Table of Contents

Roll Call

This is the annotated bibliography of my entire list.

Media Archaeology

  • Benjamin, W. (1940) “On the Concept of History”
    • Along with Foucault, Benjamin’s post-Marxian critical theory is one of the earliest models of what will later become media archaeological thought. In this essay, Benjamin develops some key concepts: nonlinear time, the value of living in rather than transcending ruination, and the rejection of progress. In the face of fascism’s immiseration of Europe, Benjamin rejects both historicism and historical materialism in order to develop a practice of collecting, observing, and digging into the ruins of the present.
  • Benjamin, W. (1935) “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”
    • Benjamin’s earlier essay addresses the role technological reproduction plays in the development of a politics from art. Reproducibility “substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence,” which allows its proliferation and hence suitability for both a fascist and antifascist political program. There’s much in this essay that’s urgent for today’s political moment, but I am particularly drawn to how forcefully it rebukes both the network optimists of the 1990’s and the later techno-pessimists of our present moment. Moreover, Benjamin demands the relentless politicization of technical media: an excellent counter to Silicon Valley rhetoric of leaving technology “neutral.”
  • Chun, W. (2011) Programmed Visions
    • Chun’s second book makes three major interlocking interventions. First, it blurs the hardening of materiality post-Kittler; while sympathetic to digital studies’ attempts to fix the site of its analysis, Chun argues that software is in fact still slippery, vaporous, and spectral. Second, she locates the production of this spectrality in subsumed and dematerialized labor—particularly attending to questions of race and gender. And third, she links the rise of software-as-a-thing (its hardening) to a concomitant shift toward neoliberal governmentality, deploying the fixed rhetoric or programmability to produce omnipresent-but-false visions of the future.
  • Derrida, J. (1995) Archive Fever
    • On the proliferation of the archive as a concept and figure for contemporary life. Often remembered for its titular concept: the mal d’archive, the burning desire to collect and remember and derive meaning from collections; less so for the fact that it’s Derrida’s first major statement on electronic media, particularly email.
  • Emerson, L. (2014) Reading Writing Interfaces
    • Emerson’s book is an important part of Anglophone media archaeology. In it, she develops a “nonlinear history” of “media poetics,” demystifying or reverse engineering moments in experimental writing where technologies rub up against writing practices—which she argues gets thematized in the figure of the interface. Along with Tenen’s and Kirschenbaum’s work, Emerson constitutes a particularly literary genre of Anglophone media archaeology.
  • Ernst, W. (2013) Digital Memory and the Archive
    • One of the (if not the) major late figures in German media theory / media archaeology. Ernst represents a conceptual end-point of the period Kitter began. Key concept: media archaeography, the idea that media write their own histories. Ernst takes a particular interest in time, arguing both that media history engages a nonlinear temporality and also that the microtemporalities of media condition (author) the temporality of human existence. Note also his development of the “fundus,” a proto-lab space for reverse engineering and tinkering as media critical methods.
  • Farge, A. (1989) The Allure of the Archives
    • An experiential counterpoint to the dematerialized archive concept found in Foucault and Derrida. Farge, a historian of eighteenth-century Paris, describes the process of immersing herself in a French legal archive, with all of the gaps, surprises, and arcane rituals associated therein. Best as a counterpoint to articulate the experience of going into the archives themselves: an affective “allure” that we might productively map onto the techno-fetishism of some media archaeology.
  • Foucault, F. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge
    • This is an explicitly methodological work—compare with Latour’s Reassembling the Social. There are two major takeaways: the first is Foucault’s concept of “the archive,” which is a discursive rather than material concept—the historical conditions that make statements possible. When Ernst invokes “the archive,” he means it more in this sense, that, following Kittler, digital media constitute the a priori archive in the Foucauldian sense: the set of possible statements. The second takeaway is the notion of archaeology, the idea that epistemes have clear rules underneath consciousness. Archaeology is the excavation and description of the archive.
  • Foucault, F. (1977) “Nietzsche, Genealogy, Memory”
    • Foucault then transitions from archaeology to genealogy. Archaeology’s “deficiency” (to follow the Stanford Encyclopedia) was that it couldn’t speak to transitions between epistemes or thought systems. Genealogy, on the other hand, positions a system of thought within “contingent turns of history.”
  • Fuller, M., ed. (2008) Software Studies
    • The first collection of the list, which sets a tone for later ones: edited collections are best thought of as establishing a new field, method, or object of study, or concretizing a “turn” as such. Fuller’s collection establishes (naturally) the study of software-as-a-thing, and does so by foregrounding operations and uses. This is a fairly dematerialized study, one that usefully engages computation as the key feature of software—and also attends to software cultures. There are hints as well of the stack model that will get developed in platform studies approaches: the idea that software is always operative at interlinking conceptual (thought not quite yet material) levels.
  • Gitelman, L. (2006) Always Already New
    • Gitelman’s book is an important entry in the work of historicizing new media. Her definition of media is productively broad: “socially realized structures of communication,” which include both material and protocological systems. Her analysis is on recorded sound and the Internet as influential social forces rather than total agents of media-historical progress. This is not quite media archaeology at the time, as she rejects a Kitterlian determinacy, but Gitelman’s approach will become influential within the more socially nuanced Anglophone MA, wherein materiality and sociality meet and mix at the cross-road of media technologies and practices. Key idea: inscriptive media, which in producing physical, indexical imprint are always related to the past.
  • Heidegger, M. (1954) “The Question Concerning Technology”
    • Heidegger’s hard. I got the most from Young’s readings of him; less so from Harman, a die-hard Heideggerian. What’s most useful in this essay is his concept of bestand, or standing reserve: the way that technology orders the world so as to produce reserves of material at the ready for use. We can link this concept to cybernetic informationalization, the fossil fuel economy, and the thingification of digital discourse.
  • Kirschenbaum, M. (2008) Mechanisms
    • With Gitelman, a major landmark in Anglophone media archaeology, even before that phrase had any traction in the scholarly scene. Matt’s book is a study of what happens to textuality in the digital age: he concludes that new media must be studied through “individual instances of inscription, object, and code” propagating across storage devices and environments. In short: we must attend to the “metal” of our devices and “assign value” to history and material circumstance. The key figure is storage. It also makes major archival interventions in how we study electronic literature.
  • Kittler, F. (1992) Discourse Networks 1800/1900
    • Kittler’s “masterpiece” in two parts: the first a study of the development of language instruction in 1800 and the second the development of the typewriter in 1900. Here are the major takeaways from Kittler: a project of literary technodeterminism with its roots in French deconstructive and psychoanalytic theory, particularly Lacan. By deploying Foucault’s discourse analysis, Kittler attempts to get “outside” systems and so ends up at technical media.
  • Kittler, F. (1999) Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
    • To continue the Kittler: remember that the title here is a progression through Lacan’s real (gramophone inscription), imaginary (filmic illusion), and symbolic (typewritten alphabet). For Kittler, the rigorous, technical, and scientific media theory that he promulgates has its historical a priori in Foucauldian discourse analysis, which in turn comes from structuralism. In Kittler we have the worst tendencies of German media theory: its technical coldness, its obsession with mechanism, and its averseness to political critique. (Why Pink Floyd? Perhaps Kittler’s conservatism, his Anglophilia, or, as Winthrop-Young argues, Pink Floyd’s particular technological sophistication and attention to the experience of madness are useful to Kittler’s techno-psychoanalytic project.)
  • Lennon, B. (2018) Passwords
    • A relatively minor entry on the list, interesting for two things: 1) a sustained history of “cryptophilology,” a counterhistory of digital humanities cultural analytics practice routed through the security apparatus of the state; and 2) an attack on the contemporary digital humanities community for its unaware involvement with the security state. I find the first interesting as a transcultural counterhistory—an example of the political utility of such projects beyond simply elaborating the history of a single object—and the second fairly tired, as it requires flattening out DH practice to something mostly unrecognizable.
  • Malloy, J., ed. (2016) Social Media Archaeology and Poetics
    • Another minor book on the list (although one of the flat-out longest). An ethnographic history of the pre-social-media social web, with emphases on the burgeoning elit scenes and on-the-ground elaborations of many of the moments detailed in Turner’s book. Most interesting as a look at a moment when technology Could Have Been Different, as well as more fuel to the idea that technology and sociality are at the least totally co-dependent on each other.
  • Marvin, C. (1990) When Old Technologies Were New
    • A potentially major book that I had minor time to read. Marvin’s book is a classic of media history: a study of the sociocultures built up around early electric technology in the nineteenth century. Useful in the following senses: 1) to establish that the features we think of in media archaeology and history sprout up across a variety of fields, in this case more media history or technology studies; 2) to point to a long critical history of studying technology through its effects on culture rather than pure materiality; and 3) to note its methods: an archival history from specialized journals and popular media, a kind of assembly from traces.
  • Montfort N. and I. Bogost (2009) Racing the Beam
    • The instigator of “platform studies” and perhaps one of the classic representatives of where Anglophone media archaeology ends up by the end of the 2000s. Platform studies, here applied to the Atari, exposes the basal layer of the technical stack—after software studies and cultural studies, comes platforms. Montfort and Bogost also contend (in exhausting detail) that we can best understand the sociocultural operations of media technologies—and best read the texts produced by and through those technologies—through an accounting of their oft-hidden and proprietary technical operations. As such, Racing the Beam often reads like an Atari manual for humanists: a model that gets reproduced in many “pick and object and tell its history” approaches to come.
  • Nakamura, L. (2014) “Indigenous Circuits”
    • Through a study of the indigenous women who became core to Fairchild Semiconductor’s labor operations and overall brand, Nakamura knits together the platform studies approach to the cultural studies seemingly lost in the turn toward media materiality. Confounds the technical/social axis by situating human labor—and gendered, racialized bodies—right in the middle of the technical stack: it’s impossible to understand the technical “platform” of Fairchild Semiconductor and its products w/o writing labor right into its heart. (And a much more artful move than Parikka’s gestural approach.)
  • Parikka, J. (2012) What is Media Archaeology?
    • One of two books that Parikka authored/edited to concretize media archaeology in the early 2010s. This book develops media archaeology as a method for doing media criticism: it is a “traveling” discipline interested in 1) the nonlinear relationship between new and old media; 2) an emphasis on the forgotten and broken aspects of media history (against positivism or teleology or progress); and 3), in Parikka’s especial interest, a method for chaining media critique to art practice through hands-on work, e.g. the Lab/Fundus/circuit bending.
  • Parikka J. and E. Huhtamo, eds. (2011) Media Archaeology
    • This collection, in counterpoint, is more interested in mapping then-present approaches to doing media archaeological work. Media archaeology combines the German media tradition but also McLuhan, film history, and new historicism. Throughout this collection, the contributors attend to “hitherto unnoticed continuities and ruptures,” establishing slow, nonlinear, and disruptive connections in media history.
  • Siegert, B. (2015) Cultural Techniques
    • Originally a nineteenth-century agricultural term, “cultural techniques” has been repurposed in a post-Kittlerian German media studies field to think about the material processes by which cultures produce and structure themselves. I should say material-conceptual: these are “ontic operations,” activities that produce the definitions for being. As such, cultural techniques inherit some of Kittler’s determinism, but expand the scope of what constitutes “media” beyond the technical object. Siegert’s book is then a wide-ranging series of case studies on cultural techniques in action. Note in particular the chapter on grids.
  • Sterne, J. (2013) MP3
    • In attending to the .mp3, Sterne develops “format theory,” an attention to abstract and formal technicities that nevertheless involve materiality in acute ways. By attending also the the history of compression, Sterne develops a way of doing media history that focuses first on the operations of media that are then expressed in material-cultural arrangements. His “format theory” is in this way an important pre-cursor to the focus on infrastructure: formats and standards are as crucial as the media that we are more accustomed to studying.
  • Tenen, D. (2017) Plain Text
    • Tenen’s is a thorny book. It’s an attempt to knit together contemporary work in digital media studies with a tradition of literary theory. Texts undergird all computational function and computation infects text at every level; as such, Tenen attempts to develop a method (“computational poetics”) for combining literary close reading with computational analysis. This book is also interesting inasmuch as he demands humanism and rejects both German media theory’s antihumanism and new materialism: computational objects are not agents but rather tools that we must engage ethically through a minimalist practice.
  • Vismann, C. (2008) Files
    • I didn’t really read this one. From Young’s review: Vismann’s project is one of rethinking the history of the law through media materialism, through an attention to physical files as prehistorical to the digital computer. We can connect it also to Siegert’s cultural techniques as alternative pathways through German media theory: the practice of filing becomes ontic to files, and so forth.
  • Young, L. (2017) List Cultures
    • Engages two projects, one more useful than the other: the first, and most putatively, a media history of the list. But the second, more interesting project, is an attempt to collide German media theory from Heidegger to Siegert with the civilizational approach of the Toronto School. In doing so, Young is an acute reader of German media theory (his readings of Heidegger are excellent). The major thrust: this is a useful portrait of the rise of logistical media and its role in constituting modernity, as well as a valorization of media materiality.
  • Zielinski, S. (2006) Deep Time of the Media
    • Zielinski is the weirdo in German media theory. His book was one of the earliest to come out in English, after Kittler, and so he’s often cited in folks writing in the 2000’s (e.g., Emerson). He practices “variantology,” a kind of anarchic media history. He also wants to attend to “deep time,” writing media histories that go well beyond the present moment. However, he’s hamstrung by his devotion to Great Man Inventor narratives: I would argue that his project doesn’t really come to fruition until Parikka substantially revises his concept of “deep time” in his Geology of Media.

Infrastructures and Platforms

  • Bratton, B. (2015) The Stack
    • A massive and influential recent work on computation, governance, infrastructure, and design: Bratton’s book lays out a speculative design model (the titular “Stack”) for organizing the entire planet as a finely tuned computer. If this sounds a little accelerationist: you’re right. Bratton begins from the premise that the world is a tangled thicket of an “accidental megastructure” entwining computation, humanity, and planet all together in ad hoc governance regimes that we like to call tech companies. His solution out of this mess is to intentionally design a new megastructure, a “stack to come” that can more equitably and creatively meet humanity’s needs. Come for the evocative chapters on the planet’s “skin,” shrug at the panopticism and misplaced pseudo-politics of his theory of addressing.
  • Frabetti, F. (2015) Software Theory
    • A little misplaced on the list: Frabetti’s book attempts a collision of software studies and deconstructive theory from Derrida through to Stiegler. Her main intervention is to think “software” as all computer programs and all written texts related to them, which allows her to develop a theory of software from an analysis of writing. The upshot is that software engineering becomes a “discipline for the management of time” through its textuality. (This is not a book that I know all that well.)
  • Gabrys, J. (2016) Program Earth
    • Gabrys’ book pursues two parallel projects: first, a theoretical response to planetary-scale computation through an engagement with “process philosophy,” esp. Stengers, Simondon, and Whitehead; and second, an empirical/ethnographic project on sensor technologies and their role in citizen sensing science projects and the concurrent formation of “environmental citizens.” Through sensory distribution, the Earth becomes programmable, which is to say that environments become unfolding processes co-constituted with objects within them, rather than backdrops for the objects themselves.
  • Hayles, N.K. (2004) “Print is Flat, Code is Deep”
    • More useful for platforms than infrastructures, Hayles’ classic essay argues for medium-specificity in doing analysis of media objects. While we can quibble about the flatness of print and the depth of code, her overall point is now so normalized as to be inarguable: that we need to identify and take into account the material-conceptual features of a given medium in order to produce readings from it.
  • Hu, T. (2015) A Prehistory of the Cloud
    • Hu’s book is one of the most important models I have on this list. It pursues two lines of inquiry: “how the cloud grew out of older networks”; and “how the emergence of the cloud indexes a re-emergence of sovereign power within the realm of data.” It is a rejection of Deleuze’s control society. Notable also for his insistence on methodologically deploying cultural representations: to “stand at a middle distance from the cloud.”
  • Mattern, S. (2017) Code and Clay, Data and Dirt
    • An often dizzying but always fascinating collision of archaeology and media archaeology toward the question: what are the roots of the datafied city? Her answer: the city has always been “datafied,” which we can understand through an expansion of the media concept to include infrastructure and its informational flows. Fascinating methodologically: Mattern deploys a kind of deep archival “dirt research,” a la Innis, combining real-world observation w/ archival digging. A bit of an allergy to “theory,” but mostly because she’s one of its best readers.
  • Noble, S. (2018) Algorithms of Oppression
    • More platforms than infrastructures: Noble’s book is important for two reasons: 1) as an intervention into critical race theory through the information sciences, and 2) as an object lesson for strategies for trying to do research about black-boxed companies like Google or Amazon. Notable also for making clear policy recommendations: break up and regulate the tech industry.
  • Parks, L. and N. Starosielski, eds. (2015) Signal Traffic
    • The first major collection on media infrastructures. Its introduction is a useful catalog of the variety of subject that can come under the heading of “infrastructure”—particularly for how it integrates research in Anthropocenic and new materialisms. The chapters themselves tend to focus more on transmission than computation but that’s Parks’ and Starosielski’s focus.
  • Peters, J. (2015) The Marvelous Clouds
    • At its broadest, Peters’ book is about media as engines of being rather than meaning. In this way it shares territory with the cultural techniques folks. To make his argument, Peters turns to the natural world and its elements as primal media of sorts: this is an expansion of the media concept to its farthest limits. Notable also for its focus on “infrastructuralism,” what comes after post-structuralist (and hence after Kittler): a fascination for the basic, boring, and mundane. Also notable for its valorization of the immaterial: the claim that there are conceptual straits running under materiality that still deserve our attention.
  • Rossiter, N. (2016) Software, Infrastructure, Labor
    • I did this book in a hatchet, so briefly: the key concept is “logistical media,” elaborated in other aspects of my reading. Rossiter does sociological and ethnographic research on global supply chains and their attendant computational media networks. Along with Cheney-Lippold, Rossiter develops the argument that global supply chain technologies are key engines of biopolitics: they organize and govern labor across industries, producing a “soft control.”
  • Star, S. (1999) “The Ethnography of Infrastructure”
    • Star was a sociologist responsible for kicking off now two decades of focus on infrastructure. Along with her husband, Geoffrey Bowker, Star developed a practice of analyzing infrastructures, standards, and logistics in order to do that “making the invisible visible” work that is so key to media study. In this essay, she proposes ethnographic methods that share terrain with the turn to technique more generally.
  • Starosielski, N. (2015) The Undersea Network
    • Along with Hu’s book, Starosielski’s is probably the best example of the vein in which I’m trying to work. This is a book that pursues two projects (as they all seem to): the first, a cultural history of undersea cables; and second, an argument about how infrastructure affects the production of networked media space in the Pacific. Her book is “against flow”: infrastructure is plodding, physical, prone to breakage, and we should understand networks not as free-flowing and decentralized but rather wired, territorial, and precarious.

The Politics of Networks

  • Appardurai, A. (2006) Fear of Small Numbers
    • Appadurai’s essay develops a theory of terrorism in a networked, global age. As Thacker and Galloway will elaborate in The Exploit, the terrorist is a figure that turns the network imagination of the 1990’s on its head. Networks—broadly construed but always entangled with communications (not necessarily digital) technologies—are driving engines of globalization, one of the major political anxieties of our time. Appadurai also makes useful claims re: information and finance technologies accelerating the flows of global capital in ways that contribute to the desire to harden borders. Also note the cellular/vertebrate model as a bio-update of the “network.”
  • Browne, S. (2015) Dark Matters
    • Browne’s book, in her own words, “takes up blackness, as metaphor and as lived materiality, and applies it to an understanding of surveillance.” To do so, she writes a sociological prehistory of surveillance technologies as always bound together with the violent policing of black people. Without an understanding of the ontological production of blackness as such, we cannot develop a “general theory of surveillance,” which is always already racialized.
  • Brunton, F. and H. Nissenbaum (2015) Obfuscation
    • A readable theory and on-the-ground tactical handbook for obfuscation: grassroots efforts to defeat (or at least fend off) digital surveillance. Combines a typological approach to defining obfuscation with a brief theorization. It’s a weird little book, one more a field guide or art project than scholarship.
  • Cheney-Lippold, J. (2011) “A New Algorithmic Identity”
    • Cheney-Lippold’s essay offers algorithms as a “supplement to Foucauldian thinking around biopolitics and biopower”: algorithms are identity formation apparatuses that make identities for us, which then, following principles of “soft” control, we mold to meet. For algorithmic analysis, it’s then better to think about category rather than individual production—a revision of the post-cybernetic emphasis on individual feedback loops.
  • Chun, W. (2016) Updating to Remain the Same
    • Chun’s most recent book is a doozy. The first half is an excellent theorization of the role of habit and crisis in structuring networked time. Crisis, she argues, intersects with habituation to produce the “update,” a meaningful meaninglessness that escalates the creepiness of new media. Chun is also very interested in the strange personality of computing devices, which extends into the book’s shakier back half on social media and the right to loiter in public.
  • Deleuze, G. (1992) “Postscript on the Societies of Control”
    • A brief essay revising Foucault’s disciplinary societies into the idea of the “control society,” a self-discipline of apparently limitless freedom where the demands of capitalism then pervade all aspects of our lives. We also know this as neoliberalism, but Deleuze is prescient in pinning this shift to computational and information technologies.
  • Galloway, A. (2012) The Interface Effect
    • This is a bit of a mess of a book because it’s five or so of Galloway’s essays thrown together. The broad project is moving from defining the computer ontologically and rather ethically: the computer is a “process or active threshold mediating two states,” which in turn means that computers are engines of politics. By simulating the external world, computer mediation represents the vanguard of a potentially liberatory politics. He never defines interface beyond this slippery threshold concept, but note that time and again he’s interested in computing precisely as the site of contemporary political thought.
  • Galloway, A. and E. Thacker (2007) The Exploit
    • Another prickly book in two halves: Galloway and Thacker build a political theory of networks, arguing that the central question of its time is the tension between networks and sovereignty. Think of this book as a bridge between Appadurai and Bratton: networks suffuse all political regimes and the only way to turn them toward radical politics (through excursions in infectious disease, terrorism, and computing), is by exploiting power differentials in extant systems. There are shades of accelerationism and Wark’s hacker ethos here.
  • Hardt, M. and A. Negri (2000) Empire
    • A massive and often infuriating book. After the decline of imperialism and the rise of neoliberal capitalism, power now organizes itself as a supranational sovereignty combining governmental, economic, and social forms. Sovereignty has reconstituted itself as a Deleuzian formation. Empire is the height of network thinking (along with Manuel Castells): the idea that the smooth, Deleuzian, rhizomatic network represents liberatory potential for the underclass.
  • Jagoda, P. (2016) Network Aesthetics
    • A formal and aesthetic reading of the “network imaginary,” the materials and metaphors that constitute our experience of the social world. Unlike Galloway (against whom this book is a sustained attack), we can and routinely do represent the world of the network, and we can learn something meaningful from these representations. Jagoda investigates the affects of networks—compare w/ Hu on infrastructure—and ultimately offers aesthetic critique as a pragmatic middle ground between various extremes of media study.
  • Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social
    • This is Latour’s methodological book—not inventing but rather attempting to describe actor-network theory. ANT sees the world as a flat ontology of actants, each affecting the other in various ways that require close, patient, and immersed observation. Note that “actor-network” is one word, not a hybrid—the actor-network is a “moving target in a vast array of entities swarming toward it.” For the purposes of my list, Latour here gives a sociological perspective on networks that will also suture to the speculative philosophy folks down the list.
  • Nakamura, L. and P. Chow-White, eds. (2012) Race after the Internet
    • An important collection collecting a wide range of work on internet studies and critical race theory. Across the collection, there are four main interventions: 1) “re-envisioning” race as a “form of code”; 2) noting that computing produce rather than solve inequality; 3) more work on algorithmic sorting and the producing of racial categories; and 4) the rise of racial genomics in biopolitical control. In particular, note McPherson’s essay on UNIX and racism.
  • Pasquale, F. (2015) The Black Box Society
    • A book meant for a slightly more general audience; Pasquale is a legal scholar here at UMD, and like Noble, this book explores business practices that produce inequalities and disparities. We have a deleterious information asymmetry between corporations and individuals exacerbated through digital technologies, which in turn undermines citizenship and governance. Pasquale, like Noble, recommends regulation to battle this asymmetry.
  • Scholz, T., ed. (2013) Digital Labor
    • A prominent collection that I didn’t have much time to read on the rise of digital labor. In short, argues that labor online is subject to many of the same classic Marxist and leftist critiques of labor more generally, and that we need to better acknowledge the range of “labors” performed online. Honestly, a fairly dated book, but mostly because its insights have become mundane.
  • Terranova, T. (2004) Network Culture
    • Like Frabetti, Terranova comes from a continental European tradition that prizes a particular way of Doing Theory that makes the texts nigh impossible to read. But! Network Culture is an early critique of network positivism/fetishism, but one that still argues that nonlinear and trans-level network dynamics have the potential to produce a new politics—a micropolitics (Occupy avant la lettre) of resistant against hegemonic forms. Terranova is most famous for her concept of “free labor,” which is precisely what it sounds like: uncompensated labor online without which the online economy couldn’t function.

Technology, Culture, and Communication

  • Bush, V. (1945) “As We May Think”
    • Bush’s essay is important for two reasons: first, the typical reason it’s cited, for its prescience in anticipating networking technologies and the internet, as well as the focus on information storage and retrieval; and second, to indicate the extent to which the early days of digital computing were shaped by and in response to the military-industrial complex and the needs of WWII. Bush’s animating question—how do we use information technology for peace instead of war?—is one that still animates ethical problems today.
  • Edgerton, D. (2006) The Shock of the Old
    • Edgerton is a historian of science; this is his lengthy polemic against progress-oriented narratives of history. Instead, Edgerton asks us to attend to use, which means that history will get written from the ground up instead of top down, and might involve surprising discontinuities in what we thought were “important” developments in the history of technology. Mostly useful for its family resemblances with media archaeology: the valorization of discontinuity, surprise, rupture, and repair; and a focus on nonlinear temporality.
  • Edwards, P. (1996) The Closed World
    • A highly influential work in the history of technology, Edwards’ magisterial book tracks the role of computing in the Cold War and the Cold War’s influence on the development of computing. A bit dated for the extent to which he focuses on “discourse” as a concept, but his framing of technical history as available to sociological and literary historical analysis continues to influence the field today.
  • Gleick, J. (2011) The Information
    • A trade press book on the concept of information. Useful as a preliminary archive for its massive scope although falls too easily into Great Men and invention-focused progress narratives (Edgerton would hate it). Still, Gleick synthesizes a vast array of historical work around the concept of “information” into a readable package, and as such it’s useful to spark one’s memory around topics like Babbage, Watson and Crick, or cuneiform.
  • Hicks, M. (2017) Programmed Inequality
    • Hicks’ book is a popular and influential work of feminist history of technology. It records how the British post-war computing industry deployed sexism to crowd women out of the computing industry—to its eventual decline and detriment. Hicks’ work is a fascinating historical document, a compelling example of writing feminist theory into the history of technology, and a telling reminder that technology and culture are inseparable—as are questions of race, gender, class, and alterity more generally.
  • Innis, H. (1951) The Bias of Communication
    • The impenetrable Innis. The Bias of Communication develops his civilizational approach to media study: communications media profoundly (and often causally) influenced the development of civilization. We can sort history into epochs separated by discontinuities around the emergence and decline of various communications media. The titular “biases” are inclinations in each civilization formed by the interaction of culture and technical media; these inclinations allow us large-scale access to knowledge about a civilization. A key, although underobserved, forerunner of what will later become media archaeology.
  • Liu, A. (2004) The Laws of Cool
    • I found this book tremendously difficult. As far as I can tell, it pursues two parallel projects: the first, the changing nature of labor in the information age; and second, what happens to literary study in the age of knowledge work. Knowledge work alienates knowledge into information, making it an object of labor; it also affectively charges it with “coolness,” which becomes a continual negotiation and renegotiation of aesthetic quality. This is a theoretically dense and overwhelming precursor to what will later become the digital humanities.
  • Manovich, L. (2001) The Language of New Media
    • One of the earliest systematic attempts at a theory and rhetoric of new media. Manovich is trained as a cinema and art historian, and it shows: this is a book that’s fundamentally making an argument from form. New media structures information in various ways that respond to and shape cultural concerns. New media also constitute a revelation in production and representation, even as they draw heavily from prior media forms. Totally dated, but highly influential: Manovich synthesizes the predominant approaches to new media throughout the 1990s focused on screens and softwares.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media
    • Highly irritating but profoundly influential. McLuhan’s project is both definitional and ethical: what are media and how do they extend our being; and how can we use media study to manage the “numbness” that new extensions of man bring? A mystification of Innis and the roots of modern media study birthed from mid-1960s apocalypse; in a way, McLuhan is the media critic we deserve (though perhaps not need) right now.
  • Mumford, L. (1934) Technics and Civilization
    • An understudied and super interesting text. Mumford is revising Marx on technology, arguing that technologies are not mere tools but rather emerge from the complex interplay of social, material, cultural, and economic milieux. Notable for his epoch of technical process, organized around materiality: in particular, his notes on the paleotechnic age anticipate so much contemporary work around fossil fuels (and are taken up in Parikka’s Geology of Media). In his analyses of technologies like clocks and open-pit mines, we find much of media archaeology and infrastructural study avant la lettre.
  • Turner, F. (2006) From Counterculture to Cyberculture
    • A useful mid-century history of the technology industry in California and America generally. Turner demonstrates how the rise of cyberculture in the 1970s and 1980s depended on various countercultural moves in the 1960s that nevertheless, through the curious figure of Steward Brand, hardened into neoliberal and conservative capitalism by the 1990s. Key concept is “network forums,” cybernetic entrepreneurial networks through which Brand brought together various communications both IRL and in proto-online space.
  • Wiener, N. (1948) Cybernetics
    • Inexplicably a best seller, even though it’s mostly equations. Wiener’s Cybernetics is a classic of informational thinking: through information, all activity both mechanical and biological falls under the regime of the proto-data scientist. Wiener’s cybernetics are coming back into play more and more as neurobiology and genetics become available to technical analysis and manipulation; cybernetics also offers an early model for interdisciplinary thinking (although obviously the humanists, except Margaret Mead, were excluded).
  • Zuboff, S. (1988) In the Age of the Smart Machine
    • I didn’t really read it. But what I did read seems straightforward enough: this is a business ethnography of the rise of “computer-mediated work” in the 1980s. Most useful for my work insofar as Zuboff anticipates, through business literature, later interests in logistical media and supply chains in, say, Rossiter.

Naming the Anthropocene

[Final day reminder notes on all these.]

  • Chakrabarty, D. (2009) “The Climate of History”
    • A highly influential essay on the need for species-level thinking in the Anthropocene. Chakrabarty is a historian first and while his four theses
  • Crutzen, P. (2002) “The Geology of Mankind”
  • Grusin, R., ed. (2017) Anthropocene Feminism
  • Latour, B. (2014) “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene*
  • Menely, T. and J. Taylor, eds. (2017) Anthropocene Reading
  • Nowviskie, B. (2015) “Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene”
  • Wark, M. (2015) Molecular Red

Speculation and Strangeness

  • Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway
  • Behar, K., ed. (2016) Object-Oriented Feminism
  • Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter
  • Bryant, L. et al., eds. (2011) The Speculative Turn
  • Coole, D. and S. Frost, eds. (2010) New Materialisms
  • Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the Trouble
  • Harman, G. (2011) The Quadruple Object
  • Kraus, K. (2018) “Finding Fault Lines”
  • Meillassoux, Q. (2010) After Finitude
  • Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia
  • Peak, D. (2014) The Spectacle of the Void
  • Rosner, D. (2018) Critical Fabulations
  • Sheldon, R. (2015) “Form / Matter / Chora”
  • Tsing, A. et al., eds. (2017) Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Ecology and Waste

  • Brunton, F. (2013) Spam
  • Carpenter, J.R. (2017) The Gathering Cloud
  • Cohen, J. and L. Elkins-Tanton (2017) Earth
  • Cubitt, S. (2017) Finite Media
  • Ghosh, A. (2016) The Great Derangement
  • Heise, U. (2016) Imagining Extinction
  • Houston, L. et al., eds. (2017) Continent: The Repair Volume
  • Jackson, S. (2014) “Rethinking Repair”
  • Morton, T. (2007) Ecology without Nature
  • Nixon, R. (2011) Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
  • Parikka, J. (2015) A Geology of Media
  • Purdy, J. (2015) After Nature
  • Russell, A. and L. Vinsel (2016) “Hail the Maintainers”
  • Starosielski, N. and J. Walker, eds. (2016) Sustainable Media