“Scaffolding, Hard and Soft: Media Infrastructures as Critical and Generative Structures” In Jentery Sayers, Ed., The Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities (Routledge, 2018) [unedited draft with slides available here]
Elective graduate studio course, The New School
Maps reveal, delineate, verify, orient, navigate, anticipate, historicize, conceal, persuade, and, on occasion, even lie. From the earliest maps in cave paintings and on clay tablets, to the predictive climate visualizations and crime maps and mobile cartographic apps of today and tomorrow, maps have offered far more than an objective representation of a stable reality. In this hybrid theory-practice studio we’ll examine the past, present, and future – across myriad geographic and cultural contexts – of our techniques and technologies for mapping space and time. In the process, we’ll address various critical frameworks for analyzing the rhetorics, poetics, politics, and epistemologies of spatial and temporal maps. Throughout the semester we’ll also experiment with a variety of critical mapping tools and methods, from techniques of critical cartography to sensory mapping to time-lining, using both analog and digital approaches. Course requirements include: individual map critiques; lab exercises; and individual research-based, critical-creative “atlases” composed of at least five maps in a variety of formats.
I was invited to talk about this class in Jer Thorp’s “Data Art” class at NYU’s ITP, and as part of the “Map as Metaphor” series at the Center for Book Arts; you can find my talk and slides here.
Awards: The Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award; Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award
Interviews: Jennifer Reut, “Urban Scanner,” Landscape Architecture Magazine (July 2018): 38-44; Chris Richardson, “Shannon Mattern: Code and Clay, Data and Dirt,” This is Not a Pipe [podcas]
(May 17, 2018); Jeffrey Wood, “How Media Has [sic] Shaped the City,” Talking Headways [podcast]
Graduate seminar elective; undergraduate lecture course
It wasn’t long ago that the digital vanguard was prophesying the arrival of the “paperless office,” the death of the book, and the “dematerialization” of our physical bodies and environments. Despite those proclamations, we have not traded in our corporeality for virtuality—nor have we exchanged all of our brick-and-mortar edifices and cities for virtual versions. In fact, many architects, urban planners, sociologists, psychologists, geographers, and scholars and practitioners in related disciplines argue that as our media have become ever more virtual, the design and development of our physical spaces—through architecture, landscape design, and urban and regional planning—have become even more important. If our media and our built spaces do not follow the same evolutionary paths, what is the relationship between these two fields of production and experience?
This course examines the dynamic and complex relationship between media and architecture. We will look at architecture as media, symbols and embodiments of particular ideas and values—and at the impact that communication media have had on the practice of architecture and the way we experience our built environments. After equipping ourselves with a basic design vocabulary and a selection of relevant theoretical frameworks, we will trace the contemporaneous development of media and architecture from the scribal era in the Middle Ages to the digital era of today and tomorrow. Along the way, we’ll explore design, history, criticism, and theory from media and design historians and theorists, media makers, and designers. In the process, we will find that underlying and inspiring these various systems of cultural production throughout history are certain foundational elements—particular value systems and kinds of experience, cultural perspectives and worldviews.
Spring 2005: Syllabus
Graduate seminar elective
Ours is an existence characterized by cultural flux and political economic flows, by the virtualization of place and the acceleration of time, the disembodiment of labor, the fluidity of identity, the “conceptualization” of art, the etherealization of communication. Yet even these financial flows and digital networks rely on physical supports, on material storage devices and infrastructures, and embodied interactions with human actors. This seminar examines media as material objects, as things, as symbolically charged artifacts, as physical supports for communication. In the first third of the semester we’ll explore various theoretical frameworks and methodologies – from “thing theory” to media archaeology – that can be useful in studying the material culture of media. The second third will be dedicated to custom-designed “plug-ins” that pertain to students’ individual research interests. And in the final third, we’ll work collaboratively on the creation of (an) online exhibition(s) of material media – an endeavor we’ll approach as a form of “multimodal scholarship,” an alternative means of performing and publicizing academic work. The particular format of our project will also provide an opportunity for us to think through the central concepts of our class: what does it mean to mediate the materiality of media objects, and to create a virtual exhibition that addresses their physicality?
Required graduate seminar
Although humans have been thinking about and theorizing about media since antiquity, we have only recently – within the past century – begun to systematically, even scientifically, study the media. We now consider everything from the media’s role in society to its psychological “effects” on those who consume it; from the content of the messages it disseminates to the ideologies underlying its production and consumption. In this course we will look at the past, present, and future of media research: what do researchers think worthy of study, and what methods do they use to study it? We’ll ask ourselves similar questions: What, in our mediated environment, deserves study? What can and should we study, and why should anybody care? How can we match our own intellectual and creative interests to particular research subjects and methodologies? What does “research” mean in this digital age, this era of ubiquitous information? What tools can we use to study the media, and what kinds of information and knowledge can those tools yield? How do we determine the credibility of a source or generate our own data? Furthermore, how can we use the media themselves in the study of various social or psychological phenomena? And, conversely, how can we use research to help guide our media production? Our consideration of these questions throughout the semester will prepare us to create a grant proposal for either a media studies research project or a research-based media production project.
Spring 2006: Syllabus
Fall 2005: Syllabus
Archived Lessons for Summer 2005 Online Course
“Exploring Topics and Beginning Research”
“Production and Culture Industry Research”
“Media as Research Instruments”
“Media in Ethnography”
Project-based graduate seminar elective
Throughout the semester, we’ll learn by doing: we’ll learn about theories and practices of display and curation by creating the Project Media Space|Public Space exhibition, which will be held in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s 3000-square-foot gallery at 15 Nassau St., in Lower Manhattan, for two week in mid-May 2006. We’ll pay particular attention to the unique challenges of displaying media pieces, and by addressing these practical concerns, we’ll also explore such theoretical issues as the “situatedness” of media experience and the relationships between media and “space.” All students enrolled in the course must be prepared to make themselves available for installation during the last week of April and the first week of May.
Required graduate seminar
We tend to assume that ours is an exceptional era – one unprecedented in its mediatization, unique in its digitality, its information- and image-centricity. But even if the conditions of our media environment are unprecedented, these claims of exceptionality are not new – nor are the practices of thinking about and theorizing media and communication. In this course we will focus on the schools of thought that have shaped the study of media throughout the 20th century, and the theories that have lain the foundation for media studies in the 21st century. We will discover that media studies, as it has come, and continues to come, into its own as an academic discipline, has borrowed from a variety of other fields, including literary theory, art history, anthropology, sociology, and history, to name just a few. And as we appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of media studies, we will also have to consider what distinguishes our field from others: What constitutes a medium? What is communication? And, furthermore, what is “theory” – and what good is it to theorize the media, or any cultural practice or product, for that matter?
We have time this semester only to survey the field – to see modeled for us the way others have approached the study of media – and, in the process, to acquire a vocabulary of theory and establish a set of questions we can apply to the study of media. Ideally, this course will build the foundation upon which you base your own critical investigations into the role of media in our culture, a foundation that informs your own media production practices.
Spring 2007: Syllabus
Spring 2005: Syllabus
Fall 2004: Syllabus
Graduate studio elective
Today’s city is layered with screens of all shapes and sizes and stitched together with a web of wireless networks, but woven into these modern media spaces are other, older urban media networks and infrastructures – many of which have laid the foundation for our newer media. This project-based course is dedicated to excavating and mapping – both theoretically and practically – the layers of mediation that have shaped urban forms and informed urban experiences through several key epochs in communication history, from the oral culture of ancient Athens to the television age. Each student, alone or in pairs, will conduct an urban media excavation – exploring, for example, how pneumatic tubes facilitated the delivery of mail in late-19th century New York, how the rise of the film industry shaped early 20th-century Los Angeles, or how television cables served as the nervous system of new mid-20th-century suburbs. Rather than presenting this work as atomized individual projects, however, everyone will plot their sites and networks, and post relevant archival media, to a collaboratively designed interactive media map. Part of the class will be devoted to designing the platform by analyzing which presentation format is best suited for effectively displaying these layers of urban mediation and exploring the synergies between individual students’ projects. The class will lay historical and theoretical groundwork for examining media and the urban environment, and also introduce students to the fields of media archaeology and the digital humanities. While students will participate in the creation of interactive media maps, this hybrid course will have a strong theory component.
Over the past couple years I’ve taught a few graduate classes that incorporate ideas from the Digital Humanities and emphasize “multimodal scholarship,” and I’ve been conducting research on praxis-based PhD programs. It’s for these reasons, I assume, that the planning committee for our graduate students’ Critical Themes in Media Studies conference asked me earlier this year to organize an opening-night panel on multimodal doctoral work and praxis-based PhDs. So, for the past couple months I’ve contacted graduate directors and colleagues at various local institutions to ask if any of their students are completing non-traditional (i.e., multimedia, performance-based, practice-based, etc.) dissertations on media studies-related topics. Their recommendations have helped me to pull together an impressive panel of three inspired young artist-scholars. Next Friday evening, April 15, at 5:30pm, before Clay Shirky’s opening keynote, we’ll be gathering in the Teresa Lang Center, on the 2nd floor at 55 W 13th Street, to talk about “The Multimodal Dissertation.” Come join us.
Multimodal scholarship, writes USC’s Tara McPherson (2009), deploys “new experiential, emotional, and even tactile aspects of argument and expression” in order to “open up fresh avenues of inquiry and research.” How might we in Media Studies transform the media technologies that have traditionally been our research subjects, into researchtools, and thereby “open up fresh avenues” of creative scholarship? This panel examines how these new modes of scholarly practice are informing doctoral education. Our three panelists discuss how they’re infusing media-making into their dissertations, and how they’re navigating the still largely uncharted terrain of multimodal scholarship.
The Sound of America: Sound, Sensation, Sentiment, and Knowledge in American West Tourism
Links between the American West and American identity, memory, and history are well documented. America constructs its uniqueness through the land and people west of the Mississippi. American West tourism is a crucial form of this construction.
Traveling west has become a ritual of citizenship, a pilgrimage to the birthplace of a mythical America. This is the America of cowboys and Indians, of gold mines and train robberies, of wild horses and still wilder people. It is an America of the past, performed in the present, informing the future. While scholars have devoted much energy to unpacking the significance of Wild West mythologies, two important areas remain underdeveloped: tourism and sound. My work engages both as key to the production and circulation of the “Wild” American West and its meanings. Tourist experiences of the American West play a pivotal role in knowledge of American history and identity. Yet, such experiences are neither natural, nor benign. They are mediated, historical, and political. They are actual and imagined. They are also sensual. It is the power of the sensual, living tourist encounter I hope to uncover by engaging its sonic contours. The sound of the American West, as a national soundscape, reveals much about how America is known, remembered, and imagined. It also hints at the future forms of American politics, at home and abroad.
Marquee Survivals: Racialized Urbanism in Cinema’s Recycled Spaces
Marquee Survivals is an interactive, digital dissertation that explores contemporary conceptions of the repurposed movie theater. Across the United States, twentieth-century movie theaters have been converted into a variety of different establishments, including churches, swap meets, clothing and electronics stores. This project unravels how discussions surrounding these former movie houses racialize the spatial and historical perceptions of American popular media. In unpacking nostalgia’s place in touring the extant structures of film exhibition, Marquee Survivals highlights the roles race, ethnicity, and nation play in constructing the cultural narrative of cinema’s decline in the American downtown.
Incorporating methodologies from diverse academic disciplines, Marquee Survivals is also a networked digital dissertation that complicates dominant understandings of cinema’s early exhibition spaces by connecting them to present-day media consumption. Working toward an alternative media historiography of the repurposed movie theater, Marquee Survivals marries film theory and history, cultural studies, and digital media production. This presentation will feature documentation of Marquee Survival’s design processes and struggles. What are the challenges of building a distributed dissertation project that has equal investment in achieving rigorous scholarship and an affective user experience?
Hitting Walls (v.XVII): Some Strategies, Several Projections
Hitting Walls uses the sport of squash to address colonial histories, globalization and the potential for serious play within overdetermined structures. The project exists as a series of iterations made in a variety of media including large format photography, appropriated webgrabs, video, sculpture, performance, participatory activities and academic lectures. The most recent completed iteration took the form of a lecture and workshop on ball-making methods at Machine Project in Los Angeles this past January.
I expect my dissertation to exist as one more iterative element of this larger project. My broad goal is to use my dissertation as an opportunity to experiment with and make a claim for hybrid formats of intellectual work. As this is my first year in a doctoral program, it does not seem particularly helpful to pretend that I already know what form my dissertation will take. I cannot even, at this stage, claim with absolute confidence that it will make sense to me four years from now to consider the project to be part of Hitting Walls. I do expect a large amount of the work to be written but I also intend for there to be play within that writing, as well as essential elements, visual, aural or otherwise, which will work with the written components.
I would like to take the opportunity of this panel to briefly share a few of the Hitting Walls projects and to discuss various ways to experiment with academic, as well as other, forms. I would then like to open up a conversation that I am just beginning to have within my own department about how a dissertation is, can and should be defined. Right now it seems like a matter of shaping some good questions, setting them loose, and seeing how they ricochet.