Category Archives: STS

A History of the Critique of #Technology: A response to @LatourBot #sts

I wrote a history of the critique of technology as a response to Latour’s “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” There have been few, if any, adequate responses to Latour’s ground-breaking essay. This is my second response to Latour and concurs to a degree with his thesis. My first response (“The New Critiquette“) was also a history but offered a defence of critique, or rather an analysis of the critique of critique.

This new response to Latour is the opposite of the first. I wanted to write something resourceful, something we didn’t already have. Now we have a working history of the critique of technology.

It’s big history in that it extends over an expansive historical scale (550 BCE-present) and geographic scope. I tried to be inclusive, attending to questions of gender for instance, but realize there are omissions. It’s a work in progress. I wrote nearly each paragraph as a mini-essay of sorts, meaning that it has it’s own integrity as a case study. Each of these mini-essays gives an empirical example; they demonstrate critique of criticism of media and technology at different times in different places.

The chapter sets up a series of theses, not the least of which is that the critique of media and technology has run out of steam.

If critique barely changes a thing, including youth consciousness, what is its utility? Most critiques of media and technology are instrumental by definition and intended to have an effect or make a difference. If it has been enough for criticism and critique to offer a counter to progress narratives, then how effective has this been? Has the critique of media and technology run out of steam, as Latour (2004) suggests? If out of energy drawn from the steam age, should critique be retrofit to run on light and signals? Meantime, the trend in vaping may conceivably pressurize critique enough to sputter into the future. Is the critique of media and technology over time sufficiently prejudicial or probative? Instrumental or terminal?

I had great fun writing this and have an idea of what to do next with it. It’s most immediate setting is as a chapter in Critique in Design and Technology Education, edited by P. John Williams and Kay Stables. Thank you to Kay and John, who invited me to write this. I also thank Belinda von Mergenson, David Barlex and Marc de Vries, who gave superb feedback along with other colleagues at a conference in Marseille and workshop in Sausset les Pin. The conference and workshop were hosted by Jacques Ginestiè, his wife Marjolaine, and team from Marseille University.

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Sausset les Pin Workshop

That was tremendous fun as well. And yes, despite the beauty of the tranquil setting on the coast, we did work! Merci.

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Sausset les Pin Workshop

Critique of Media & Technology Workshop @LatourBot #sts

CRITIQUE OF MEDIA & TECHNOLOGY WORKSHOP 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
10:20-12:00     Scarfe 1209
Year of Research in Education event #yreubc

CRITIQUE OF MEDIA & TECHNOLOGY

Stephen Petrina
University of British Columbia

This workshop focuses on the Critique of Media & Technology. The first part of the workshop includes a presentation and discussion on a forthcoming chapter. The second part of the workshop focuses on the process of researching and writing with special attention to philosophical and historical research 2.0 and narrative. How can we or ought we write a (big) history of the critique of media and technology?

The chapter begins with the spiritual critique of media and technology and proceeds historically through cultural criticism and social, psychic, ontic, and identic critiques. Differentiated from the spiritual critique that precedes, cultural criticism of media and technology emerges in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a mode of describing and depicting the mechanical arts. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, spiritual critique is displaced through a rejection of religion and theology as sources of modern authority. With spiritual ground undermined, social, psychic, ontic, and identic critics of media and technology compete for defensible ground for leverage. The history of critique is a search for ground. This chapter historicizes the critique of media and technology as well as critique as a practice that has run out of steam. “Critical distance” from or “free relation” to media and technology— a seductive orientation since the 1940s— has been instrumental in critique’s gradual decline. The critique of critique has quickened the decline. The conclusion questions the short-term future of machinic critique and long-term renewal of spiritual critique.

Download the Critique of Media & Technology chapter.

#Latour on the death of Ulrich Beck

Photo by Regina Schmeken

Photo by Regina Schmeken

Bruno Latour, January 3, 2015– Ulrich Beck had deeply transformed the social science, the very notion of the modernist project and was also a good friend. We were contemplating together, less than three weeks ago, all the projects we had in common. It is a tragedy. I published many times on his work, including an imaginary dialog for his 60th birtday, and we had a long dispute around cosmopolitics versus cosmopolitanism. Our thoughts are going to his wife Elizabeth and to his team with which we have in Paris many connections.

Read Beck & Latour Interview, May 2014.

#UBC course: Hermeneutic Phenomenological Research and Writing #sts #hwl

UBC COURSE:
HERMENEUTIC PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND WRITING

EDCP 585D (032)
Winter 2015; Wed 4:30-7:30, Scarfe 1210
Norman Friesen
How can the philosophical traditions of phenomenology and hermeneutics be used to investigate the relationship between (new) technologies and user appropriations? Similar to empirically-oriented approaches to technology like Actor-Network Theory and Social Constructivism, hermeneutic phenomenology is oriented towards the “lived experience” of a sociotechnical lifeworld. The purpose of this course is to give a multi-perspectival introduction to the methods involved in researching the nature and meaning of this lived experience. Based largely on the work of Max van Manen and Bernhard Waldenfels– but also drawing on Gadamer, Merleau-Ponty, Sara Ahmed and others– it focuses on the practices of writing and analysis that are a part of hermeneutic phenomenological research. Students will learn about and apply hermeneutic phenomenology as it relates to graduate research projects, particularly in connection with education, technology & new media.

Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, UBC
For more information, please contact norman.friesen@ubc.ca

Norman Friesen Ph.D.
Visiting Professor, Media & Technology Studies
University of British Columbia
norman.friesen@ubc.cawww.normfriesen.info

Eva Diaz on the Gaia Global Circus #Latour #sts

gaiaglobalcircus_ccompagnie_accent

Eva Diaz, ArtForum, October 1, 2014–  You can’t swing a dead cat these days without hitting a reference to the “Anthropocene,” the term for what some argue is a new geological age caused by humans fucking up the environment. Philosopher Bruno Latour’s play Gaïa Global Circus—which had its US premiere at the Kitchen last week (it first played in September 2012 as part of Documenta 13 in Kassel)—invokes the Anthropocene to tackle hairy issues about who bears responsibility for global climate change, and what can possibly be done about it. Like the Civilians’ play The Great Immensity that was at the Public Theater earlier this yearGaïa Global Circus finds the flimflam rhetoric of international climate change summits, in particular, a form of theater ripe for parody.

In the case of Latour’s work, the dissembling doublespeak of these events is converted into truly nonsensical babel. Adopting the convention of simultaneous translation in United Nations–style meetings, in one scene three actors render a speech being delivered in French into a cacophony of overlapping and therefore largely unintelligible Italian, English, and sign-language paraphrases. The signed hand gestures in particular undermine the portentousness of the male politician’s speech with vulgar caricature, the female signer (and isn’t it always women signing men’s speeches?) miming hand job and “I’m getting screwed” gestures, as if she was tuned into the repressive subtext of the speech’s bland ineffectiveness.

Sternly delivered warnings about imminent ecological catastrophe become like so much ham acting when such speeches defer any concrete action “pending further research” and insincerely affirm ultimately toothless “non-binding agreements.” By emphasizing the manner in which finding a political “balance” has stifled scientifically verified facts about ecological change, Latour pinpoints a central paradox that characterizes discussions about the Anthropocene. Though human exploitation of the environment has caused rising seas, melting ice caps, increased global temperatures, and a generalized sense of ecological insecurity, there are currently few remedies that could be implemented to decisive effect. The reality of climate change is in a way a kind of Lacanian real—the zone of the unspeakable and unrepresentable beyond human agency—that erupts into consciousness in spite of attempts to stifle it.

Latour’s use of the word “circus” in his title is literal: The play is composed of vignettes strung together under a big tent, in this case, a white fabric canopy held aloft by helium-filled balloons that the play’s actors manipulate by use of various weights. The stage is mostly dark and mostly empty throughout the play; other than a few props, the four actors must carry (pun intended) the entire production without the benefit of effective set design. The episodic structure of the production includes scenes that range from a reimagination of the divine commandment to Noah to build an ark—here stymied by a self-important bank officer refusing the prophet a loan—to a television debate in which a scientist’s attempt to communicate statistical information dissolves into sputtering stage fright when faced by the slick demagoguery of his opponent.

The lack of plot or character development gives Gaïa Global Circus an overlong feeling, as each new scenario requires exposition that saps the energy of the successful pieces. A violent scene early in the production, in which the actors fling hundreds of empty plastic water bottles around the stage, creates a powerful visual representation of the chaos unleashed by overproduction, abetted by the jarring sounds of stomped-upon plastic. The force of the scene is deflated when the actors abruptly stop “rioting” and begin to sweep up the mess, with no narrative context provided for the change. Because there is very little happening but for actors talking in French, the distracting placement of screens bearing English subtitles high above to the sides of the proscenium made it impossible to keep even a glance of the stage in sight while reading the dialogue. In spite of this, and the uninspired production design, the actors tried valiantly to hold the audience’s attention. Jade Collinet, who played the sign interpreter mentioned above, conveyed a captivating comedic energy throughout the production. In one seemingly tangential scene about a runaway teenager explaining the meaning of the Beatles song “She’s Leaving Home,” Collinet communicated some of the deep and almost laughable passion of adolescence, without a hint of the grandstanding that characterized some of the other actors’ approaches to the dozens identities they had to adopt and cast off.

Lee Nelson MA Thesis defense: Bourdieu & #Latour in STS

Congratulations to Lee Nelson, who successfully defended his MA Thesis!

Bourdieu and Latour in STS: “Let’s Leave Aside All the Facts for A While”

PROGRAMME
The Final Oral Examination
For the Degree of

MASTER OF ARTS
(Science and Technology Studies)

LEE CLAIBORNE NELSON
B.A., Dalhousie University, 2008
M.A., Aarhus University, 2011

Monday, September 15, 2014, 1:00 pm

Bourdieu and Latour in STS: “Let’s Leave Aside All the Facts for A While”

EXAMINING COMMITTEE
Dr. Stephen Petrina (Supervisor)
Dr. John Beatty (Examiner)

ABSTRACT:
Through the lens of the English-speaking Science and Technology Studies (STS) community, the relationship between Pierre Bourdieu and Bruno Latour has remained semi-opaque. This thesis problematizes the Anglo understanding of the Bourdieu-Latour relationship and unsettles the resolve that maintains the distance that STS has kept from Bourdieu. Despite many similarities between these two scholars, Bourdieu has remained a distant figure to STS despite his predominance in disciplines from which STS frequently borrows and the relevance of his corpus to topics dear to the heart of STS. This is in part due to Latour’s frequent criticisms of Bourdieu by name, Latour’s philosophical disagreements with Kant and neoKantians, and Latour’s prestige in STS, and partially due to Bourdieu’s somewhat indirect or orthogonal ways of addressing natural and physical sciences and technology. Due to the fact that the writings of both needed to be translated from the original French to be received by Anglo audiences, important cultural, stylistic, and rhetorical nuances were lost, mistranslated, or not translated across the linguistic and geographical divides. Including these distinctions is invaluable to understanding their relationship and further weakens the justification for Bourdieu’s absence from STS.