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Design+Media Theory

GLIB 5610 | Media + Design Theory Syllabus | Spring 2017 | v 5.0 |

Our focus will be on key thinkers across the fields of media, design and technology. The course starts our everyday experience of designed and  mediated environments, whether as creators or regular users (1-3). It then moves on to some more systematic studies of the design of mediated environments (4-6). Then some big-picture thinking about geodesign — the problem of the whole planet as a designed environment of which the human is a component (7-10). Weeks 11-13 look at questions of race, colonialism  and technology. Then 14-16 look at how one might think of design interventions in this broader landscape and also look at design as a very expansive practice. Its a book a week, so there’s a lot to read!

Indeed, one of our content-independent goals is to become proficient readers, note-takers and exponents of book-length works. You will be reading a book each week, taking notes on it and handing them in, so do try to keep up. The goal of this component of the course is to build up a library of notes on key works that you can then use in other projects.

Below is the reading list. Dominic Pettman and Dunne + Raby will appear in person during our class time, so make sure you have good questions for them! Where I have already written up my notes on the author and book in question, there’s a link to that. Try to do your own independent reading and notation for each book. But if you’re stuck, you can read my post on it to save time. I’ll try to have them all done at some point

• 24th January Cory Doctorow, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, McSweeney’s, 2015 Written by a well-known science fiction author and internet activist, this book tries to navigate a path for creative people in any medium who have to deal with a world where their stuff will probably circulate for free but where technology companies have designed media systems to preserve their control.

• 31st January Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command, Bloomsbury, 2013 Let’s start with Lev’s provocation about the end of media studies and the rise of software studies. He also offers some methods for finding fairly stable objects of study in the software world.

• 7th February Dominic Pettman, Infinite Distraction, Polity, 2015 A guest appearance by Liberal Studies’ own Dominic, talking about the situation of distraction that characterizes our relation to digitally designed and mediated environments.

• 14th February Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture, Pluto, 2004. This is a good condensed account of what becomes of culture (and methods for studying culture) when it becomes fully digital and networked.

• 21st February Wendy Chun, Programmed Visions, MIT Press, 2013. A genealogy of computation, looking at how the current form of it emerged, paying particular attention to the gendering of the role of the programmer, and how software environments separate both user and programmer from the machine.

• 28th February Alexander Galloway, The Interface Effect, Polity, 2012. A different take on the relation of user to interface, which Galloway sees as one of a simulation of an ideology rather than an ideology as such. Some methods for thinking about interfaces by paying attention to the relation between center and edge.

• 7th March Benjamin Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, MIT Press, 2015. A grand vision which replaces the metaphor of the network with that of the stack, and treats computation as a planetary phenomenon with its forms of geopolitical sovereignty.

• 14th March Azuma Hiroki, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, Minnesota, 2009 Translation of a pioneering book from the nineties that argues for the rise of a database sensibility in place of waning grand narrative conceptions of the subject’s imaginary place in the world. An anticipation of life as a user of the stack, using interfaces that simulate a world, and automate emotional life.

• 21st March New School Spring Break

• 28th March Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, Feminist Press, 2013. This book is to the body and sexuality what Azuma is to subjectivity and emotional life. An account of what Préciado calls sexdesign, as an integral part of all bodies, even the most supposedly normative ones.

• 4th April Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than The Sun, Quartet, 1998. Eshun joins Bratton, Hiroki and Préciado in a certain accelerationist tone, which does not resist but wants to push on through technological change to the design of new forms of human-nonhuman life. The focus here moves to sonic cultures and what has subsequently been termed Afro-futurism

• 11th April Lisa Nakamura, Digitizing Race, Minnesota, 2007. Brings the question of the relation between race and digital media more into the present, with close attention to how non-white users create their own spaces of meaning online.

• 18th April Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure, Verso, 2016. Like Bratton, Easterling is interested in the connection between geography, computation and design. Here she looks at new kinds of urbanism that result. (Perhaps Bratton’s city-layer).

• 25th April Jussi Parikka, A Geology of Media, Minnesota, 2015. Moving away from concerns about subjects, this book is more aligned with recent attention to the object. The design of contemporary media calls for the instrumentalizing of an unprecedented range of the periodic table – and creates in turn novel forms of waste.

• 2nd May Dunne+Raby, Speculative Everything, MIT Press, 2013. Second guest appearance, by speculative design team Dunne + Raby, talking about speculative design as a way of broadening our understanding of the scope of design to include the imaginative and even the utopian, while avoiding being confined to the world of art.

• 9th May Tony Fry, Becoming Human by Design, Bloomsbury, 2013. Fry makes the astonishing claim that humans are a self-designing species, and that design has played a role for millennia in shaping our species being. Resonates particularly with the Bratton and Parikka readings.

McKenzie Wark

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