small group discussion questions on race and/as technology

  1. What’s the problem with a purely biology-based definition of race? (Nakamura 40-41)
  2. What’s the problem with a purely cultural-based definition of race? (Nakamura 42-43)
  3. How is eugenics a technology that tries to deal with race? (Nakamura 44-45)
  4. How is segregation a technology that tries to deal with race? (start at the bottom of Nakamura 45 to 46)
  5. What is the potential benefit to seeing race as technology, in addition to looking at the relation between race and technology? (elaborate on last paragraph 56-57)

Prof. Emerson’s lecture notes on Haraway and gender

gender and digital media:

  • first of all, since some of you may not have taken a university-level course on gender yet, let’s take a little time to clarify for ourselves and for each other about what gender is and who has it
    • gender refers to expectations and performances of, conventionally, only two genders; typically these gender differences are constructed from the premise of supposed biological differences
    • HOWEVER, it’s important to keep in mind: whenever you have the construction of a binary and whenever you make essentialist claims (what does this mean?), you’re doing so in order to assert or instate some sort of power dynamic to include some and exclude others
    • so, since gender is a construction and not natural, there are actually unlimited possibilities for gender identification
    • for what it’s worth, FB lists 58 different gender options
  • EVERYONE has gender of some kind and even though the readings emphasize feminism, which might make it seem like only women are the target audience, the issues at stake are applicable to every single person and every different gender identification
  • so then what’s the importance of gender to our discussion of digital media?
    • historically, hypertext and cybertheory have gone hand in hand
    • contemporarily: internet is not an escape! language and identity identifiers are still used to define someone according one of two genders and digital media platforms are used to advance or undermine ideological beliefs relating to gender AND race

Introduction to Donna Haraway and some basic vocabulary/concepts:

  • for the next part of class today, I’m going to spend some time on the historical part of the reading, discussing Donna Haraway’s “cyborg manifesto” since it’s the basis of any discussion of gender and especially feminism in relation to cyberspace or digital media
  • it’s also one of the most important essays of the 20th century on the relationship between power, gender, and technology
  • it’s also VERY long and very difficult so I couldn’t assign it for our class; but again, you might have noticed that many of the readings that touch on gender and race invoke Donna Haraway
  • take a couple minutes to read the first couple paragraphs of “The Cyborg Manifesto”
  • let’s begin with some basic vocabulary
  • cyborg: cybernetic organism
  • term implies a mixture or hyrbid of culture and nature, artificiality and necessity, control and whatever exists outside of human control
  • cyborgs have some autonomy, perhaps, but are always aware that their existence can be traced back to, for example, the military industrial complex
  • whatever degree they try to escape control, they must recognize that control is built into them by their very nature
  • we might say that their very nature is contradictory, accidental, ironic
  • Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto is not simply an essay – it is a call to action, as in the Communist Manifesto or the Manifesto of Surrealism
  • manifestos are modernist forms (or are very much associated with the avant garde of that period) and also seen as very macho and masculinist
  • Haraway is well aware that it’s difficult to have a manifesto for something like a cyborg, whose identity is so slippery and difficult to pin down
  • she’s also aware of the problems of manifestos in general, which is why this one is ironic
  • more on irony:
  • irony usually refers to the way in which a linguistic act’s actual meaning is in conflict with its literal meaning
  • because of this conflict, we learn to take ironic statements in something other than a “straight” fashion
  • so when Haraway writes that hers is an “ironic political myth” she means that it’s a story we don’t take too seriously, an explanation of origin that we don’t take as a literal truth, or we only take it as a truth insofar as we are willing to admit to some problem with this truth
  • myth
  • a story that explains something, frequently an origin
  • also, a story in which a person or a society BELIEVES
  • “ironic dream of a common language”
  • feminists, here most specifically Adrienne Rich and other second wave feminists from the 1970s (ones advocating for a “goddess” model of feminism – a celebration of femininity), wanted to find a common language that women could speak
  • this language would allow women to speak in one voice, to understand one another perfectly, etc
  • Haraway hopes for such a dream as well, but she hopes for it ironically – why? any guesses?
  • her hope is ironic because the dream of a common language, the dream of becoming goddess, is a dream of origin and original wholeness
  • the world is full of myths of wholeness
    • one such myth is that of Eden, in which Adam and Eve were at one with the world, speaking the language of nature rather than those of humans; there was no sense of them being subjects or individuals separate from the external world
    • we also have the Babel story, the Old Testament’s second genesis story
    • in this story, everyone spoke the same language, and everyone could communicate with one another perfectly
    • this perfect communication became the cause of their downfall as they built a tower (Tower of Babel) that challenged god and was struck down, result of which was that from that point on humans speak many languages rather than one
    • any common language now would carry similar problems
  • so, to be clear, this essay is ironic all the way down
  • it is a call to arms for a group (women, cyborgs etc) that has no coherent identity
  • it is a myth that one cannot take seriously
  • it is an attempt to create a common language that must come with a warning label

blurring boundaries

  • key point of “The Cyborg Manifesto” is that wholeness and resolution are twin practices designed to deal with the issue of boundaries
  • something that is whole is well-defined, without any open borders that would confuse the self/other or subject/object distinction
  • resolution resolves contradictions into wholes in which there is no longer any contradiction
  • these practices construct external conflicts (the difference between one whole or essential thing and another) and minimize internal contradictions (internal contradictions that would call into question essentialist notions of “whiteness”, “masculinity,” “self”, etc.)
  • these practices of making whole and resolving conflict/contradiction, H argues, are becoming harder and harder to maintain in the late 20th century as the distinction between humans and animals, humans and machines, etc are blurring
  • BLURRING OF DISTINCTION, existing ON the boundaries of any number of things, is the dream and desire of the cyborg and also of many feminists in the era of digital media
  • rather than asserting womanhood, femininity, essentialism, their strategy is to blur
  • the trick for all of us is to think about how this might actually look like online – what would a cyborgian social media platform look like?

extra credit event Friday Oct. 11th 5pm

There will be a keynote address by Dr. Lisa Parks on Friday October 11 at 5 pm in Eaton Humanities 150. Dr. Parks is Professor of Comparative Media Studies and Science, Technology, & Society at MIT. Her research focuses on satellite technologies and global media; critical studies of media infrastructures; and media, militarization and surveillance. She is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual (Duke U Press, 2005), Rethinking Media Coverage: Vertical Mediation and the War on Terror (Routledge, 2018)and Mixed Signals: Media Infrastructures and Cultural Geographies (in progress). She is co-editor of Life in the Age of Drone Warfare (Duke U Press, 2017), Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (U of Illinois Press, 2015), Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries and Cultures (Rutgers U Press, 2012), Undead TV (Duke UP, 2007)and Planet TV: A Global Television Reader (NYU Press, 2002)Dr. Parks is also Director of MIT’s Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab and a 2018 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. Her talk is entitled, “Field Mapping: What is the Media of Media Studies?”

small group work on cyberfeminism

  1. Take a few minutes to review the lecture notes I posted on Donna Haraway.

  2. Next, reread this quote from the entry on “Cyberfeminism”:  “‘Cyberspace does not exist in a vacuum; it is intimately connected to numerous real-world institutions and systems that thrive on gender separation and hierarchy’; cyberfeminism, accordingly, should be a political undertaking committed to creating and maintaining real and virtual places for women in regard to new technologies—such as creating new feminist platforms and resources, including hands-on techno-education for women and working directly with code—while also critically assessing the ‘impact of new technologies on the lives of women and the insidious gendering of technoculture in everyday life'” (108).

  3. Now, I’d like you to work with 2-3 other people to pick a specific digital media platform or piece of software and try to remagine it as a specifically feminist platform or piece of software. For example, what would a feminist word processor look like? A feminist videogame? A feminist Canvas/D2L/Blackboard? A feminist search engine? The point here is to think as far outside of the current status quo as possible in order to imagine what could be possible – be imaginative and daring!

links for feminist hacking from Macey’s presentation – female and non-binary hackathon at CU

  • T9Hacks drew 110 mostly college students, 60 percent of whom were women, and 63 percent of whom had never attended a hackathon. – an article on feminist hacking and “escaping the blackbox” – DIY guide on feminist hacking

Prof. Emerson’s lecture notes for Scott Bukatman

  • this essay is basically Scott Bukatman’s reflections on the significance of the fact that William Gibson wrote the cyberpunk/science fiction novel Neuromancer in 1984 on a typewriter and also about the significance of our thinking it’s significant at all
  • first of all, Neuromancer is an important novel because William Gibson (a Canadian!) was the person to come up with the word “cyberspace;” internet as we know it now didn’t even exist yet; only ARPANET (only for military use – good entry on Wikipedia) and a bunch of Bulletin Board Systems
  • book actually tries to represent cyberspace;
  • cyberspace has become a somewhat meaningless word because it means many things to many people but generally it refers to computer networks in which online communication takes place
  • “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts…A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data, like city lights, receding. . .”
  • cyberspace is a “consensual hallucination” becuase it is not a real space at all;
  • it is a concept, a conceptual space, a bodiless space, but one that we all agree exists – this is why it’s a consensual hallucination
  • But what we should note as most significant, and tying things back to Ong, is the fact that new technologies signal for many a separation from the world, a new kind of mediation that divorces us from actual space and places us in conceptual space
  • in both the computer and with the typewriter, there is an interaction with or creation of data that is separate from the body
  • I type here and words appear there as opposed to handwriting, which is continuous with what is written in a spatial, tactile, and visual sense…
  • moreover, beyond what I can actually SEE, with the typewriter there is a space where information and communication is taking place;
  • As B so elegantly puts it: “Typing [. . .] produces an information space divorced from the body: a protocyberspace” (39)
  • THIS is why it should not perhaps be surprising that Neuromancer is written on a typewriter, as there seems to be some similarity between its mediating qualities and those of the computer

in class discussion on hackers

  1. What is a hacker? (Just to spell out the obvious: the definition is in the reading.)
  2. Who are the heirs of hackers?
  3. What’s the distinction between a hacker who’s a builder and a hacker who’s a breaker?
  4. What is UNIX? Speculate about why it attracts hackers. Also, why are hackers who work on UNIX said to be part of “a recursive public”?

in class discussion on Politics and New Media

As always, please jot down notes to record your answers to these questions – ideally you’ll be able to use them as the basis for your next forum post or perhaps for your research paper.

  1. Why and how (in what specific ways) do people tend to think that the Internet provides the possibility of undermining traditional political institutions, hierarchies, and power relations? To get you thinking ahead to the reading that’s coming up, how do social network sites seem to support this belief and how do they undermine this belief?
  2. What is communicative capitalism and how does it express a skepticism toward the possibility of the power of networks (and, by implication, social networks) to bring about any kind of meaningful social change?
  3. Tactical media use “shifts the aim of politics away from traditional revolutionary aims into a ‘micropolitics of disruption, intervention, and education.'” Search online for examples of tactical media projects (there are some examples here and here but many others exist you can look at as well). Then, discuss the project in terms of the previous quote.
  4. And finally, what exactly does Joss Hands mean by this sentence: “Early notions that the abstract geometry of cyberspace would allow an escape from binary structures and the concrete constraints of power have been challenged by a recognition of the integration of cyberspace and everyday life.” Can you come up with some examples to support what Hands is saying here?


Hi all, I’m afraid that as the morning goes on I’m feeling more and more like I’m coming down with the flu. Let’s reconvene on Monday and apologies to Rhys who will have to present then. Let’s also have Alexis present on Wednesday instead of Monday. Thanks for your understanding and have a great weekend—


Prof. Emerson’s lecture notes for Walter Ong

  • Ong might be easier to understand if you know that he was a student of Marshall McLuhan; McLuhan actually supervised his MA thesis
  • so if you think back to the McLuhan lecture I gave you on the message of the medium of print versus the message of the electric or information age, Ong’s claims might start to make more sense
  • Ong’s overall argument is that WRITING STRUCTURES CONSCIOUSNESS – what does this mean?
  • we can see how writing structures consciousness by thinking about how we’ll never really understand ORALITY, supposedly what came before writing
  • according to Ong, literate readers can never understand orality completely because literacy informs every aspect of our thinking and perceiving lives [interesting implicit critique of traditional anthropology]
  • it’s the exact equivalent of what McLuhan and Kittler both say – about how we are so enmeshed in the media of our time that we can never full see outside these media; we can never see how these media are shaping us
  • writing is a kind of technology that completely structures how we think and perceive and approach the world
  • however, here is where things are a bit different with Ong: he says that computers and the information age have brought about a shift to secondary orality and this makes possible our limited understanding of orality and its relation to literacy.
  • it is important to note that Ong uses ‘primary orality’ to mean an orality utterly untouched by writing or print and ‘secondary orality’ to mean an orality utterly dependent upon writing and print for its existence and functioning
  • he also argues that orality does actually inform literacy and writing: “‘Reading’ a text means converting it to sound, aloud or in the imagination…Writing can never dispense with orality.” (8)
  • but that said, his argument is still that we’re unable to see how orality informs our writing culture because writing makes possible a certain mode of thinking that can only understand writing: “the relationship of study itself to writing…abstractly sequential, classificatory, explanatory examination of phenomena or of stated truths is impossible without writing and reading. Human beings in primary oral cultures…learn a great deal and possess and practice great wisdom, but they do not ‘study.’” (8)
  • the result of the literate mindset is that scholars have tried to sequentialize and order orality in order to turn it into a scientific art
  • likewise, orality utterly determines what can be thought and perceived; unlike the model of knowledge that literate cultures are based on, knowledge in an oral culture is defined by “what you can recall” (33)
  • methods for efficient recall are developed through mnemonic patterns—thoughts are heavily rhythmic, patterned, and repetitious to aid recall
  • oral language exists in the context of larger situations that engage the body (for example through gesture) and the community as much as the individual
  • Ong believes that part of the reason for these characteristics of oral cultures is because of the very nature of sound: whereas “sight isolates, sound incorporates…Vision comes to a human being from one direction at a time…When I hear, however, I gather sound simultaneously from every direction…By contrast with vision, the dissecting sense, sound is thus a unifying sense. A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart…The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together.” (71)
  • this leads Ong to claim that the art of precise observation that came out of writing and print also made possible science: “What is distinctive of modern science is the conjuncture of exact observation and exact verbalization: exactly worded descriptions of carefully observed complex objects and processes.” (125)
  • TAKE AWAY POINT FROM THE READING: our difficulty in understanding orality reflects how writing is a technology like any other that affects those who use it
  • for Ong, writing is a technological invention that has transformed human consciousness more than any other
  • some aspects of writing:
    • since writing is separate from the writer, it makes possible “‘context-free’ language…or ‘autonomous discourse’”
      • since writing appears not to have an owner, it appears unquestionable, self-evident, powerful
    • writing turns sound into space, separates words from context and from the “living present”
    • writing also makes possible a new kind of precision (because it is removed from the chaos of the present, of the complexity of context)
    • the tendency of writing to separate and to de-contextualize makes possible increased introspection as the world is seen as objective, external to the knower or observer’s self
    • increased introspection also brings increased sense of privacy partly brought on by print—small and portable books that could and should be read alone
  • print – or the means by which you make writing permanent by publishing it and then distributing – can therefore be seen as the extension and reinforcement of writing
  • print also helps us see letters and words as commodities that can be produced on an assembly line: “The first assembly line, a technique of manufacture which in a series of set steps produces identical complex objects made up of replaceable parts, was not one which produced stoves or shoes or weaponry but one which produced the printed book.” (116)
  • also, since print extended an approach to writing, letters, words as autonomous and separate, it also inaugurated a belief that the book was “as a kind of object which ‘contained’ information, rather than, as earlier, a recorded utterance.” (124)

the age of ‘secondary orality’ then, or the “electronic transformation of verbal expression” moves us even further into the spatialization of writing and intensifies the “commitment of the word to space and to (electronic) local motion and optimizes analytic sequentiality by making it virtually instantaneous.” (133)