Frame still from Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, Director. 1982. Final cut edition, 2007.
Media Theory and Digital Culture
Professor Martin Irvine
Communication, Culture & Technology Program
This course will introduce the central ideas in media and communication theory, semiotics and approaches to meaning systems, and the study of the post-digital media environment. The guiding question of the course: How do we develop a media and communication theory that's adequate to account for all the forms of media and cross-mediation that we experience today?
The course will provide a foundation in the major traditions of media and communication theory, semiotics, mediology, new media, network theory, and digital culture, and will have methodological emphasis in applying interdisciplinary models for investigating media and mediation in their technical and social dimensions. The course will also include a practical/applied component: students will experiment with digital production software for photography, video, and music.
Central topics for study will include the continuum of human symbolic systems, the implications of the expanding pan-digital platform for all media, the analog-digital continuum, the question of "big data" and the collective memory of computational networks, and the ongoing renewal of media content through new technologies of digitization.
Students will be expected to create the seminar in real time through readings, discussion, and proposal of cases and examples for study. Grading and weekly seminar assignments will be based on student presentations, short applied theory essays in a weekly Wiki-style environment (using a Wordpress site), and a final project involving the application of a theoretical model to a contemporary or historical case.
- Floridi, Luciano. Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN: 0745645720
- William Gibson, Pattern Recognition. New York: Putnam, 2003; Berkeley Publishing, Reprint edition, 2004. ISBN: 0425192938
- Regis Debray, Media Manifestos. Trans. Eric Rauth. London and NY: Verso, 1996. ISBN: 1859840876
- George Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. New York, NY: Pantheon/Vintage, 2012. ISBN: 1400075998
- Thomas P. Hughes, Human-Built World: How to Think About Technology and Culture. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2004. [ISBN 0226359344]
- Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, USA, 2005. ISBN: 0199256055
- Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. ISBN: 0262632551
- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. New York, NY: Bantam Spectra, 1995; reprinted 2002. ISBN: 0553380966
- Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. New York, NY: William Morrow / Avon Books, 1999. ISBN: 0380788624
- Noah Wardruip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. ISBN: 0262232278
|1 Introduction to Media Theory: Communication, Mediation, Information, Symbolic Systems||[−]|
Introduction to Doing Media, Communication, and Information Theory
How can we approach the subject matter and domains of knowledge constructed through this concept cluster:
- Communication, information
- Language, natural language, mathematics
- Signs, Symbols, Symbolic Systems and Symbolic Processes
- Symbolic cognition, cultural meaning, collective cognition, memory
- Medium, mediation, media, mass media
- Technology, “Information and Communication Technologies” (ICTs)
- Computation, Software Code, Digital Media
- Interfaces, Human-Computer Interaction, Digital and Analogue Continuum
These concepts and terms are part of long histories of discourse, disciplines, research agendas, and knowledge paradigms. The terms are often used to name areas of concern for separate disciplinary domains, but are now inseparable in our current media and communications environment.
We use many of these terms every day without thinking through what they entail. We need to investigate the consequences of holding various embedded assumptions in these discursive fields for real-world thought and action. In this course, we will consider the big picture of theory and philosophy and provide ways to critique and work out new interdisciplinary directions.
There is now one large interdisciplinary field with only academic departments and professional organizations sustaining demarcations of practice and identity. Media theory opens up the understanding all the codes we live by: text, images, photography, film/video, TV, advertising, Internet and Web media, and the whole mediasphere in the digital environment.
Introduction to Theory and Conceptual Models (review first):
- Media Theory: An Introduction (Introduction, working draft of book chapter)
- Introduction: Orientation to Media Theory and Working with Theory Today (Irvine)
- Main Theory Cluster for media interpretation: Presentation slide (Irvine)
- A Map of Received Theory: Traditions, Philosophies, Methodologies (Irvine)
Introductory Case Studies: art works, film, television, Web, i-device apps
|2 Communication & Information Theory: Foundational Concepts||[−]|
Learning Objectives and Discussion Questions
Communication theory from the 1960s-80s provides some major common assumptions that are assumed or critiqued in current media and information theory. As models of the transmission of meaning, these theories also inform how we think about visual culture as a language and set of communications media. Consider the main assumptions, then ask what is left out of the models? For example, transmission through time, the limits of linear one-way models, larger questions about production and receptions contexts that are more like networks than point-to-point connections. Models must explain all the communication "modalities": one to one, one-many, many-one, many-many, and dialog (one-other, mutually assumed); synchronous (at the same time) and asynchronous (delays in reception-response, short time span or very long).
Models of Communication and Information and Their Consequences
- Floridi, Information, Chapters 1-4.
- Day, Ronald E. "The ‘conduit Metaphor’ and the Nature and Politics of Information Studies." Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51, no. 9 (2000): 805-811.
Models and metaphors for "communication" have long been constrained by "transport", "conduit," and "container/content" metaphors that provide only one map of a larger process. How can we describe "communication" and "meaning" in better ways that account for all the conditions, contexts, and environments of "meaning making"?
- Irvine, Conceptual Models in Communication Theory: Communication Models and Methods (presentation)
- Models of the Communication Process and An Ecological Model of Communication
(Davis Foulger, Brooklyn College/CUNY)
Good overviews of the history of approaches to communication and a more inclusive ecological systems model. Note the context of the original transmission models and further complex models. Note that some models come from rhetorical thought, engineering and and information sciences, and sociology and semiotics.
Communication and Culture: Beginnings of a New Paradigm
- James Carey, "Communication
and Culture" (from Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, 1992) [pdf]. Summary
of Carey's Views (excerpts)
[An influential essay by a leader in the modern field of "Communication" that repositions the study of communication and mediating technologies in the cultural, ideological, and economic context.]
- Stuart Hall, "Encoding/Decoding" (first published, 1973). An important revision of communication theory with the semiotics of cultural codes and meaning systems. Influential in many fields.
Supplementary Background, Bibliography, and Sources
- Primary sources:
- Claude Shannon, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948). The Bell System Technical Journal,
Vol. 27, pp. 379–423, 623–656, July, October, 1948.
- Warren Weaver, "Recent Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Communication." An introduction to Shannon's theory and article. From: Shannon, Claude E., and Warren Weaver. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1949.
- Craig, Robert T. "Communication Theory as a Field." Communication Theory 9, no. 2 (1999): 119–161.
- Jerry Norman's History of Information Site (wealth of primary source backgrounds)
See especially: Timeline of artefacts in the history of Information and Communication.
Questions: Are message "contents" what are "communicated" in a communication act or event?
Is human natural language a sufficient model of--and modeling system for--communication?
Where and when are "meanings" in communication and information? What are the conceptual consequences of the content - container - transport/conduit models of communication? Can we model the contexts and environments of meaning not explicitly stated in the "information" of a "transmitted message"?
Examples and cases:
Communication theory and media artefacts: reverse engineer (decompose and segment components) an iPhone for the history and dependencies of component technologies (convergence of media and technologies). "Communication" in an art object (Ai WeiWei): are symbolic artefacts "communications"? what is missing in the "information theory" model in accounting for messages and meanings. Where are the meanings in our understanding of art works?
|3 Introduction to the Study of Language and Symbolic Cognition: Key Issues in Linguistics||[−]|
The Nature of Human Language and Human Symbolic Systems
The fact of the human capacity for language is the starting point of many disciplines and research programs in all aspects of communication, symbolic culture, and media. Much of the research questions and the terminology for the study of language and human symbol systems ("vocabularies" of description, as Rorty would say) has been set by the various specialities of modern linguistics. The terms and categories for analysis in linguistics have also been widely used heuristically by other disciplines, and all students studying media and communication need to be familiar with the basic agenda and research programs in the major branches of linguistics.
Familiarity with the concepts, terms, and assumptions of contemporary linguistics is thus essential for discussing and describing all other symbolic combinatorial systems that use language or function as language-like systems. An important open question for interdisciplinary research in all related sciences is whether we can accept the faculty of language (FOL), and the cognitive “triggers” that happen in language acquisition, as the foundation of all human symbolic processes (all those based on combinatoriality, recursion, and intersubjective material-conceptual symbols) from writing to mathematics and multimedia, or, rather, should we research further the evidence for a more generalized symbolic faculty of which language is one major (or the major) implementation. Either model leads us into the central questions about communication, culture, and technology.
We can only do a top-level overview here, but with some familiarity in the problems and core concepts, you can advance to topics of interest in your own research.
Key concepts to be used in this course: generativity, combinatoriality/compositionality, intersubjectivity, pragmatics (contextual and situational analysis, shared assumptions, speech and discourse genres and speech acts), sociolinguistics (language in everyday use and language in social group formation and identities).
Language as a Symbolic Cognitive System: The Linguistics Model
- Irvine, "Linguistics: Key Concepts" (start here)
- John Searle, "Chomsky's Revolution in Linguistics," The New York Review of Books, June 29, 1972.
[If you have no prior experience in linguistics, this article is a good introduction, even though many of the issues have developed in other ways since the 1970s. The fundamental research questions remain.]
- Textbook excerpts:
From Andrew Radford, et al. Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Includes the Table of Contents for the whole book so that you can see the contents of a typical recent textbook (following a post-Chomsky approach).
Excerpts on Introduction to Linguistics as a field, and sections on Words (lexicon) and Sentences (grammatical functions and syntax). Read and scan enough in each section to gain familiarity with the main concepts.
- More advanced:
- Steven Pinker, "How Language Works." Excerpt from: Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company, 1994: 83-123.
[Accessible introduction to central issues by a leading cognitive linguist.]
- Ray Jackendoff, “Précis of Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26, no. 06 (2003): 651-665.
[ Scan for the basic issues and key arguments. An introduction to the main argument and research backgrounds in Jackendoff's major work, Foundations of Language (2003).]
- Advanced: Primary Sources
- Noam Chomsky, "Form and meaning in natural languages." Excerpt from Language and Mind, 3rd. Edition. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
[This exposition is from the middle period of Chomsky's thought, and provides the "standard theory" of generative linguistics that now has many branches, modifications, and elaborations. If you work through this, you'll have a sense of what motivates much linguistic research on the central question of "what is language" right up today. Note: Chomsky focuses on syntax, and does not include important questions in semantics and pragmatics.]
- Noam Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965. From Chapter 1: Excerpt in pdf.
[This was the book that launched a new way to do linguistics with a syntax-centered model.]
- XLE-Web: parsing tool and tree generator for syntax. Choose "English" and map any sentence for its constituent and functional structure! (Uses linguistic notation from two formal systems.)
- What is language? What is "a language"? What are the implications of using language as a system as the model for all other symbolic systems (visual, audio, combinations) and most forms of communication and media? Do other symbolic systems that we use for expression (visual, music, multimedia combinations) work like a language (combinations by rules that precede the expression)? Try working with one or two of the main linguistic concepts as models for new ways of investigating language use and other media in the forms of communication we use every day.
Student Wiki Discussion
|4 Symbolic Cognition and Human Meaning Making: Intro to Cognitive Science Approaches||[−]|
From Linguistics to larger questions of the Human Symbolic Faculty in all media
The readings and concepts for weeks 3 and week 4 are intended to provide "building blocks" of conceptual resources for modeling the ways we organize and structure meaning systems in all our media. Within a broad cluster of fields--ranging from neuroscience to cognitive linguistics, cognitive anthropology, and computational models of cognition and artificial intelligence research--there has been a major convergence on questions and interdisciplinary methods for studying cognition, human meaning-making and the "symbolic faculty" generally, including all our cumulative mediations and externalizations in "cognitive technologies."
Many disciplines now converge on how our meaning systems all work with analogous and parallel "architectures" that must include (1) rules for combinatoriality of components (an underlying syntax for forming complex and recursive expressions of meaning units), (2) intersubjective preconditions “built-in” to the meaning system for collective and shared cognition, and (3) material symbolic-cognitive externalizations (e.g, writing, images, artefacts) transmitted by means of "cognitive technologies" (everything from writing to digital media and computer code) which enable human cultures and cultural memory. This recent interdisciplinary research is a "game changer" for the way we think about human communication and media technologies.
The human symbolic faculty has generated a continuum of functions from language and abstract symbolic thought to machines, media technologies, and computation:
Language > Symbol Combinatoriality > Abstraction > Mathematics > Machines > Computation
The mainstream disciplines in communication and media studies are very conservative (remaining within a demarcated field in the humanities and social sciences) and have not yet incorporated recent advances in cognitive science fields that are directly relevant to core assumptions and research questions on language, symbolic culture, and media technologies. We therefore have an open opportunity to learn from cognitive science fields and reconfigure the inter- and transdisciplinary field in promising ways for both theoretical and applied work.
Related Principles in all Symbolic Systems and Technologies: Combinatoriality, Compositionality, Componentiality, Recursion, Externalized Memory, Intersubjective and Collective Culture.
Main arguments to know in the various cognitive science disciplines:
Terrence Deacon: human evolution to the symbolic species, and possible model for the "symbolic threshold" in the transition to symbolic cognitive abilities.
Lakoff and Johnson: the centrality of metaphor for semantics and human thought in general
Edwin Hutchins and Andy Clark on the model of "distributed cognition" and "extended mind"
Neuro-evolutionary biology of cognition: Merlin Donald on being human as being symbolic
Introductions and Orientations
Approaches to Symbolic Cognition and Cognitive Bases for Human Meaning Systems
- Andy Clark, Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. (Excerpts from Introduction, Chapters1-2)
- Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. Excerpts from chapters 1 and 3.
- Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.
- George Lakoff, "Conceptual Metaphor." Excerpt from Geeraerts, Dirk, ed. Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.
- Hollan, James, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.
[Edwin Hutchins has pioneered research into "distributed cognition," and this work has imporant implications for the our concept of technology and the interface.]
- Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.
[This is a useful, short summary of central issues in this field of research, accessible to non-specialists.]
- Background Readings (for reference and as time allows for this week):
- Merlin Donald, "Evolutionary Origins of the Social Brain,"from Social Brain Matters: Stances on the Neurobiology of Social Cognition, ed. Oscar Vilarroya, et al. Amsterdam: Rodophi, 2007.
- Colin Renfrew, “Mind and Matter: Cognitive Archaeology and External Symbolic Storage.” In Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage, edited by Colin Renfrew, 1-6. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 1999.
[Important argument to supplement Merlin Donald's view about the evolutionary origins of the symbolic brain: material culture is part of the externalizing cognitive process.]
- Irvine, "Introduction to Cognition, Symbol, Meaning, and Mediation" (presentation)
Student Wiki Discussion
This week is an introduction to some very big, macro-level questions about human cognition, the symbolic and language faculties, and possible explanations for how and why humans are the "symbolic species." This involves difficult, often (initially) counter-intuitive ideas at a high level of abstraction and interpretation of research evidence. For your writing this week, choose one of these two approaches: (1) consider a media artefact as an instance of a combinatorial meaning system (an artwork, a Website, a movie, music composition) with some features investigated in readings . We will investigate the structure of meaning systems more fully later, but this week you can begin with developing intuitive conceptual insights into the "grammar" of a media form: example: how does a genre (the type, the "cliche" inventory) provide the grammar of possibilities for a form, and what happens when we combine symbolic resources (language, visual form, music/sound, video/cinema, etc.) in a media form. (2) How would key concepts in this week's readings enable a thorough revision of the traditional information and communication models (from Week 2), and how could these concepts change the way you think about meaning systems and media more generally?
|5 Introduction to Media Theory: Medium, Media, Mediations||[−]|
Understanding the outlines of media history, the metaphors and discourse for describing and conceptualizing "medium, media, mediation and mediality," the emergence of "media theory," and the development of "media studies" as a discipline. This week, we begin developing tools for analysis, critique, and research that we will expand for the later focus on digital media and culture specifically.
- Irvine, "Media Theory: An Introduction" (working draft of book chapter: overview of issues and ways of working)
- Lisa Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. Excerpt from Introduction. [Includes excellent bibliography of references.]
- Friedrich Kittler, "The History of Communication Media," C-Theory, 1996.
[This essay is in the spirit of McLuhan, and still perplexed by material-deterministic views. Important for Kitler's kind of argument Kittler, and an overview of media history as commonly accepted in university disciplines.]
New Media before "New Media": Print Culture and the Telegraph as Paradigm Cases
- Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, "Some Features of Book Culture," from Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Rev. ed. 2005.
[This chapter summarizes the highly influential work of Eisenstein on the features of print culture after the development of the printing press in the Renaissance. Compare with McLuhan. Consider how the theorizing proceeds by extrapolating from material-functional properties of the medium and historical conditions.]
- James W. Carey, "Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph," excerpt from Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Revised edition. New York, NY and London, UK: Routledge, 1989.
[This is a classic in the field. An important analysis of the telegraph as allowing, for the first time, the separation of messages from a physical medium requiring transportation through space. Important consequences leading up to the Internet.]
Marshall McLuhan and the Influence of His Theory
- Marshall McLuhan, "The Medium is the Message," (Excerpts from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I, 2nd Edition; originally published, 1964). (See especially Part 1, "The Medium is the Message," sections 1-3.).
- Daniel Czitrom, "Metahistory, Mythology, and the Media: The American Thought of Marshall McLuhan," excerpt from Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982; read pp.172-182.
More than Messages in the Medium: Theory of Mediation and Media Systems
- Regis Debray, "What
is Mediology?" Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. (Trans.
[This essay is a brief introduction to the approach of mediology, which we will explore more fully later.]
Background Sources and Supplementary Readings: Media Theory History (optional)
- "The Long History of New Media," Introduction to Park, David W., Steve Jones, and Nicholas W. Jankowski, eds. The Long History of New Media. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2011.
[An interesting book that opens up the larger history of "new" media. Note chapter topics and approaches.]
- Specters of McLuhan: Research Site for the History of McLuhan's influences
- Marshall McLuhan, Official Site (McLuhan Estate).
and Technological Determinism:
Paul Jones, "The Technology is not the Cultural Form?: Raymond Williams's Sociological Critique of Marshall McLuhan," Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 23, No 4 (1998).
- James C. Morrison, "The Place of Marshall McLuhan in the Learning of His Time," Counterblast, 1 (2001), NYU.
- James Carey, "Marshall McLuhan: Genealogy and Legacy," Canadian Journal of Communication, 23, Mar. 1998.
Student Wiki Discussion
In studying media today, we often get caught up in the discourse of "new media" without understanding longer histories and dependencies, and social conditions in place before the arrival of the "new." Consider a form of "media" today that you can discuss by beginning to uncover the system of dependencies and mediations at work for a medium to function. Concepts to work with: media as orchestrated combinations of technologies and social conditions; media and the conditions of space and time; the social-ideological value, power, and authority of a medium (example: books, print, and publishing retain high value and prestige at a time of major transition to digital media). Your reflections on these key questions are a starting point for the analysis of digital media culture specifically in the weeks ahead.
|6 The Grammar of Meaning Making: Introduction to Semiotics and Symbolic Systems||[−]|
Introduction to Sign Systems and Semiotics for Media Theory
Learning Objectives and Discussion Topics:
Understanding the main assumptions and concepts of structuralist linguistics, semiotics, and models for symbolic cognition concerning language, signs, and meaning as collective, intersubjective, rule-governed systems.
Semiotics and related fields are notoriously difficult to understand at first, and it's also too common to get started in a confusing way and then never get to the pay off conceptually. So many of the textbooks are boring and merely academic; I couldn't bring myself to assign them to you.
So, in our interdisciplinary adventures, we find semiotics now being integrated (metaphor?) like a common software routine across many other sciences and disciplines (media and cultural studies fields in the humanities, anthropology and many social science fields, distributed and symbolic cognition research in the cognitive sciences, information and computation theory). Some may even hold out a utopian dream of a way to "unify" humanistic and scientific fields in a generalizable semiotics that accounts for language, concepts, cognition, meaning, knowledge, symbolic processing in mathematics and computation, and the ongoing dialogic development of all cultures.
Be that as it may, we need to work through the foundational concepts and problems, many of which are counter-intuitive (not common sense), and see what we see by extending semiotic and symbolic cognition hypotheses into our worlds of meaning.
- Irvine, "Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics" (begin here)
Read sections 1-4 of this book chapter in progress. We will use later sections next week.
- Mieke Bal, "Semiotics for Beginners," from Mieke Bal, On Meaning-Making: Essays in Semiotics. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1994.
- Floyd Merrell, "Peirce's Concept of the Sign," excerpt from Paul Cobley, ed., The Routledge Companion to Semiotics and Linguistics. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001.
- Primary Sources: [these are difficult texts presupposing larger contexts of argument, but it's good to grapple with the primary statements and work through the concepts and whether you can mobilize them]
- Ferdinand de Saussure, extracts from Course in General Linguistics
- Focus on sections: Introduction, Chap. III, and III.3, "Place of Language in Human Facts: Semiology"; and Part 1, Chap. I, "On the Nature of the Linguistic Sign."
- Web version (useful for searching key terms): Third Course of Lectures on General Linguistics (1910)
- Focus on the description of the linguistic sign (signifier, signified, sign).
- C. S. Peirce, "What is a Sign," excerpt from Peirce, Charles S. Essential Pierce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1893-1913). Edited by Nathan Houser, Christian J. W. Kloesel, and Peirce Edition Project. Vol. 2. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998.
- Emile Benveniste, excerpts from "The Nature of the Linguistic Sign" and "Subjectivity
in Language."(Pdf versions)
[Important developments of De Saussure's theories.]
Online Textbooks (for reference)
- Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, read sections 1-2.
- John Deely, Basics of Semiotics (1990 edition online)
- Peirce's Theory of Signs (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Novel: Pragmatic Semiotics
- Begin William Gibson, Pattern Recognition: a story of a branding "cool hunter" at work, hacking the semiotic codes of advertising, with adventures in viral film circulation and more. (Discussion next week.)
Examples from popular culture and media: in class discussion
- Advertising, popular TV genres, movies: some cases to illustrate "the grammar of meaning" using semiotic concepts and methods of analysis.
Student Wiki Discussion
This week is an introduction to thinking and working with semiotic theory. We will develop methods, models, and research problems in the following weeks, but this week our task is becoming intuitively clear on the basic assumptions, concepts, and lines of approach that enable useful analysis of media and culture. For your writing, think through the "meaning systems" approach in first steps toward understanding how meaning happens in common cultural forms. Consider a small part of a genre example (a TV show, movie, music composition, art work) and think through the symbolic components that make meanings possible. Examples: analyze a shot sequence in a movie, the symbolic patterns and codes in a piece of music and/or music video, an advertisement (with photography, design, typography, for example). We will refine the procedures next week; the important step is to begin thinking with the concepts and assumptions and see what opens up that you couldn't see before.
|7 Cultural Semiotics and Media Theory||[−]|
An orientation to the major approaches to "cultural semiotics" in the French, Russian-European, and Anglo-American schools of thought with an emphasis on ways to build a synthetic model that can be usefully combined with theory and research in linguistics and the cognitive sciences.
Central questions: Using the core theories of linguistics and semiotics, how can cultural semiotics be applied to all forms of media and popular culture genres today?
How does interpretation and meaning-making work across media forms and genres (movies as "commentaries" on books, TV genres, or comics) and cultures (cross-globalization interpretations).
How do we map out the meaning systems of content, genres, and expression in all media, from all cultures?
Extending Linguistics and Semiotics to Cultural Semiotics
- Irvine, "Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics". (Read section 5)
Cultural Semiotics Models
- Marcel Danesi, "Semiotics of Media and Culture," excerpt from Paul Cobley, ed. The Routledge Companion to Semiotics. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009, 135-149.
- Yuri Lotman, "On
the Semiotic Mechanism of Culture"
[Very important essay for this unit. Focus on the key points.]
- Peeter Torop, "Semiosphere and/as the research object of semiotics of culture," Sign Systems Studies, 33/1, 2005. [On Lotman's theory of the semiosphere.]
- Julia Kristeva, "On Yury Lotman," PMLA 109/3, 1994: 375-76.
- Roland Posner, "Basic Tasks of Cultural Semiotics". Excerpt from Gloria Withalm and Josef Wallmannsberger, eds., Signs of Power -- Power of Signs. Essays in Honor of Jeff Bernard. Vienna: INST, 2004, p. 56-89.
Barthes and "Semiology": Foundational Works for Cultural Semiotics
- Roland Barthes, Mythologies,
"Myth Today" (excerpt from Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers, 1984, pp. 107-45).
- Note: One of Barthes' first descriptions of semiology,
the term adopted by French theorists. A source of confusion
for readers today is his use of the term "myth," by which Barthes
means the second-order meanings, codes, and ideologies that we live by.
The higher-level social and cultural meanings that circulate
with images, media, and texts are not "fictions" but very
real and powerful ways of structuring the world in symbolic form.
Barthes begins by re-modeling all cultural genres on the concept of "text," as system of formalized rules and structures manifest in specific forms.
In comparision and context, we should note that Barthes is trying to explain symbolic meaning and ideology with the Saussurrean binary model of the semiological function ( signifier/signified structure) and second-order signs built on completion of a first binary sign. Levels of conceptual/symbolic meaning are more adequately described in Peirce's triadic model of semiosis with chains/networks of interpretants (which include linking to ideological concepts).
- "The World of Wrestling" and "Plastic". Famous essays in Barthes' Mythologies for a sense of his method: an application of semiology to the spectacle and drama of wrestling, a method that can be readily transferred to football and other public, dramatic spectacles, and a "semiotics of material culture" take on plastic.
- Graham Allen, excerpt from Roland Barthes (Routledge Critical Thinkers Series), on Semiology. New York: Routledge, 2003, 33-53.
[A useful background and summary of Barthes' theory and method. Limitation is that Allen does not locate the "semiological" approach, extended from de Saussure, in the larger questions of models for cultural semiotics.]
- Note: One of Barthes' first descriptions of semiology, the term adopted by French theorists. A source of confusion for readers today is his use of the term "myth," by which Barthes means the second-order meanings, codes, and ideologies that we live by. The higher-level social and cultural meanings that circulate with images, media, and texts are not "fictions" but very real and powerful ways of structuring the world in symbolic form.
From Semiotics to "Cultural Studies"
- James Clifford, "On Collecting Art and Culture". Google Books info.
- Stuart Hall, "Encoding/Decoding." [Reread in this context.]
Important Issues in Cultural Semiotics:
- Lotman's "Incompleteness Theorem": all cultures experience themselves as essentially incomplete, which is why we continue to make new works, new interpretations, commentaries, additions to past and current cultural productions.
- Lotman's corollary: culture is the non-hereditary memory of a community.
William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
- William Gibson's Site for Pattern Recognition: A novel about a "cool hunter" who uses (implicitly and explicitly) semiotics to code and decode corporate branding. Fun and very engaging. By the writer who coined the term "cyberspace."
Further Cases Studies and Examples (TV, film, advertising, art, web)
- Semiotics of web design, content, branding, layout, style: Code and Theory design examples
Student Wiki Discussion
- Working with a cultural semiotics model (Barthes and/or Peirce), try building out the meaning structure of a movie shot, a novel plot sequence, a software application (not simply how it looks in a screen interface, but what it does). What are the compositional elements for the cultural/social meanings that we understand in an expression in a media form?
|8 Generativity in Symbolic Systems: Dialogism, Cultural Encyclopedia, Intermediality||[−]|
Learning Objectives: Key Concepts
Media and cultural theory today assumes the concepts of dialogism and intertextuality as foundational ideas. Intertextuality should now be redefined for contemporary media studies as intermediality, or the ongoing dialog among many kinds of cultural expressions in any medium. A new work emerges within a network of prior and contemporary works, and we interpret expression in a variety of genres that cut across our popular media--TV, Web, books and magazines, art works, music.
Merge with principles of combinatoriality and discrete infinite productivity in language.
The power of this concept extends both to our ongoing interpretations of existing cultural expressions (texts, images, film, TV, web sites), and also to the generation or production of new works or expressions that are possible from the producer-communities' access to a cultural encyclopedia of contents, relationships, codes, and rules of formation.
The concepts of intertextuality/intermediality and cultural encyclopedia usefully merge together the idea of unlimited semiosis in semiotic theory (expressions are always interpreted through addition expressions with no final closure), and Derrida's idea of the supplement, the necessary structure of meaning systems that always attempt to disclose meaning by supplements to expressions that present themselves as the "inner" meaning contained in a prior expression.
A cultural extension of unlimited semiosis is found in Lotman's incompleteness theorem: every culture experiences itself as incomplete, and continually generates new supplements, commentaries, new expressions, new statements, new works, that extend the fund of possible cultural meanings.
Intertextuality/intermediality and the cultural encyclopedia are thus useful concept to explain how any interpretation is possible and how new works a generated from the internalized rules and codes of a cultural system.
- Irvine, An Introduction to Meaning Making Systems and Cybersemiotics (concluding sections)
Steps in the Theory of Intertextuality and Dialogism
- Roland Barthes, "From
Work to Text" (1971; trans. 1977; excerpt from Image, Music, Text).
[This famous essay outlines Barthes' attempt to expand on Saussurian structuralist concepts to a generative model for the productivity of meaings and expressions. Text becomes a concept for both (1) the rules and generative grammar of discourse and (2) a transtextual encyclopedia of genres, types, codes, and textual cross-references, a repertoire of intertextual rules and contents.]
- Daniel Chandler, "Intertextuality." [Useful Overview; but primarily a literary structuralist take on the concept, not wideningout to dialogism and generarive principles.]
- Mikhail Bakhtin: Key Theory from his major writings (On Dialogism, Heteroglossia, Polyphony).
[Major statements by the key thinker in the discovery of dialogism as a productive principle.]
- Kristeva, excerpt from "Word, Dialogue, and Novel." From Toril Moi, ed., The Kristeva Reader [New York: Columbia University Press, 1986]). [A statement with wide influence.]
- Gunhild Agger, "Intertextuality Revisited: Dialogues and Negotiations in Media Studies." Canadian Journal of Aesthetics, 4, 1999. [Good overview of theories as they apply to media studies.]
- Irvine, Jazz and the Abstract Truth: Dialogism and Hybrid Culture (lecture presentation).
Expanding to the Cultural Encyclopedia and Dialogism as a Generative Principle in Culture
- Eco, Umberto. "Metaphor, Dictionary, and Encyclopedia." New Literary History: 15:2 (1984): 255-71.
- ----. "The Theory of Signs and the Role of the Reader." [see especially section III]
- Gary Radford, "Eco and the Model Reader." Paper. Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Dialogism to Appropriation, Remix & Postproduction
- Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence," Harpers Magazine, Feb. 2007. [All writing has always already been a hybrid collage of language, sources, references, unconscious quotations, remix of inherited written culture.]
- Nicholas Bourriaud, Postproduction (2002). Our new production platforms--increasingly using or modeled on digital production--allow an explicit awareness of new works being remixed like the post-production process in music, movies, and television.
Presentations and Lecture Notes
- Jazz and the Abstract Truth: Dialogism and Hybrid Culture (Irvine) [ presentation]
- A Matrix for The Matrix (Irvine) [presentation]
Applying theories of intertextuality, dialogism, and the cultural encyclopedia to post-digital media examples: TV, film, Web, visual art. What are the heuristic possibilities (what the concepts lead us to discover) of these theoretical models and ways of looking at cultural production and reception in the media across the digital platform? Always begin by asking: "what rules, genres, and codes does this example (instance of a media form) presuppose for it to be possible? What cross-references to other expressions, genres, and works are assumed for it to be intelligible by us (or a specific subculture of reception and use)?
Student Wiki Discussion
|9 Media, Representation & Culture: From Walter Benjamin to the Google Art Project||[−]|
One view of the transition from the modern to post-modern era centers around the question of representation and technical mediation in mass media. This question includes the status of images; the cultural, ideological, and technical function of media; the role of photography and film; and the mass mediation of social life in general (print, film, television, advertising). The shift toward digital representation, mediation, and distribution extends these questions and adds questions specific to digital objects and artefacts.
These macro questions about the mediation and representation of culture connect to our previous week's studies of cultural semiotics and the function of the cultural encyclopedia and interpretive communities.
The statements by the writers in this unit--Benjamin, Malraux, and Baudrillard--are often considered as a chain of accruing arguments, each presupposing the earlier, and adding analyses and observations from the media of their era and schools of thought that each theorist participated in. What are the main issues? How does digital reproducibility and mediation enable us to rethink these questions today?
The Google Art Project is being positioned in a nexus of cultural, institutional, and media technology issues. How are the issues discussed by these writers and the important theory in sociological descriptions of cultural institutions played out in this recent project of cultural mediation and representation?
- Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility" (1936; rev. 1939).
This is the more accurate translation of the title of the work known in the English-speaking world as The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (html) (English trans., Harry Zohn, 1968). Compare both versions.
Focus on sections: Pref., I-VI, X-XII, XV.
Benjamin's title in German is "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit" = "The Work of Art in the Era of its Technical (or Technological) Reproducibility."
The first link above is to an excerpt from the new edition of Benjamin's writings (Harvard Univ. Press, 2003) with the revised title.
Benjamin was part of the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist writers who were engaged in a serious struggle with Fascism, and Benjamin proposed his own more nuanced analyses of history and media technologies. His argument is still in the grip of presuppositions about "mass culture" as passive responses, and he was writing as at time when Fascist capitalism and state-controlled cultural economies threatened to convert all media and cultural forms into tools of ideology.
Note the troubled questions about technology and agency and a historical narrative about technological development in section VI.
For further background on Benjamin's philosophy, see Philosophical Background (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy): see sections 6-8.
- André Malraux, "La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)".
Overview and excerpts. English translation unfortunately as "The Museum Without Walls", a chapter in The Voices of Silence, 1951). Further implications of art and culture mediated through photography, and the assumption of a global "art encyclopedia" informing the modern concept of art and art history.
- Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulations" (also in html version).
From Simulacra and Simulation, 1981; English trans., 1988.
This essay is often cited but seldom understood. It exemplifies Baudrillard's theory and style (full of rhetorical hand grenades and provocations), and needs to be worked through and critiqued. Important points are the view of mediated "reality" as interpreted through the code of "the real," which is a mediation and style of representation, not a transparent, direct connection with a non-mediated or pre-mediated lived experience (in all it's messy, chaotic complexity).
For background, see my presentation, "Mediation and Representation: Plato to Baudrillard and Digital Media."
- Art, Cultural Capital, Symbolic Value: Brief Context-Framing through Pierre Bourdieu's Theory
The topic of the reproduction and dissemination of art images leads to the larger question of the function of art (high art) as a cultural category, the institutions that maintain, install, and reproduce this cultural category, and the learned rules for making distinctions between high and low culture that come through socialization into the accepted encyclopedia.
For an overview, see my "Introduction to the Institutional Theory of Art and the Artworld" (summary also as presentation: "The Artworld as Institutional Network") and "Cracking the Art Value Code with Bourdieu."
And as time permits, the primary background in Pierre Bourdieu, "The Forms of Capital" (also html version) and "The Production of Belief" (1980/93).
- Google Art Project: A Meta-Museum for the Post-Digital World?
Experiment with the interface and analyze the assumptions in the way representations are structured.
Choose some of the major museums for the gallery "walk throughs" and experiment with viewing the high-resolution images and making selections for your own collection.
- Emily Magnuson, "Virtual Museums," Frieze Magazine Blog, 3.8.2011.
- Discussion in Curator: The Museum Journal. [Overview of issues from a Smithsonian curator.]
- Google Art Project, Wikipedia [Useful background on the technology and institutional issues.]
- [Is the Google Art Project a "meta-museum," a virtual museum of museums? How do we interpret the interface structure, horizontal scrolling and tiling, the significance of the framing and interface design?]
Student Wiki Discussion
- Explore aspects of the Google Art project as a case study for tying together the questions and issues in this week's reading and theory. How are institutions and artefacts represented and mediated? Is Google's well-known "street view" 360-degree simulation/presentation a code for "the real" in networked digital media culture? What happens semiotically when artworks, as defined and constructed in the cultural category transmitted in the institutions and the Artworld collectively, are mediated as detachable objects in "user-curator" arrangements? Museums as source material of images for Pinterest-style selection and arrangement? Or a useful advance in a learning tool that enables individual learning, pattern recognition, and understanding of the museum function? All of the above?
|10 Mediology: Media, Transmission, and Institutions of Mediation||[−]|
Mediology is an approach or point of view for asking new questions about mediation, communication and transmission, and for the bringing invisible forces of social relations and institutional preconditions up to awareness; it is method, guided by some open hypotheses, not a "discipline" or "philosophy".
The method can be called a "metatheory" or way to de-blackbox social and technological systems that are often constructed ideologically to be closed from analysis (e.g., the function of hype and productizing in consumer devices and digital technologies; the reification of media and technology as "things" rather than outcomes of complex relational processes). Hence it's an approach like a Wittgenstein's ladder, a tool for climbing up out conceptual problems already worked through, to form new or better questions or to see beyond old, uninteresting questions. It's a program for posing meaningful new redescriptions of questions and problems that have reached disciplinary dead-ends (as in Rorty's method of redescription as new interpretation).
Mediology is an open-ended synthesis of approaches that allow us to expand and combine the discoveries of: systems theory, network theory, semiotics, media and mediation theory since McLuhan, the sociology of media and technology, and models of distributed, interdependent agency in the disparate fields of Actor-Network Theory, Bourdieu's social-institutional analyses, and models of human-machine relations from cybernetics.
Mediology as a synthesis of theory: With the two major criteria toward using theory we have practiced in the seminar, how do you see mediology in its heuristic and self-reflexive or self-critical potential? Does the approach lead to new discoveries, even about theory itself, and what happens when we use some of the concepts to critique questions of media, mediation, and transmission? How does mediology continue, extend, or critique other theory traditions we have examined: communication theory, semiotics/semiology, post-modernism?
You may find Debray's description of the Mediological approach to be very close to the interdisciplinary model for CCT-- with the added value of turning attention to the invisible contexts, frameworks, and milieus of institutions that form the conditions of possibility for media and the transmission of culture.
Mediology and Institutions of Mediation
- Regis Debray, "What is Mediology?" Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.
- Debray, Media Manifestos, pp. 1-40; 69-79; 97-107; Tables, 171-174. (Excerpts in pdf.)
- Debray, Transmitting
Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University
Excerpts in pdf: From Chaps. 1-2; from Chap. 7, "Ways of Doing."
- Irvine, Lecture Notes: Introduction to Mediology (web)
- Irvine: Working With Mediology: From Theory to Analytical Method (essay, chapter draft)
- Irvine, Introduction to Mediology and Actor Network Theory (presentation)
- Frédéric Vandenberghe, "Régis Debray and Mediation Studies, or How Does an Idea Become a Material Force?" Thesis Eleven, 89, May 2007: 23-42. [Detailed philosophical critique of mediology and traditions of thought forming Debray's context.]
- Steven Maras, "On Transmission: A Metamethodological Analysis (after Régis Debray)"
(see section on Debray and transmission)
Working with Mediology: What questions to ask?
- Missed institutional embeddedness of media?
- Institutions of transmission?
- Media as memory systems?
- Mediaspheres and total, reconfigurable systems of media at any given cultural moment?
- Hierarchies of media and technologies, cultural significance of various media before content or information is conveyed?
- Is the technology of the medium separable from the meaning of the content transmitted?
- Are ideologies separable from the material means (mediums) of transmission (for example, religion, politics, class structures, identities, subjectivities); that is, how is ideology interdependent with the material means of communication, information, and transmission?
- What information is transmitted in the medium itself by its form and social function?
Mediology Case Studies for discussion:
- The Internet and Mediology: A Look at Our Current Mediasphere
- TV Culture and Institutions
- The Fashion World and the Art World: institutions of transmission, codes, mediation and media channels
- The Museum
- The University
Student Wiki Discussion
Consider a major media form or genre like YouTube from a mediological point of view. What invisible grounds and conditions come into view? Communication vs. transmission? Institutions and political economy of media industries? De-blackbox a combinatorial technology for its interfaces to larger systems of mediation?
Student Wiki Discussion
|11 Digital Media, "New Media," and Mediation After Convergence||[−]|
Combining our conceptual modeling resources and the mediological approach for studying digital and "new" media.
How do we describe the systems of mediation, institutions of transmission, media functions, and materialities of mediation for post-digital culture?
What are digital media? How is software a medium or metamedium?
What is a digital artefact? Are there properties of "being digital" that have unique affordances and consequences?
How do we understand as fully as possible the analog-digital continuum?
Media Theory and Mediation After Digital Convergence,
Software, and Computer Interfaces
- Introduction: Media Theory and Technologies of Mediation, Section 7 (Irvine)
- Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (excerpts). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.
A very influential book in the field. Read selections from chap. 1 (What is New Media) and chap. 2 ("The Interface")
Note the categories Manovich set up in chap. 1 for defining "New Media."
- Author's website with supplements to the book.
- Lev Manovich: "New Media from Borges to HTML." Introduction to The New Media Reader. Edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003, 13-25. (File from author’s site: www.manovich.net).
See especially the section on "What is New Media: Eight Propositions."
- Lev Manovich, "Media After Software," Journal of Visual Culture, 2012. Author's preprint version.
See also a brief preview of his argument, "There is Only Software" (author's site); pdf version.
- Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts: Intro | Chap. 1 | Conclusion
- Approaching "The Long History of New Media," Introduction to Park, David W., Steve Jones, and Nicholas W. Jankowski, eds. The Long History of New Media. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2011.
[This book provides an overview of the topics and scholarship in the field of new media studies.]
Background on Software Studies and Digital Humanities
- Lev Manovich, Software Studies Site
- Anne Burdick, et al, eds., Digital Humanities (Cambridge: MIT Press). PDF Open Access Edition.
Further Reading and Sources
- Specters of McLuhan: Research Site for the History of McLuhan's influences
Student Wiki Discussion
Describe and analyze, as fully as you can, the interface(s), media functions, and mediations implemented in a PC, an iPhone/iPad, or tablet. Use whatever theory and conceptual modeling tools we have been developing in your description. Do Manovich's and Bolter and Grusin's categories of description usefully map on to the integration of media in our current platforms? How do our interfaces and software present "media"? Go beyond the specifics of the device/equipment you currently have to the underlying model being implemented, the mediations to (invisible) systems in the interface.
|12 The Digital Milieu: Interfaces, Distributed Cognition, Memory, and the Future||[−]|
Working out ways of modeling and analyzing the environment of post-digital cultural and the larger system of symbolic cognition in multiple media technologies and hybrid combinations of analog and digital.
How can we best model and describe "post-digital" culture as a meaning system (a system of interdependent mediums, mediations, technologies, and cultural genres comprising a "mediasphere" or "semiosphere")?
This week’s readings are intended to be read in our cumulative context of theory, approaches, and methods. Combined with prior weeks’ readings, the approaches this week provide a merged view of new media and software, cognitive science models for the function of symbolic artefacts and media technologies as forms of distributed cognition or extended mind, and media technologies as mediations of ideologies and social structures.
We will investigate the points of intersection in three disciplines and traditions of thought to find new conceptual models for problems that cannot be modeled with the resources of only one approach, point of view, or vocabularies of description.
Important interconnected topics: Interfaces, cultural memory, externalized memory, distributed cognition, technological and social mediation
Consider this arrangement of approaches, positions, and arguments
- Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (ebook version, 2008), excerpt, attend especially to the section on "Cultural Software".
Following up from last week's readings of Manovich's main arguments. Consider his expanded concept of software and the cultural-computational view of digital media.
- Andy Clark's arguments about distributed cognition in the "extended mind" hypothesis: the function of language, symbolic systems, and technological artefacts as "cognitive scaffolding" that have shaped human cognitive functions from earliest language and artefacts to current combined technologies--with no break or rupture resulting from the industrialization of these cognitive artefacts in computational and digital devices. Macro question: what is a part of a continuum--recursive implementations of our symbolic faculty, accruing levels of complexity from combinatorial processes--and what can be defined as different in kind or in degree from earlier media?
- Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008), excerpts from the Forward by David Chalmers, pp. ix-xi; xiv-xvi (attend especially to the comments in the last 3 pages of the Forward); Chapter 1.3: "Material Symbols" on the concept of "cognitive scaffolding."
- Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2003). Excerpt from the Introduction.
- In this context, recall the readings on distributed cognition from week 4:
- James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, and David Kirsh. “Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-computer Interaction Research.” ACM Transactions, Computer-Human Interaction 7, no. 2 (June 2000): 174-196.
- Zhang, Jiajie, and Vimla L. Patel. “Distributed Cognition, Representation, and Affordance.” Pragmatics & Cognition 14, no. 2 (July 2006): 333-341.
- Bernard Stiegler, “Relational Ecology and the Digital Pharmakon,” Culture Machine: Special Issue: Paying Attention 13 (2012). Download also from journal site.
Review also the articles in this issue of Culture Machine: http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/issue/view/24
- Bernard Stiegler and the Ars Industrialis Group (Paris), "Anamnesis and Hypomnesis" [Recollection and Memory Loss].
[This essay rambles a bit in translation-challenged prose, but if you work through this you will get the main points in Stiegler's philosophy. Elaborations of Derrida, Marx, Freud, Foucault, and the French intellectual tradition on media, mediation, technology, time, and culture.]
- Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect (Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2012). Excerpt from Chapter 1, "The Unworkable Interface."
A thoughtful argument about interfaces from the humanities and cultural studies theory positions.
For background, see Patrick Jagoda, "The Next Level: Alexander R. Galloway’s 'The Interface Effect'." LA Review of Books, 1.25.2013. Useful review essay.
Supplementary Reading and Resources
- Bernard Stiegler, On a "New Enlightenment of Internet Policy and Digital Media," from a conference on the World Wide Web, Lyon, France, 2012. [An overview of his philosophy with policy and industry implications.]
- Bernard Stiegler, "Desire and Knowledge: The Dead Seize the Living" (On Cognition, Memory, Technology). Ars Industrialis.
Student Wiki Discussion
After thinking through this week’s readings, what combined interdisciplinary view emerges for you as you think through the concepts, models, methods, and tools for analysis in this course? Are you starting to assemble your own heuristic “tool kit” for discovering how to describe and analyze key questions in media and technology? What do we make of the diverging and even incompatible views taking off from different levels of description and disciplinary foundations? Is there a convergence around central questions and problems? How can the approaches and ways of framing problems considered this week be used to critique the traditional "media studies" assumptions?
We have seen that two key questions about digital media and the digital milieu (in Debray's sense) are (1) the dependence on software and the encoding/decoding of digital media for interfaces, and (2) the macro question of the function of the interface, both as a technical-material implementation and as a function of culture and social organization (parallel to mediation). Interfaces seem also closely connected to what the cognitive scientists are discovering about the extened mind and distributed cognition. A useful thought project for this week: try on multiple ways to get at the function of the interface (as a function or meta-function), as we have with the closely related concept of mediation. We use the popular discourse term “interface” for features of technical artefacts, products, and software, and standardized industry concepts in human-computer-interface (HCI) design principles, but these are all implementations of an abstract machine or function that precedes any individual design-for-manufacturing. Can we make the invisible/opaque boundaries and thresholds of interfaces visible? A good case to think through are the functions of a meta-interface that we use everyday like a Web browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) or the "desktop" of a PC screen. What is the larger invisible system "behind" the interface that enables everything to appear so obvious and immediate (unmediated) to us?
|13 New Media Implementations: Concluding Combinatorial Cases||[−]|
Case Studies Overview (presentation with background and bibliography, read first)
Study each of these examples and choose one for a case study analysis:
Note: If you Google any of these topics, you're certain to get mostly products (hardware and software), not explanations of concepts (abstract machines) behind the product development.
- Digital paper, e-ink, ebooks, thin film substrates: merging page and screen functions.
- The MP3 as medium, format, system of encoding and representation analog information in digital form, industry standards for the music industry. Ecosystem of software, production, distribution, devices.
- Google Glass: augmented reality and combinatorial wireless networked device.
- Jonathan Sterne, “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact,” New Media & Society 8, no. 5 (October 1, 2006): 825-842.
- Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2012), "Format Theory" (excerpt).
Student Wiki Discussion
Choose one of the examples above for your own description and analysis of the technologies, mediations, and interface functions. Try to work out as full a description as you can with the conceptual models, approaches, and methods that we have studied.
|14 Discussion and Presentation of Seminar Projects||[−]|
Final Project Essay Instructions and Resources (read instructions first)
In class: round table discussion of research projects in progress.
Due date: final project essays are due one week after the last day of class.
Archive of earlier student essays (Wiki site): scroll down to heading for final projects by semester.