Technology and Culture Reading Group

TCRG – School of Culture and Communication – University of Melbourne

TCRG returns

by robbiefordyce

TCRG returns

Plans for 2015, meeting, readings

Next TCRG meeting:

18 November, 4pm, Tsubu.

[HTML] Venturini, Tommaso and Bruno Latour (2014) “The Social Fabric:Digital Traces and Quali-quantitative Methods” unpublished.

This reading comes by way of Stuart Elden’s blog, and a few commentaries I’ve been reading on method.

Changes to the operations of the TCRG:

As many will be aware, the TCRG has been on an unannounced hiatus since July. There are a number of reasons, both personal and professional, which have led to this occurrence and our lack of engagement as a group in recent months. In light of this, I’m proposing that we institute a few changes which will be in effect over the Christmas period until we can reconvene to discuss these in February or March next year.

  1. We will move to a fortnightly model. The weekly model was a bit too punishing for some members, and reduced the size of our group to practical non-existence. Hopefully a fortnightly model will make it less of a chore for people to attend.
  2. We meet at Tsubu on Tuesday afternoons. Because the 1888 building shuts down for a lot of the Christmas period, we can’t guarantee use of the Gorman Room. We also have a number of new subscribers, and Tsubu is easier to find than anything else on campus. I’m organising a room booking with Annemarie in the John Medley to cover us over Christmas itself.
  3. We stay clear of themed readings for now. Because continuous attendance will be difficult over Christmas, each reading will be a ‘stand alone’ text, so as to facilitate a drop-in drop-out approach to the group over the holiday period.

Thanks all

Robbie

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June 17: The Black Stack (Bratton)

by robbiefordyce

The Black Stack

Bratton @ Transmediale

Bitcoin-flow

 

 

Following our reading of Terranova’s Red Stack Attack, and last week’s reading of Maurer et al, we have our third part of our investigation into digital currencies: The Black Stack, by Bratton.

Bratton proposes the Stack as a new category for addressing geopolitical divisions. “In my analysis, there are six layers to this Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, and User.” These divisions align and arrange a set of different relationships between different concepts of space and different individuals. Bratton proposes that we read these different layers as formal structures under which different forms of politics take place, but that the connection between these layers is assumed, rather than given. By invalidating or contesting different layers of the Stack, changes may be implemented in ways that are unexpectedly effective.

“My interest in the geopolitics of planetary-scale computation focuses less on issues of personal privacy and state surveillance than on how it distorts and deforms traditional Westphalian modes of political geography, jurisdiction, and sovereignty, and produces new territories in its image.

Bratton’s essay combines with Terranova’s work to explore what changes digital currency might have, and connects well with previous readings we have done with the spans of autonomism and platforms studies.

[HTML] B. Bratton “The Black Stack” (2014) e-flux [http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-black-stack/]

Regular meeting time/place:
5pm on Tuesday 17th of June,
Gorman Room, 1888 Building,

 

Map image taken from: http://fiatleak.com/

June 10: the practical materiality of Bitcoin (Maurer, Nelms and Swartz)

by lukevanryn

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

This week we continue our discussion of technologies of money with a recent article on Bitcoin. In this paper, the authors discuss BitCoin in terms of its code, its concept of money, and the interests that its advocates bring to bear on it. They argue that debates around BitCoin rehearse questions that are common to the history of money.

The investment of Bitcoin enthusiasts in their own liberty and privacy could be read as concern for personal credibility, although also, perhaps, an inversion of it: instead of establishing one’s reputation by extending oneself via one’s relations with others  issuing promises, circulating credit and credibility, and relying on the honesty and honest books of everyone in a market  one preserves oneself, cutting off all flows of information about oneself. And, moreover, it is the code that does this work of disconnection and silencing.

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building at 5pm.

[PDF] Maurer, B., Nelms, T. C., & Swartz, L. (2013). “When perhaps the real problem is money itself!”: the practical materiality of Bitcoin. Social Semiotics, 23(2), 261-277.

June 3: Red Stack Attack! (Terranova)

by robbiefordyce

 

Our reading for next week, on June 3rd, comes from TCRG expat Nate Tkacz. This sets off our foray into digital currencies, with planned crossovers into social research areas around cryptography.

Terranova’s work is relevant to this area as a post-autonomist thinker, and, like many of the autonomists, she engages in the nexus between informational labour and capitalism. While there are no great revelations regarding the ontology of digital currency, there is certainly a substantial engagement with the consequences of new methods of money creation. As she notes,

“Since ownership and control of capital-money (different, as Maurizio Lazzarato remind us, from wage-money, in its capacity to be used not only as a means of exchange, but as a means of investment empowering certain futures over others) is crucial to maintaining populations bonded to the current power relation, how can we turn financial money into the money of the common? An experiment such as Bitcoin demonstrates that in a way ‘the taboo on money has been broken’ “

The article is retrievable online, here:

[HTML] T. Terranova “Red Stack Attack! Algorithms, Capital and the Automation of the Common” (2014) Euronomade [http://www.euronomade.info/?p=2268]


Regular meeting time/place:
5pm on Tuesday 3rd of June,
Gorman Room, 1888 Building, 

April 29: The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis (Simondon part 2a)

by lukevanryn

Weather, social traditions and locked doors prevented us from meeting last week, so we will repeat the reading this week.

Photo Credit: Paul's Lab via Compfight cc

[via @smwarkIn this week’s continuing engagement with the work of Gilbert Simondon, TCRG reads ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’, a translation of part of the introduction to the second half of Simondon’s doctoral thesis, ‘L’individuation psychic et collective‘. Following on from last week’s engagement with Simondon’s METO, this extract introduces Simondon’s critical engagement with being, or ontology, and becoming, or individuation.

In this extract Simondon develops the central tenet of his philosophy: that being is becoming, or that ontology needs to be replaced by ontogenesis. This philosophical position emerges from a critique of two central models of being and becoming, the monist/substantialist model and the form/matter or hylomorphic model. Simondon argues that these two philosophical approaches to the individual are fundamentally flawed. This is because both models “presuppose the existence of a principle of individuation that is anterior to the individuation itself” (4). To presuppose a principle of individuation is to presuppose the existence of an individual that develops in a particular way, foreclosing the novelty and contingency of individuation, of becoming, itself. For Simondon, the individual should be grasped

“as a relative reality, a certain phase of being that supposes a preindividual reality, and that, even after individuation, does not exist on its own, because individuation does not exhaust with one stroke the potentials of preindividual reality” (5).

Or: the individual should be known through its individuation, which emerges from fields of potential that are immanent to it, rather than through transcendent principles that guide its becoming.

By providing us with a wide-ranging introduction to Simondon’s critique of substantialism and hylomprhism, this extract also introduces us to the terminology Simondon uses throughout his philosophy. This constellation of critiques and concepts is a key influence on the work of subsequent French philosophers: the preindividual milieu on Gilles Deleuze’s virtual; individuation on Bernard Stiegler’s understanding of the relationship between technology and the human; Bruno Latour’s recent engagements with technology as a mode of being in AIME. It also fits within a new materialist lineage of philosophies of becoming that have become increasingly influential (see, for instance, Jussi Parikka’s engagements with new materialism in Fibreculture). Yet as Stiegler’s work in particular shows, this terminology can also be used to develop insightful engagements with contemporary media and technology.

[PDF] Gilbert Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’ trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia no. 7, 2009: 4-16. A useful glossary of Simondon’s terms can also be found here.

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm.

April 22: The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis (Simondon part 2)

by lukevanryn

Photo Credit: Paul's Lab via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Paul’s Lab via Compfight cc

[via @smwarkIn this week’s continuing engagement with the work of Gilbert Simondon, TCRG reads ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’, a translation of part of the introduction to the second half of Simondon’s doctoral thesis, ‘L’individuation psychic et collective‘. Following on from last week’s engagement with Simondon’s METO, this extract introduces Simondon’s critical engagement with being, or ontology, and becoming, or individuation.

In this extract Simondon develops the central tenet of his philosophy: that being is becoming, or that ontology needs to be replaced by ontogenesis. This philosophical position emerges from a critique of two central models of being and becoming, the monist/substantialist model and the form/matter or hylomorphic model. Simondon argues that these two philosophical approaches to the individual are fundamentally flawed. This is because both models “presuppose the existence of a principle of individuation that is anterior to the individuation itself” (4). To presuppose a principle of individuation is to presuppose the existence of an individual that develops in a particular way, foreclosing the novelty and contingency of individuation, of becoming, itself. For Simondon, the individual should be grasped

“as a relative reality, a certain phase of being that supposes a preindividual reality, and that, even after individuation, does not exist on its own, because individuation does not exhaust with one stroke the potentials of preindividual reality” (5).

Or: the individual should be known through its individuation, which emerges from fields of potential that are immanent to it, rather than through transcendent principles that guide its becoming.

By providing us with a wide-ranging introduction to Simondon’s critique of substantialism and hylomprhism, this extract also introduces us to the terminology Simondon uses throughout his philosophy. This constellation of critiques and concepts is a key influence on the work of subsequent French philosophers: the preindividual milieu on Gilles Deleuze’s virtual; individuation on Bernard Stiegler’s understanding of the relationship between technology and the human; Bruno Latour’s recent engagements with technology as a mode of being in AIME. It also fits within a new materialist lineage of philosophies of becoming that have become increasingly influential (see, for instance, Jussi Parikka’s engagements with new materialism in Fibreculture). Yet as Stiegler’s work in particular shows, this terminology can also be used to develop insightful engagements with contemporary media and technology.

[PDF] Gilbert Simondon, ‘The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis’ trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia no. 7, 2009: 4-16. A useful glossary of Simondon’s terms can also be found here.

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm.

April 15: Simondon part 1: On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects

by lukevanryn

Over the next few weeks the TCRG explores the work and influence of Gilbert Simondon (1924 – 1989). We will be led through this difficult terrain by Tom and Scott, who are editing an upcoming special issue on Simondon for Platform.

Image

Photo Credit: Tinkerbots via Compfight cc

Our reading this week is taken from Simondon’s first major publication: Du mode d’existence des objets techniques [On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects], first published in France in 1958. This book was based upon the complementary thesis to his main doctoral dissertation, L’individuation à la lumière des notions de Forme et d’Information, which would later be published as two separate books – L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique [The Individual and Its Physico-Biological Genesis] (1964) and L’individuation psychique et collective [Individuation Psychic and Collective] (1989) – and had an immediate and decisive effect upon subsequent French philosophy of technology. Unfortunately, like all of Simondon’s major works, there is no official English translation of this book available; unlike the two other aforementioned books, however, there is a partial translation by Ninian Mellamphy available, which is what we’re using this week.

Simondon argues that we are not alienated from technology because it is somehow external to human culture or values, but rather, because we have increasingly failed to recognize the human essence of the technical object. In this he is implicitly following Lewis Mumford, whose 1934 Technics and Civilization (essential reading!) puts forward the contention that technics ‘are the result of human choices and aptitudes and strivings, deliberate as well as unconscious… even when they are uncontrollable they are not external’, Our response to the problem of technical objects, Simondon suggests, is contradictory: on the one hand, we treat them as merely tools or instruments subordinated to human purposes; on the other hand, though, we simultaneously treat them as an autonomous threat to human nature (as ‘robots’), and as a consequence, try as hard as possible to preserve the former character in order to prevent the second – that is, we reduce the machine to the position of a slave.

‘Human reality,’ Simondon declares, ‘resides in machines as human actions fixed and crystalized [sic] in functioning structures’. What we need, therefore, is to understand the nature of the machine, and its intertwined relationship with humanity; we need to avoid turn back the specialization that has more and more dominated our understanding of machines, and embrace a ‘general culture’ wherein technical objects are once again included as a fundamental component of human culture, rather than merely a means to its continued existence. In the final section of this reading – the first section of chapter one – Simondon begins to outline such a project through a description of the genesis of the technical object.

We meet as usual in the Pierre Gorman Room, 5pm. All are welcome.

[PDF] Simondon, G. On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (trans. Mellamphy, N.)

April 8: Professional and Amateur (Said)

by robbiefordyce

 

deal_with_it

 

Edward Said’s presentations of the Reith Lectures in 1993 were broadcast over the BBC. Later these lectures would be republished as the volume The Representations of the Intellectual. Said’s lectures covered a broad range of concerns for what might be considered an ethics for the organic intellectual. Many aspects of academic life are served up for interrogation, and the chapter on Exile is particularly engaging. For this week, we will address a different chapter – “Professionals and Amateurs”,

Around 1968 intellectuals largely deserted their publishers’ fold; instead they flocked to the mass media–as journalists, talk-show guests and hosts, advisers, managers and so on. […] Every intellectual has an audience and a constituency. The issue is whether that audience is there to be satisfied, and hence a client to be kept happy, or whether it is there to be challenged, and hence stirred into outright opposition or mobilized into greater democratic participation in the society.

We meet, once again, on April 8th in the Gorman Room of the 1888 building, at 5pm.

[PDF] Said, E. (1994) “Professional and Amateur” in Representations of the Intellectual.

(apologies for the small file error on loading)

April 1: The Botnet (Eve)

by lukevanryn

Photo Credit: Gwendal_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Gwendal_ via Compfight cc

In this chapter from Zombies in the Academy (eds. Whelan, Walker, Moore, 2013), Martin Paul Eve interrogates the relationships in academic between authors, libraries and publishers, and their similarities to an undead zombie network, akin to a botnet: “a being not only dead and colonizing, but also exhibiting superficial autonomy while covertly acting under foreign influence against its own living purpose” (p.107). Eve’s essay offers a provocation to consider one’s own role in this network and some steps towards dismantling it.

We meet as usual in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm.

[PDF] Eve, Martin Paul. 2013, “The botnet: webs of hegemony/zombies who publish” in Whelan, A., Walker, R. & Moore, C., Zombies in the Academy Intellect: Bristol, UK.

March 25: Academic life in the fast lane (Vostal)

by lukevanryn

Photo Credit: chuckp via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: chuckp via Compfight cc

As we continue our exploration of the conditions of contemporary academic work, speed remains a pressing issue. The acceleration of academic labour – through devices such as meetings, audits, grant applications and engagement activities – is consistent thread in both everyday discussions and literature in the field. In this article, Filip Vostal highlights the ambivalence of contemporary ‘academic time’.  He draws on interviews with British academics from a number of fields to support his argument for “unhasty time”:

a theoretical and politico-normative model that would be both an antipode to oppressive acceleration and yet attendant to acceleration’s energizing properties too (3).

We meet in the Pierre Gorman Room, 1888 Building, at 5pm this Tuesday.

[PDF] Vostal, F. (2014). Academic life in the fast lane: The experience of time and speed in British academia. Time and Society. doi: 10.1177/0961463X13517537