanted to use my comments, at least in part, to highlight the pertinence of Jussi’s paper to our class work, and I was happy to notice that many connections presented themselves readily. Of particular relevance is Jussi’s discussion of the “national identities” of various theoretical approaches and their global migration and eventual assimilation into other cultural contexts. Jussi writes about media archaeology as a “traveling set of concepts” and asks us to focus on the “travels of theory with an emphasis on… mobility and change, flexibility and reception.” In the introduction to the fabulous anthology he edited with Erkki Huhtamo, which my students read, Jussi and Erkki propose that one way to explain the difference between the social-cultural inflection of Anglo-American approaches, and the techno-hardware approaches of the Germans, is their divergent readings of Foucault, with the Anglos focusing on discourse’s ties to cultural and social power, and the Germans emphasizing the specific material natures of the technologies that produce that discourse.
While others have of course challenged the notion that there is such a thing as German media theory, the very idea that a theory might have a national identity seems highly pertinent to the themes my students and I are addressing – particularly the spatial dimensions and the distribution of mediated discourse. What’s more, we might even wonder about the infrastructures that allow for not only theory’s distribution around the globe, but also its very making. What are the infrastructures – or cultural techniques – of theory-making?
As Bernhard Siegert explains, focusing on cultural techniques shifts our attention from the representation of meaning, to the “the exterior and material conditions” for meaning, which might include “inconspicuous technologies of knowledge (e.g., index cards, writing tools and typewriters), discourse operators (e.g., quotation marks), pedagogical media (e.g., blackboards), unclassifiable media such as phonographs or stamps, instruments like the piano, and disciplining techniques (e.g., language acquisition and alphabetization).” (Theory, Culture & Society 2013: 3).
If one of our goals this evening was to consider how media archaeology has taken shape in various parts of the world, why not consider the cultural techniques of theory-making and dissemination? And, taking a page not only from my class, but also from Jussi’s repeated and inspirational calls for making things with media archaeology, why not consider alternative means of representing the cultural techniques that comprise the making and movement of media-archaeological discourse? Why not map that “traveling theory”?
I have to admit that, over the last few years, as I’ve come into my own as a scholar and have enjoyed being pulled into, or at least observing from the periphery, those “inner circles” where new theoretical movements take flight, I’ve come to see theory-making as a political economy – one with occasionally highly problematic politics and unequal distributions of resources. In my head I’ve mapped the assemblages of objects and forces – the infrastructures – that are needed to get a theoretical movement off the ground and out into the world. Jussi offers an example in his own forthcoming essay in the “cultural techniques” special issue of Theory, Culture & Society: the rise of object-oriented ontology / philosophy, he notes, can be attributed just as much to the “fresh approaches” they offer, as to the “rhetorical skill” with which they “posited their own newness” (6).
That “rhetorical skill” – for the launch of any theoretical movement – involves the application of a variety of cultural techniques. In their introduction to The Speculative Turn, Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Harman acknowledge the roles that a vibrant blogging community, adventurous new journals, and open-access publishing played in shaping the discursive politics surrounding Speculative Realism. But, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, why don’t we expand the OOO “litany” to call our attention also to other “objects” in the movement itself (or any theoretical movement, for that matter): epistemological and disciplinary values, like individual genius; the academic market for branded theories and neologisms; the PR machines of Facebook and Twitter; the armies of grad students hungry for the “new big thing,” which partly fuels the global networks of conferences and master classes, and the airplanes and travel budgets (and Carbon output) that make those gatherings possible. And, as if that weren’t sufficiently disillusioning, we also have to acknowledge the existence of nepotistic citation rings and incestuously produced publications.
Of course we also have exchanges based on trust and altruism. We have editors and graphic designers who make beautiful publications; and volunteers who host fabulously productive and inspirational gatherings of like minds. And we develop new discourses that put scholars in conversation with practitioners and acknowledge both thinking and making as critical forms of knowledge-production. But I think we’re already pretty good at emphasizing the socially desirable aspects of what we do as scholars. Hence my curmudgeonly focus on the not-so-pretty hidden conventions and politics.
Yet these are all part of the mappable landscape of theory-making’s cultural techniques. And mapping it, I think, might help us to think more critically about the modes of academic “production” that New Theory represents. I’m a consummately optimistic person, but what I’ve often found, through these theoretical mappings, is that the liberal conceptions of “labor” and “knowledge” that many of our new theory movements actually embody quite often fail to match up with their professed politics. We’re so frequently advocating for more democratic, fluid, inclusive models of making and thinking in the world — yet the theories we’re building to make sense of these new modes are still built via “Great Man” – and I stress MAN – modes of production.
The issues of gender and sexual identity have cropped up in debates over what media archaeology is and could become. Laine Nooney from SUNY Stonbrook and Jacob Gaboury from NYU are doing wonderful dissertations in these areas. But I think a deeper and wider mapping of the “cultural techniques” or infrastructures that allow any new field of study, new method, new theoretical framework to develop and move around, offers up the possibility to design a discursive space with a political economy that’s more in line with the liberal values our theories espouse. It gives us an opportunity to imagine and construct the “infrastructures” and cultural techniques through which theory-making and “traveling” take place.
I was interviewed by Figure/Ground Communication, a great grad-student-run website featuring media studies-related academic resources, including interviews with scholars in media and related fields. It’s a particularly useful resource for graduate students who are considering pursuing PhDs and/or work in the academy or, more generally, in education. My New School colleagues Peter Haratonik and Simon Critchley were also interviewed, as were my pal Jussi Parikka, lots of OOO-ers, and a bunch of of other folks I greatly admire (e.g., Ann Blair, Elisabeth Eisenstein, etc.).
I’ve never regarded myself as a theorist, and certainly not a philosopher. Taking on such a title, it’s seemed to me, requires a lot more self-confidence than I’ll ever have. It presumes that you’re making substantial, original contributions to theoretical discourse, or generating a new research program. I don’t do that. For a long time, I would’ve said that’s because I’m not smart enough to “make” theory; I use theory, of course, but I have no grand models of my own to explain how capital circulates, or how identity is constructed, or how objects take form. I don’t neologize, either — which seems a huge (and often annoying) part of theorization. I’ve also come to realize that I’m far too interested in the material world — in concrete things, in real-world problems, and in the situational variables that make it hard to generalize from those things and problems — to want to develop some macro-scale explanation for a whole category of phenomena (this isn’t to say that theory can’t deal with materiality — rather, that I prefer to work with particular concrete cases from which I’m reluctant to draw theoretical generalizations).
And over the past academic year, I’ve had a few experiences that have helped me to put a finger on this persistent, nebulous discomfort I’ve had with “Capital ‘T’ Theory.” It turns out that the primary source of my unease is the “Great Man” model that still pervades the “theory economy.”
First, I’ve witnessed — usually from the far periphery, although, on very brief occasions, also from the inside — the spread of a few new theory fashions. I’ve watched the trend-makers build their brands, develop finely-tuned PR machines, and sell their wares to hungry audiences of graduate students looking for the next big thing. I’ve watched educational and cultural institutions solidify and centralize the authority of few key figures in each of these fields by inviting them to give keynote after keynote, master class after master class; inviting them to contribute to (incestuously produced) publications; organizing conferences and workshops in their honor. What we get is the academic equivalent of the global art fairs: international world-tours of trendy theoretical enlightenment.
I’ve regretted that the junior scholars who constitute the chief market for these theoretical goods don’t think more critically about the modes of academic “production” this New Theory represents. Do they recognize that the conceptions of “labor” and “knowledge” that these theoretical movements actually embody so infrequently match up with their professed politics? We’re advocating for more democratic, fluid, inclusive models of making and thinking in the world — yet the theories we’re building to make sense of these new modes are still built via “Great Man” modes of production.
Second — and I’m of course not the first to comment on this — many of our graduate students still seem to equate “theory” with Great Men. Nevermind the women and marginalized thinkers and critical practitioners whose writings are included — amongst the usual French suspects — on my syllabi. A few well-meaning (male) students have informed me that our classes could be more “intellectually rigorous” if only we did a little more Badiou and Deleuze! Now that’s serious thinking! (One student asked if I stopped using a particular canonical French theoretical text because the “less theoretically advanced” students couldn’t handle it. No, I removed it because I eventually realized it’s a shitty essay.) These same students turn in projects for which the bibliographies are populated entirely by Great Men, despite the fact that there are scores of non-philosophers, “reflective practitioners” (to borrow Donald Schön’s term), and female theorists who’ve done fabulous work directly in their areas of interest. I of course try to turn students on to these other resources, but I wish I didn’t have to convince anyone that non-French theoretical texts can be “serious,” too!
Third, and most immediately (hence the inspiration for this post), I’ve watched this weekend’s conversations on a high profile listserv devolve into a string of condescendingly paternalistic lectures by hypocritical men who blindly adhere to their Theoretical models on principle. Now that I think of it, that description pretty much sums up the regular activity on a few of the listservs I subscribe to. Rather than inspiring me, these conversations among a global audience of smart, like-minded people often make me want to quit my job. Maybe I should just unsubscribe.
Fifteen or so years of such experiences have proven tremendously disillusioning, and have made me extremely averse to any Great Man approach to doing, or teaching, theory. Rather than deifying the Big Men of Theory, assuming that they possess some greater truth that we must adopt wholesale — and warping our conception of the world so as adhere to that “truth” — let’s recognize the theory and the theorists for what they are. They’re models to help us make sense of things, frameworks to help us ask questions — and while the thinkers who generate those models are often brilliant, they’re also fallible and often highly hubristic guides (who are sometimes horrible writers). And they’re often women and people of color… and practitioners… and more often than not, groups of people who develop their ideas collaboratively, over time, through processes that likely won’t bring glory to any one of them or to any dynamic duos (e.g., Deleuze & Guattari, Hardt & Negri, Adorno & Horkheimer). Theory with a little ‘t,’ like knowledge itself, erupts not from the heads of Great Men, but from collectives comprised of folks whose last names, unlike Derrida’s and Deleuze’s, aren’t likely to get “adjectivized” in our everyday academic discourse.
I think we’d all be wise to do what we can to ensure that “little t” theory emerges through processes, through intellectual labor, that embodies the politics those theories ostensibly valorize.
In my previous post I recapped the first day and a half’s presentations at last weekend’s Network Archaeology conference. Now I’ll try to move a bit more quickly through the latter day-and-a-half. That last post took me a ridiculously long time; this one’s going to have to be more condensed.
It was about this time that I started to get a bit nervous about my own upcoming talk, so my note-taking was suspended until after my panel.
Later that evening we had Jussi Parikka’s provocative keynote. I’m afraid if I were to try to crystallize his argument, I wouldn’t do it justice. But Jussi offered several important take-away concepts and messages that resonated throughout the rest of the weekend’s conversations, so I’ll list some of those instead:
The concept of micro-temporality — recognizing that seemingly instantaneous processes are actually comprised of a series of micro-temporal steps, e.g., switching, batch-processing, real-time systems
Acknowledging a non-human temporality, a “machine time”
Likewise, spatiality/addressing can be machine-driven. Systems can be self-learning; a system can “teach itself where to go, how to be routed.” There needn’t be any central control, “just local routing knowledge to go where it needs to go.”
Networks are “not about flow, but about managing bursts.”
“Publicness has a special relation to time, to machine time,” and is “understood through the switch”; packet-switching involves a form of shared time, determining who speaks, and when.
The concept of critical engineering (which some attendees, like Darren Wershler, suggested that we subject to its own critique)
The day closed with some great performances and screenings, including my former thesis student Ben Mendelsohn’s screening of his wonderful and widely circulated short documentary, Bundled, Buried and Behind Closed Doors, and Chris Cuellar’s totally awesome live video performance examining computer vision and first-person films.
The highlight of the conference for me was Lisa Gitelman’s “Network Returns” keynote. Lisa’s work has been inspirational to me for years, and I’m always tremendously excited by the creativity of her scholarship. She demonstrates how the tiniest media artifacts — slips of paper, staples, microscopic inscriptions — offer hugely important clues into the way we create, organize, and store information, and how we construct knowledge. Her talk was divided into two parts: one about self-addressing in telegraphy, and the second about the utility pole as neighborhood information hub.
She discussed the 19th-century practice of “having [one’s] name sent” via telegraph as a novelty; people would pay a few cents to have their names sent and returned — a practice that, Lisa says, helped to “make sense of the [new] process” of telegraphy by means of “interpellation.” Interestingly, first and last names had only recently become stable identifiers; before taxation, the draft, credit-reporting bureaus and other bureaucratic institutions required that people have reliable identifiers, there was a great deal of variability in the spelling of their names (she pointed out that, until the late 19th century (?), passport applications made a point of specifying that applicants were to spell their names the same way all throughout the application!). It’s important to consider that proper names held a particular place in telegraphy; because operators had learned to receive messages sonically, and because codes had been developed for routinizing (and abbreviating) messages sent in Morse code, proper names were the only words that had to be spelled out. Self-addressing finds recent-historical and modern-day parallels in the self-addressed, stamped envelope and in DNS debates.
The second part of Lisa’s talk, which made me giddily happy, was about staple-ridden telephone poles. The pole, Lisa said, is “like a tree undone”; she draws parallels between it and the railroad tie, both creosote-treated wooden supports for 19th-century infrastructure. When I see one of these pierced poles, I have to stop and pay my respects. Despite the pockmarks and weathering, they have an air of nobility and worldliness. They’ve sacrificed themselves to perform a public service: it’s here where people post their most intimate public notices, complete with personal contact info — announcements about lost dogs, yard sales, piano lessons (there’s also of course a bunch of crap about escort services and “work from home” marketing shams). They ride the line of legality; posting leaflets is technically illegal, so each staple represents a violation, another blemish in the wood. Bare staples, meanwhile, “trouble the relationship between storage and transmission”; they remind us that the notices posted here are ephemera; they aren’t meant to last. The poles also serve as a conceptual hinge between multiple scales: at the top, where the phone lines and electric wires are draped, the pole represents our connection to global grids of power and communication; but on the ground, at staple-height, they root us in the local. What a gorgeous metaphor — and what a fantastic research subject.
After that, Darren Wershler gave an awesome, and awesomely entertaining, talk on comic book scans, which raised questions regarding the changing materiality of comics themselves; the politics of digital formats (cbr, cbz); and “specific modes of social organization, attribution, and authorship, etc. I was also happy to hear Wershler (who wrote a great book about typewriting) take to task the Manovich model of studying such huge scanned repositories; the focus on mathematical analysis of visual qualities both contributes to “data mystification” and ignores the highly significant material properties of these objects (even in digital form!). Wershler’s presentation reminded me of the work of another of my past thesis advisees; in 2011 Andrew Nealon finished a great thesis on comic subcultures’ agreements on conventions and values in digital reproduction.
Alan Liu had the last word. He spoke first about the Agrippa Files; I won’t recount his comments here, fascinating though they were, since he’s obviously given some version of this talk before. I will, however, outline his recommendations for developing new methods — for analysis, for preservation, etc. — that treat networks as something other than an abstraction; and new techniques for preserving networks as networks:
Treat individual works of media as proto- or micro-networks: “it’s not the case that first there are individual works which are then networked.”
Preserve not a work, but a “swarm architecture”
Preserve the relationships among works
Create metadata standards to accommodate structural maps of media
Treat micro-networks of individual works as part of a macro-network.
Our familiar concepts of the library and archive “collection” are obsolete, as are “finding aids,” shelving, etc.
We rarely attend to relationships among works, or with users, or between holdings past and present
We need to shift the paradigm of the library to data provenance and data lineage
Let’s see what we can learn from open archival information systems, data lineage, actor-network theory, bioinformatics, network archaeology
Treat the past as a network: we must take up the challenge to produce a network archaeology method that can recode our understanding of what a library can be as a network — which might mean RFID tagging loose items, reconceiving of the library as an Internet of Things.
Treat past and present networks differently: practice network-specific analysis (drawing from Katherine Hayles’ medium-specific analysis) that attends to culturally- and historically-specific network typologies.
Earlier this week I posted the text and images from my talk at last weekend’s Network Archaeology conference at Miami University. There were so many fantastic talks, and I met so many wonderful people, that I thought I should take some time to transcribe some of my notes — if for no other reason than that I probably won’t be able to make sense of these scribbles a few months down the road.
I should say up front that my notes are far from perfect, primarily because I was a far-from-ideal attendee. I arrived in Oxford, OH, without having slept much the previous two nights, and I was pretty much sleepwalking through the first day. I recovered on Friday, but hit another wall on Saturday. I was so exhausted — through no fault of the presenters! — that I had to find a remote classroom where I could take a nice, long nap on the floor (so embarrassing)! Consequently, I missed some good talks.
Even with the impartiality of my notes, I unfortunately don’t have time here to recount everything, so I need to be selective. My lack of commentary on some presentations shouldn’t be interpreted as a tacit statement about their value. I’m simply focusing on those presentation that have most relevance to my own interests.
The first talk for which I have somewhat comprehensible notes is Adrian Johns’s “The Information Defense Industry and the History of Networks,” whose abstract accurately described the content of his presentation. I couldn’t possibly do justice to his overarching argument or attempt to relay his celebrated research on the topic of piracy, some of which he summarized here, so I’ll simply present a few disjointed points that struck me as particularly interesting:
The development of the information defense industry is “not simply a product of a growing network culture”; it has “traced the history of the network” itself — e.g., a “fraternity through guild systems.”
The proprieties of linking creativity and commerce parallel the rise of the concept of piracy, a term that had moral, economic, and political meanings.
Piracy-preventive measures can be either overt (e.g., encryption, photocopy-proof paper), covert (anti-copying codes, regional codes, genetic triggers), or… [I couldn’t transcribe the slide quickly enough]
It’s important to have a “deep” perspective on piracy and “information defense”; the enterprises charged with upholding networks do so “by destabilizing other cultural values” — i.e., you might uphold rights here by compromising privacy there.
Sometimes you “may have to conceded on the social contract in order to uphold rights” — but “where to draw the line?”
Who guards the guards?
Johns declared: “I think radio is the most revolutionary medium.” [Paraphrase] You sit in a studio and speak into a microphone, and you have no idea if anybody’s listening…. You have to develop a new social science to ‘get’ your audience, which in a private system means providing quantitative data for advertisers, and in a public system means demonstrating that you’re serving the public good. (I really need to read Johns’s Death of a Pirate.)
The next morning Liam Young presented a fabulous paper on “the list” (a topic I’m quite fond of). He cited a fantastic quotation from Latour’s “Visualization and Cognition: Drawing Things Together”: “In politics as in science, when someone is said to “master’ a question or to ‘dominate’ a subject, you should normally look for the flat surface that enables mastery (a map, a list, a file, a census, the wall of a gallery, a card-index, a repertory); and you will find it.” Young ranged from the ability of lists to prescribe action (we can cite the work of Cornelia Vismann, who describes how lists “prescribe the algorithmic processes of file”) to lists in programming, like LISP’s dynamic data structures which don’t require that data types be prescribed in advance (as opposed to a language like C:, for which “everything is set up in advance by a human agent”; “everything is included”).
Sandra Gabrielle, whom I was delighted to get to know, shared a wonderful paper on newspaper archives, in which she focused on the materiality and politics of preservation. Most digital newspaper databases are scans of microfilm, which itself was often made from bound newspapers and subject to the “vagaries of binding.” Our digital access “remains limited to choices made decades ago,” including choices regarding which papers to microfilm; local papers were often left out. What’s more, the limitations of microfilm were “transferred to digital”: we don’t get color, images are often smeary, etc. In short, the digital record “doesn’t reveal much about the newspaper as a form.” We also have to wonder what type of experience of newspaper-reading is embodied in these various preservation formats. What about the “logics that structure the reading of the newspaper?” The newspaper microfilm reinforces linear reading through scrolling, while we’re free to flip through — to randomly access — a print paper. To sum up, both today’s digital scans and yesterdays’ microfilm were/are “bound by earlier preservation decisions.” Is it appropriate to think of digital scans as surrogates, and the databases themselves as instances of either “remediation” or “transfiguration”?
Pepper Stetler gave a great talk on Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, which we talk about in my Archives/Libraries class. Warburg approaches history as a “network of recurring visual motifs,” and he “felt most comfortable” practicing art history in the form of panels of images (which Stetler compared to Latour’s “immutable mobiles”). He affixed images to these panels using pins and clips; he wanted to keep the relations between images mobile. Stetler suggested that Warburg’s work raises such questions as: how did visual and pictorial expressions originate; what are the conditions under which they’re stored in archives of memory; and what are the laws that govern their formation or reemergence? She regards Warburg’s project as an effort “to prove photography’s mnemonic and archival potential” — and “to think of [Warburg’s] network,” of the Atlas, “as ‘incomplete’ is to assume that Warburg thought the project could be finished.” Such an assumption “ignores the asymptotic nature of networks.” Ultimately Warburg’s project makes us wonder “how much explanatory burden…the visual [can] carry” — and just how much content matters in network analysis (Stelter questions Galloway and Thacker’s suggestion that analyzing content has given way to analyzing network structure).
After Stetler, Rory Solomon gave a brilliant talk on the “media archaeology of ‘the stack'” (full disclosure: he’s my RA and thesis advisee 🙂 If Wolfgang Ernst advocates for examining the “non-discursive” in our media, “How do we locate non-discursive objects for analysis — especially in software?” Rory talked us through the history of various logical structures in the history of computing; conditional branching and if/then structures, the function call stack and its push/pop operations, the principle of “last in, first out,” etc. He looked at “the stack” — the application stack, the network stack — as a structural and intellectual model that can help us understand computing operations, and the interdependency of different “levels” of technical systems. We see that higher level systems in the stack are always constrained, always dependent on lower-level systems; “you can do only what the lower-level system allows you to do.” So where, then, do we locate the non-discursive or sub-semantic in these technical systems? Given the interdependency of various levels of the stack, Rory argues that finding any purely non-discursive site is tricky: “each level is simultaneously discursive (to levels below) and non-discursive (to levels above).”
Richard John then presented a whirlwind of a keynote on “network effects” in telecom history. I had the pleasure of riding from the airport with John and was immensely impressed, both then and during his talk, by his encyclopedic knowledge of telecommunication history and his embodiment of the historian’s historian. As in his book, Network Nation, John emphasized here that understanding network history requires that we also understand the roles of business and government. The telegraph and the telephone followed different evolutionary paths; our “presumption that the network has a [single] logic of its own” only serves to “mystify the actual development of historical narrative.” Network building in the formative era of telecom history “followed no singular logic”; decisions were often based on business strategy, and, contrary to popular narratives, only rarely did they rely on electricity.
My head hurts just from remembering all this material. I need a break.