Bernard's blog

Programming as a Cultural Technique

I'm planning a course in the fall that co-mingles recent work in software studies and platform studies with German theories of Kulturtechniken. The course also features programming instruction and assignments in Perl. An initial copy of the syllabus is attached here as a PDF, and described in excerpt below, so that I can solicit tips and suggestions from colleagues from the interwebs. Since the course is for undergrads who are non-native English speakers, the final syllabus will feature fewer readdings. For the full syllabus in its present state, see the attached PDF. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please contact me at geoghegb@cms.hu-berlin.de.

Note: Since first posting this I've received some great tips that are now appended at the bottom of the post. With luck I can reduce this to a streamlined course in the next few months. Additional tips welcome.

 

Was heißt Kulturtechnik?

Last week Ana Ofak and I co-organized a workshop at the Humboldt University dedicated to bringing together a small group of Germanophone and Anglophone scholars to discuss current questions and emerging methods in research on culture, technology, and media science. Our ostensible point of departure was new German research on Kulturtechnik(en), variously translatable as cultural techniques, cultural technology, or more obscurely (though perhaps more precisely) as cultural technics. I touched on this in an earlier post, where I mentioned that Jussi Parikka, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and Ilinca Iuraşcu are putting together a collection of essays on Kulturtechnik for Theory, Culture & Society.

The Difficulties of Gift-Giving

A couple weeks ago I gave a talk at the Franke Institute of the University of Chicago, where Jim Chandler runs a program on disciplines and technologies. I gave a talk on Marcel Mauss, Lévi-Strauss, and cybernetics, examining how the former's critique of modern, rationalist schemas of exchange could be used to critically assess the rise of cybernetic concepts in the 1950s and 1960s. This is part of a larger project on liberalism, technology, and cybernetics that I've been redeveloping  in various iterations for a year or so now, with the goal of understanding how and why liberal societies valorize technological communications as a way of resolving or neutralizing political conflict. Anthropologists Poornima Paidipaty and John Kelly, both of the University of Chicago, made elegant and provocative addresses as well that--in tandem with audience questions--have reignited my interest in going further with this research.

Visits to Chicago, Tulsa, Evanston, New Haven, and NYC

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the University of Tulsa, where communications theorist Ben Peters is working on his manuscript on efforts to build a Soviet Internet. Ben is also initiating students into the rigors of critical communication studies and planting the seeds of Teutonic thought in the fertile, young American minds. I spoke with Ben's students about my work, gave an evening lecture on "new" "German" media theory and its relationship to American pragmatism, and rapped at length with his welcoming colleagues.

An Introduction to Kulturtechnik: American Liberalism as a Cultural Technology

Jussi Parikka, my former colleague in Weimar Ilinca Iuraşcu, and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young are editing an issue of Theory, Culture & Society dedicated to Kulturtechnik. What is Kulturtechnik? One of my German friends described as a way to do German media theory while also "talking about people." This could be parsed in the term itself, which conjoins culture (Kultur) with a word that may designate techniques, technologies, or technics (Technik). In research on Kulturtechnik, culture and technology are generally taken to have a mutually constitutive relationship. Technology is taken to be a strategic assembly of practices, instruments, media forms, and perhaps rituals. This project is aided by the fact that, unlike English, the German term Technik doesn't immediately parse human actions (techniques) from non-human actors (technologies).

The Technologies of Liberalism (Mp3 lecture)

Attached as an MP3 is a recording of a talk I gave on what I call "the technologies of liberalism." In brief, I tried to unpack the transition between two kinds of liberal political strategy in the United States, and the peculiar relation each had to communicative techniques. The first, "techniques of liberalism," dominated the early American Republic and assigned antagonistic private interactions & interest (political agitation, commerce, a free press) with the task of articulating the public. Private interest was the pivot and engine for this strategy. I argued that this strategy was gradually superseded in the 19th century by "technologies of liberalism," premised on subordinating private interest to transcendent technical systems.

In Memoriam of Friedrich A. Kittler, 1943-2011

I recently wrote an obituary for Friedrich Kittler for the Critical Inquiry blog. It's online at http://critinq.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/in-memoriam-friedrich-a-kittler-...

 

Below is a slightly modified version of the text. I thank Paul Feigelfeld for his comments on an earlier draft.

 

Postwar American social science

I've been invited to speak in Cachan, France in November at a colloquium organized by the ANR Research Group on cross-disciplinary research ventures in postwar American social science. The conference is organized by Philippe Fontaine of Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan and will feature presentations by historian of science Jamie Cohen-Cole, communications scholar Jeff Pooley, and historian Michael P. Rossi, among others. When I have a draft of the talk I'll put it online here.

Schachterle Essay Prize

Earlier today my essay "From Information Theory to French Theory" recently won the Schachterle Essay Prize from the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSA). The SLSA website describes the prize this way: "Lance Schachterle, founding president of the society, has established an annual prize in honor of his parents to recognize the best new essay on literature and science written in English by a nontenured scholar." For years the SLSA meetings and the work of its members have been a source of inspiration for my own work so I'm especially honored to receive this award.

Two collections of essays on Gilbert Simondon forthcoming

Last year Mark Hayward, Rob Mitchell, and myself organized a conference in Paris on the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. I originally discovered Simondon's work through my work with Bernard Stiegler, and in the intervening years I've come to view it as an important contribution to new media theory, postwar philosophy, cybernetics, and actor-network theory, among other domains. Since then Mark, Rob and I have assembled two collections of essays on Simondon which, if all goes well, will appear in the journals Appareil and SubStance next year. Contibutors include Henning Schmidgen, Mark B. N. Hansen, and Jean-Hugues Barthélémy. When the texts are published I'll provide a link.

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