Communication Technologies & Change unit

Below is a draft weekly schedule for a final year undergraduate unit I am teaching second semester this year. The unit is titled Communication Technologies & Change. I am inheriting the unit and the previous iteration focused on ‘new media’ and the various affordances of online technologies. The brief I was given was to shift from a ‘media’ focus and address ‘communication’ more broadly. There is a relatively diverse range of students, some are studying ‘communication’ and others ‘public relations’, ‘marketing’ and ‘journalism’. Some could come from very different areas of the faculty (design, media arts, writing, etc.). The uni is design to engage with the everyday use of comunication technologies and to guide students to critically reflect on the technologial assemblages of which they are part.

It has not been approved as yet and I am contemplating changing some of the readings and in particular adding some ‘easier’ readings (as some of them are pretty hard core, albeit fun). If anyone has any suggestions or criticisms please leave a comment or email me at glen (dot) fuller (at) canberra (dot) edu (dot) au. The two major assessment items will be an in-class presentation and a final research essay on a particular assemblage of communication technology.

Any suggestions of film clips I can show during lectures in any of the weeks would be greatly appreciated also!


Lecture topics

Week Date Topic
1 15/8/12 Definitions: Communication as Techné
2 22/8/12 Definitions: Technological Objects & Systems
3 29/8/12 Definitions: Change: Obsolescence & Progress
4 5/9/12 Assemblages: Audience & Media
5 12/9/12 Mediated Sociality & Community
6 19/9/12 Home & Away & Work
7 26/9/12 Commerce & the Economy
Mid Semester Break  
 9 10/10/12 The Apocalypse & Other Lessons from Science Fiction
10 17/10/12 Government & Media Policy
12 24/10/12 Information Technologies, Memory & Memorialisation
12 31/10/12 Geographies of Communication Technologies & Reality
13 7/11/12 Crisis & Technologies of Communication
14 14/11/12 Future, practices of anticipation


Definitions: Communication as Techné

 Etymology of technology, ‘techné’ and ‘logos’. Introducing themes of unit: 1) Tactical and strategic approaches to communication technologies. 2) Introducing communication technologies as assemblages.

Required reading Unit outlineWilliams, R. (1976). “Communication” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society Glasgow: Fontana. Pages 62-63.

Sterne, J. (2006). Communication as Techné. In G. J. Shpherd, J. S. John & T. Striphas (Eds.), Communication as…: Perspectives on Theory London: Sage. Pages 91-98

Recommended reading Parry, Richard, (2008) “Episteme and Techne“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Tutorial No tutorials


Definitions: Technological Objects & Systems

Thinking about technology beyond the technical object. Brief survey of different approaches:

  1. Actor-network theory and socio-technical networks, networked economy
  2. Simondon, technics and collective individuation
  3. Delanda and techno-historical assemblages
  4. Parikka, media archaeology and rethinking media and communication assemblages
Required reading Lury, C. (2009). “Brand as Assemblage.” Journal of Cultural Economy, 2(1-2), 67-82.
Recommended reading Parikka, J. (2010). Introduction: Insects in the Age of Technology. Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology Minneapolis, London: University Of Minnesota Press. Pages ix-xxv [Particularly the ‘Assemblages’ section xxiv-xxvii]
Tutorial Discussion: Introduction of unit. Details of assessments. Allocation of readings for the presentation assignment. Discussion of potential topics of the research essay assessment.


Definitions: Change: Obsolescence & Progress

How to think about ‘change’? Think beyond individual objects to the broader networks and social assemblages of whom they are always part. Disruptive innovation, not a new ‘object’ but a different network of relations. Fetishisation of the ‘new’. Planned Obsolescence.

Required reading Packard, V. (1960). “Progress Through Planned Obsolescence.” The Waste Makers. Brooklyn: Ig Publishing. Pages 65-78.Slack, J. D., & Wise, J. M. (2005). Progress. Culture + Technology: A Primer. New York: Peter Lang. Pages 9-25. 
Tutorial Discussion: When was the last time you ‘upgraded’ anything? Why? Is Packard’s critique still relevant? Do you take photos with your phone? Do you use Instagram or similar? How does the aestheticisation of ‘old’ technologies as ‘new’ change our sense of progress?


Assemblages: Audience & Media

This week we think about the relation between technology, media and audiences in terms of assemblages. Further develop assemblage theory. Techno-historical assemblages of the media. Power of the audience, audience studies. Attention economy.

Required reading Goggin, G. (2009). “Assembling media culture.” Journal of Cultural Economy, 2(1-2), 151-167.Crogan, P., & Kinsley, S. (2012). “Paying Attention: Towards a Critique of the Attention Economy.” Culture Machine, 13, 1-29.
Recommended reading Bratich, J. Z. (2005). “Amassing the Multitude: Revisiting Early Audience Studies.” Communication Theory, 15(3), 242-265.
Tutorial Discussion: What is your involvement in media assemblages? How does your participation relate to Crogan and Kinsley’s four ways of “thinking about how attention is commodified, quantified and trained” (3)?


Mediated Sociality & Community

Community and communication. Scales of community, local, national, international. Collective intelligence

Required reading Levy, P. (1999). “From the Molar to the Molecular: The Technology of Collective Intelligence” Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. Pages 39-55.
Recommended reading Shirky, C. (2010). “Means” Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. London: Penguin Books. [Chapter 2]
Tutorial Discussion: What does Levy mean by ‘molecular’ and ‘molar’? How is the ‘national’ imagined in the contemporary era if it is in part a consequence of the communication technologies of modernity (telegraph, print newspapers, then radio etc)? Do you think the character of friendship has changed because of social media?


Home & Away & Work

Constitution of the ‘home’, production of domestic space. New composition of relations premised on the separation of public/private, work/home. Intervention of the telephone. The flexible workplace. 

Required reading Gregg, M. (2011) “Selling the flexible workplace” Work’s Intimacy. Cambridge: Polity Press. Chapter 1. Pages 23-38.
Recommended reading Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). “Genres of Organizational Communication: A structurational approach to studying communication and media.” Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299-326. [Examination of the history of the ’email’ as genre of organizational communication.]
Tutorial Discussion: Do you juggle various work responsibilities with other aspects of your life? Could you do this without contemporary communication technologies? Would you feel comfortable using your Facebook account for work purposes? What relation does Gregg describe between communication technologies and workplace intimacies?


Commerce and the Economy

 Transformations of economy, emergence of global market. Globalisation. Function of credit cards as technology of communication/identity. eBay, Steam and online commerce. and the algorithmic production of surplus value.

Required reading Merskin, D. (1998). “The Show for Those Who Owe: Normalization of Credit on Lifetime’s Debt.” Journal of Communication Inquiry, 22(1), 10-26. [Particularly the section “A brief history of credit”]
Recommended reading Roberts, J. M. (2012). “Poststructuralism Against Poststructuralism: Actor-Network Theory, Organizations and Economic Markets.” European Journal of Social Theory, 15(1), 35-53.
Tutorial Discussion: Have you used your credit card online and felt anxious? Do you have a credit card debt? How important is reputation for online commerce? Have bought items directly from overseas?


Mid-semester break


The Apocalypse & Other Lessons from Science Fiction

Apocalypse as ultimate ‘planned obsolescence’. Technological change of the apocalypse. ‘Industrial-military complex’. Internet as communication technology of the apocalypse. 

Required reading Jameson, F. (1982). “Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?” Science Fiction Studies, 9, 147-158.
Recommended reading Grusin, R., 2004. “Premediation.” Criticism, 46(1) 17-39.Stockwell, S (2011) “Messages from the apocalypse: Security issues in American TV series.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 25(2), 189-199 
Tutorial Discussion: What is your favourite representation of the apocalypse? What aspects of this apocalyptic setting are Utopian? Would a world of perfect communication be Utopian? Why or why not?

 WEEK 10

Government & Media Policy

Guest lecture. TBA

Required reading Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. (2010). “The Rise of the citizen regulator.” Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. London: Atlantic Books. [Chapter 15]
Tutorial TBA [Check Moodle closer to the date.]

 WEEK 11

Information Technologies, Memory & Memorialisation

 From the ‘Kodak moment’ to the ‘Facebook moment’. Branded behaviours, branded memories. Have our memories become commodified? Databases and access.

Required reading Stokes, P. (2011). Ghosts in the Machine: Do the Dead Live on in Facebook? Philosophy & Technology, 1-17.Munir, K. A., & Phillips, N. (2005). The Birth of the ‘Kodak Moment’: Institutional Entrepreneurship and the Adoption of New Technologies. Organization Studies, 26(11), 1665-1687.
Recommended reading Geissler, C., (2010) “Pix or It Didn’t Happen: Social Networking, Digital Memory, and the Future of Biography.” In V. Chan, C. Ferguson, K. Fraser, C. Geissler, A.-M. Metten & S. Smith (eds.) The MPub Reader. Vancouver: CCSP Press, 135-141. [Also available at ]
Tutorial Discussion: Are we suffering from societal ‘TMI’? What moments do you hope to remember and do you try to capture these moments using technology? Do you ‘share’ these moments?


Geographies of Communication Technologies & Reality

 Maps, spatiality. Political economy of belonging. Borderspaces. Locative media. Augmented reality.

Required reading Buliung, R.N. (2011) “Wired People in Wired Places: Stories about Machines and the Geography of Activity.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 101,1365-1381.Williams, R. (1976). “Communication” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society Glasgow: Fontana. Pages 62-63.
Tutorial Discussion: Do you use satnav or a ‘map app’ to help you find where you are going? What about planning for holidays, do you know exactly where you are going to go? When was the last time you were ‘lost’? What does Buliung mean by the ‘extinction of experience’?


Crisis & Technologies of Communication

Social media and communication. Data visualisation. Queensland floods and twitter. Japanese tsunami and Google.

Required reading Bruns, Axel, Burgess, Jean E., Crawford, Kate, & Shaw, Frances (2012) “#qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods.” [Research report] ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane QLD Australia. [Particularly pages 7-18]
Tutorial Discussion: Have you been caught up in a crisis event? How have you communicated your wellbeing to friends and/or family? How have you found out about and then followed recent natural disasters? What communication channels do you use?


Future, practices of anticipation

Techno-historical assemblages are not only ‘historical’ but co-present. What shall exceed us? What assemblages are not yet fully present but currently emerging? What comes ‘next’? ‘New’ iPhones. What are the new assemblages? Has the future become commodified?

Recommended reading Jones, S.E., 2008. “Anticipating SporeThe Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Studies New York: Routledge. Chapter 6. Pages 150-173.
Recommended reading Grusin, R., 2004. “Premediation.” Criticism, 46(1) 17-39.
Tutorial Summary and Q&A. Final paper related questions and feedback


On Deadlines

It is not surprising that the etymology of the term “deadline” is allegedly derived from the use of a line drawn around prisons during the American Civil War. They did not have walls and prisoners would be killed if they crossed it.

And he, the said Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a “dead line,” being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, he, the said Wirz, instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line” …. [“Trial of Henry Wirz,” Report of the Secretary of War, Oct. 31, 1865]

One of the transparent mechanisms of control in the media industry workplace is the deadline. They are put in place to ensure the delivery of work and this second meaning apparently emerged in 1920s American journalism. Deadlines become a mechanism of control because they can be manipulated by editors and management. Most often is the practice of bringing a deadline forward so as to increase the productivity of staff. That way different teams can be played off against each other. Editorial files copy at accelerated deadlines and this puts pressure on design to prepare layed out and designed pages for pre-press.

There are multiple deadlines within academia. It is normally up to individuals to manage these deadlines. An added complication is that academics often organise work, and publications in particular, on the strength of social ties. The matrix of multiple deadlines by which individuals are suspended therefore gathers an affective dimension beyond the ‘regular’ anxieties of deadline pressures.

One of the tricky parts of setting journalism assessments is trying to incorporate learning outcomes that prepare students for working in the news-based media industry with multiple continuous deadlines. The classic example is the newspaper newsroom, but even my experience of working in monthly magazines involved multiple daily deadlines because our editorial teams worked across multiple publications at once.

The deadline organises a composition of power relations that bridiges those that belong to what Deleuze called the ‘society of control’ and what is regarded as the ‘disciplinary society’ (from Foucault). Workers are ‘imprisoned’ in front of whatever screen as part of whatever socio-technical assemblage will enable them to meet the deadline. There are more nuanced versions of this, specifically the relation between editorial teams (or similar) and production management. Editorial teams can feel a sense of camaraderie in the face of pressures from management. Even if you intensely dislike your co-workers, you still ‘get the job done’.

Amongst one’s academic colleagues this changes slightly, because it is not ‘management’ dictating when work is due, but your friends. A similar arrangement could be found in freelancing, but I am not sure. There is an economy of goodwill and effort determined by the distribution and access to opportunity. Some colleagues have access to opportunities, or they are good at creating them, others perhaps less so, or work on opportunities of different kinds. The point is that not only is friendship at stake in meeting deadlines, but so is the way access to opportunity is distributed.

Meeting a deadline requires one to be ‘at’ your ‘desk’ or your ‘office’ (or more generally an interface within an assemblage of productivity), and hence to be counted as being productive. As in Foucault’s disciplinary societies, this fixes you in space. For those that know writers or perhaps follow them on social media, think about how often texts about writing discipline circulate and the various practices and rituals performed by writers to get the job done. The deadline also involves the modulation of affective relations beyond anxiety or dread, like the prison without walls, a deadline also suspends those trying to meet it within specific relations of reciprocity. These relations are not premised on traditional antagonisms between workers and management; they are premised on relations of friendship.

I am thinking about deadlines because I am trying to meet about half a dozen at the moment and I am also waiting on others to meet deadlines.

Ctrl-Z first issue

Whatever might be ‘new’ about new media, then, could never be absolutely so, which is not to say that new media don’t have forms, effects, affects and possibilities of their own. It’s precisely for the sake of experimenting with and speculating on those possibilities that we’ve developed Ctrl-Z—as a journal, an exhibition space, an events machine and inevitably (we hope) a ‘brand’.

The inaugural issue of the journal Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy is live. The Ctrl-Z website uses frames, so I am already ‘breaking’ it by direct linking to certain pages. Here is the first issue’s contents. The above quote is from the editorial by Niall Lucy and Robert Briggs.

In Graphology Variorum 1-10 John Kinsella and Simon Critchley develop a poetic rap/rapport. In Graphology Variorum 9 Kinsella on the repetition of absences:

[…] each player

throws the die until a ‘6’ be obtained, such

are classic games, such are losses we replay

to intensify absences; whose to celebrate,

whose to template our works and days upon.

It reminds me of this wonderful line from Francois Dosse’s excellent biography of Deleuze and Guattari: “Time creates a crisis in causality beneath which lies a law of pure chance, rendering it ontologically secondary but negating it.” The rhythm of ‘whose to’ in the orchestration of loss; the chance event ‘to lose’ is paradoxical, the positing of a loss, and yet owned (‘whose’) at the roll of a dice. The template of a futurity of absences, intensified by their repetition. Is this the impossible object of the cogito? Affirming through the potentiality of roll/role replaying loss. A pure affirmation conducted (conduit, conduct, conductor); loss conducts the replay. Feed-forward loops of loss, whose to celebrate? Passenger of the impasse: impasse as passage.

And as part of the same GV9 Critchley invokes the fiction of the world:

This closeness to self and to world and of self to world is so close that one cannot separate them, divide and sunder them. Self and world are of a piece, they are one piece of a garment that should not be broken down into pieces like mind and reality or subject and object. They are the one piece of which I am made and which I have made. We are thrown into a world that appears ready-made, yet the world is what you make of it. That is to say, self and world are a fiction, a fiction that we take to be true and in which we have faith. The difficulty is making that faith explicit.