[iDC] iDC Digest, Vol 77, Issue 11

Lane DeNicola denicola at alum.rpi.edu
Sun Jul 10 09:01:19 UTC 2011

Hi Mark (et al.),

While a postdoc at Syracuse U. in 2007-9 I taught a course entitled "iPod
Politics" that was designed as an interdisciplinary examination of the
cultural and political dimensions of digital media and information
technology.  In it we took the iPod as an analytic "pivot" and iconic
stand-in for consumer electronics technology in general.  Among other
things, we discussed advertising and Apple Store decor, the global material
flows and labor structures required in their manufacture, the practices that
are shaped by the information traces such devices generate in their use,
concepts of "property" and "ownership" and how they get applied to "things"
both material and immaterial.

The course built on my experience as a graduate teaching assistant in
Science & Technology Studies at RPI, which was made up in large part of
precisely the sort of thing you're describing, courses in the humanities and
social sciences designed to engage students in science and engineering
programs.  I've also tried to incorporate some of the same approaches in my
current post at UCL (though here the engagement with science/engineering
students has been significantly less a part of the picture).  I see such
engagements as neither undervaluing the approach of more traditional
humanities courses nor simply a survival tactic, but as one necessary and
appropriate convolution of any vibrant discipline with its broader human
context.  How ironic would it be if the humanities and social sciences
themselves placed science and technology as somehow "outside of" human

I'd be remiss (*cough*) if I failed to mention that I just recently
delivered a book manuscript (under contract with Routledge) built around the
iPod Politics course, part of a series on Creative Teaching and Learning in
Anthropology edited by Richard Robbins, scheduled to come out in early 2012.


On Sun, 5 Jun 2011 at 11:09 PM, Mark Marino <markcmarino at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi, IDC-ers,
> Last summer I met a computer scientist who shared with me his hierarchy of
> knowledge.  In his schema, the sciences were at the top and all branches of
> knowledge and learning in the academy fell underneath.   By his account, at
> one time, due to a collective ignorance, much of knowledge was ordered
> under
> the Humanities, but slowly over time that ice cap had been chipped away and
> had floated off and melted into the larger sea of Science where it
> belonged.  By his account medicine, astronomy, and many other realms of
> knowledge had been relocated to their rightful place, leaving only certain
> types of speculative philosophy, perhaps a few arts, and other trivial or
> superfluous enterprises.
> I don't think this computer scientist was misrepresenting his perspective
> to
> be provocative, though I do believe he knew exactly which of my buttons he
> was pushing.  His pedestal for positivism was built upon a larger progress
> narrative (that a humanities course might even critique).  Nonetheless, it
> took a long coffee break with a philosophy librarian friend to pull me back
> from the ledge or perhaps get me off the war path.
> In an age where very reasonable folks are questioning the value of a
> college
> education, when the digital humanities seem to be flourishing, and when the
> US and global economies are still flagging sending students into their most
> pragmatic shells, I wonder if it isn't time for a new kind of humanities
> course.   I guess I am thinking about something different than what I know
> to be "digital humanities" in as much as that can mean the humanities plus
> computers (not to reduce -- I just don't mean that version of DH.)
> Remember last year and Cornell's President Skorton's address?
> http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/11/01/humanities
> >From an Inside Higher Ed article on the topic:
> Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities,
> said he has noticed increasing concern among university leaders about "the
> marginalization of non-scientific work" in higher education. "At every
> meeting these days, there is concern expressed about the status of the
> humanities and the fear that the humanities and to some extent the social
> sciences are being sidelined in a discussion about higher education that
> seems to focus almost exclusively on the economic value of universities."
> Are the Humanities under attack?  If they need rescued and if so how?
> So here's an idea, and this is not new:  humanities need to be able to show
> what they can offer even the sciences. (Now I don't mean getting caught up
> in the debate over the "value" of the humanities directly -- as that's like
> trying to defend a fine arts program on the basis of the Christie's auction
> price on a few Picasso's. Also Stanley Fish's retort that the humanities
> need not justify themselves comes to mind, but it's probably easier to make
> that claim when you are the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University
> Professor
> and a professor of law.  That's not to slight, but to say it's easier to
> claim the humanities don't need to argue their value when you've already
> established/earned your own security.
> Here is where my personal interest comes in with Critical Code Studies in
> the Humanities and Critical Code Studies (HaCCS Lab), where one of the
> goals
> is to create new spaces for humanities and computer scientists to meet and
> discuss.   While I think it is naive to suggest that the humanities will
> all
> of the sudden be valued the way the sciences are, I'd be interested to hear
> about humanities courses geared toward scientists.  Not Rocks for Jocks but
> Greeks for Geeks.   Critical Theory for Civil Engineers.  I'm interested in
> classes that teach the traditional humanities topics but that are aimed at
> the science students --  beyond, say, the History of Science or the History
> of the Philosophy of Science. Which is another way of asking: what can the
> humanities teach the sciences (which probably plays into a completely
> useless binary)?
> I guess I've been thinking a lot about what humanists can offer code
> studies
> and can't help feel that we could design humanities courses geared toward
> science students that would be (actually and hopefully perceived to be)
> valuable to their pursuits -- with perhaps the long-term goal of not
> erasing
> but seriously smudging the division between the sciences and humanities.
> Don't get me wrong -- these would INCREASE humanities offerings, not take
> the place of current classes.
> I know I'm preaching to the interdisciplinary choir, but can anyone reply
> with actual courses they've taught or offered at their institution that
> seem
> to fit this bill?  Can we propose imaginary courses that might accomplish
> these goals?   Or does this in effect undervalue that work that any good
> humanities course does already?
> Thoughts?
> Mark Marino
> HaCCS Lab
> University of Southern California
> http://haccslab.com

Dr. Lane DeNicola
Lecturer in Digital Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
University College London
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