Requirements + Assignments

ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION

Our class is a mix of seminar and workshop, and its success depends on your regular attendance and reliable participation. We need each other to show up on time, having completed the readings, and prepared to engage constructively and respectfully with one another. See below, under “Policies and Procedures,” for more on our commitment to inclusion and respect.

[I apologize for the pedantry of the following. Yet recent semesters’ experience has demonstrated that such specificity is unfortunately necessary.]

If you must be absent, please notify me in advance. One absence will not affect your grade. Two absences will result in a “one step” reduction in your final grade (i.e., from an A to an A-). Three absences will result in a “two-step” reduction. Four absences will result in failure of the course; to avoid the ‘F’ on your transcript, I’ll instead advise you to withdraw from the class. Please note that absences include those days you might miss at the beginning of the semester because of late registration. 

I am required by The New School to take attendance at the start of class. Students who arrive more than 15 minutes late will be marked absent. Your timely arrival is appreciated. 

While I am happy to work with you to tailor the class’s content and assignments to your interests, and to help you develop strategies for project planning and time management – and while I aim to be sympathetic to the challenges students face both inside and outside the classroom – I ask that you please also respect my time and acknowledge my heavy load of responsibilities. I cannot allow expectations for accommodation to compromise my own health.

Attendance and participation are worth 20% of your final grade.

ARTIFACT ANALYSIS

This exercise, borrowing from anthropologist Joe Dumit’s Haraway-inspired “Implosion Project,” invites you to analyze an artifact that embodies a data logic, is entangled within a computational system, indexes a metric, or otherwise manifests some of the key concerns of our class. Why start small, at the scale of an artifact? Because, as Donna Haraway notes, “Any interesting being in technoscience, like a textbook, molecule, equation, mouse, pipette, bomb, fungus, technician, agitator, or scientist can — and often should — be teased open to show the sticky economic, technical, political, organic, historical, mythic, and textual threads that make up its tissues” — that have imploded into that artifact (Modest_Witness…  (1997): 68). We might add labor, epistemological, protocological and other “threads” to her metaphorical ball of yarn. From that small, delimited, specific object, we can then unravel — or explode — the various infrastructures and landscapes in which it’s embedded, and the political economies and epistemologies it embodies.

  1. Sign up for the date on which you’ll both submit your analysis to Shannon and share it with the class. 
  2. Choose a specific artifact: the UPC code on your shampoo bottle, the shipping label on your Amazon Prime box, a grain from an imported bag of rice, a rechargeable battery containing Cobalt mined in Congo, a screenshot of your Google user data, whatever. Your chosen artifact should have some pertinence to both the concepts we’re discussing in class that week and your own research and creative interests — perhaps even (and ideally) the topic you plan to explore in your final project. 
  3. Now, ask yourself some questions about that artifact: 
    1. Who made it, and how was it made? What are its component parts, and where did they come from? Are we supposed to understand the process by which your artifact came into being? If not, why not? Do its material components present any hazards? Under what labor conditions was your artifact brought into being, and then brought to you? 
    2. How is your artifact packaged? What “paratexts” — labels, guides, warnings, memes — construct its identity? Who created those texts, and why? 
    3. How does your artifact work? What functions does it serve, and for whom is its functioning? What information technologies and data sources are involved? What are your artifact’s operative logics? Are we supposed to understand how your artifact works? If not, why not? 
    4. What “ways of knowing” does your artifact embody? What kinds of knowledge are required to operate it? Is it “self-aware” in any way? Does it generate knowledge for its various user-types? Does it process data? If so, how? Does it serve a function in enabling some other gadget to process data? How?
    5. What local, national, and international bodies claim jurisdiction over your artifact? What bodies sanction and standardize it and determine how it can be used? What are its political applications? 
    6. How is your artifact situated within various sites and systems? What role does it play in each? Are those roles complementary or contradictory? 
    7. How are the operative logics or material forms of your object made manifest in the architectures and landscapes that host it? 

You needn’t answer all of these questions. You’re also welcome to address questions that aren’t on this list! Your primary goal is to think about how you can scale up, or scale out, your analysis so that your artifact can help us better understand something about data, infrastructures, and landscapes. Please integrate some of the week’s assigned readings, too. 

  1. Now, please write up your analysis and share it with Shannon, in editable form (i.e., no pdfs), via Google Drive. Your text should be no longer than 900 words, including all citations and captions. You’re encouraged to embed photos, diagrams, maps, videos, and other media, and your captions for those media should include links to their original sources. Submissions are due by 5pm on the day you’ve chosen to present
  2. Please be prepared to share your work in a brief, informal five-minute presentation (think of it as a “lightning talk”) in class! Why so short? Because we’ll likely have four or five presenters each day — and because we’re using these presentations primarily to “seed” the discussion and activity that will occupy the remainder of our time together. The topics you broach and questions you raise in your five minutes will likely echo throughout the class! And your classmates will be able to refer to our Encyclopedia, and review your work more closely, on their own time.  
  3. Shannon will review your work within two days. You’ll have until the following Tuesday — one week after your presentation — to revise and address all editorial questions. Emily will then post your work in the Encyclopedia of Networked Artifacts we’ll maintain on our class website. 

Your post and presentation are collectively worth 20% of your final grade. 

STUDENT-LED LESSON

Given the rapid spread of datafication, and the proliferation of research in this area, there are countless critical concepts and case studies that would pertain to our course (I sketched out a few supplemental thematic units below, in the Appendix). Rather than trying to predict which would be of most interest and relevance to you, I figured we’d allow the class to evolve in response to your individual and collective curiosities. And given that our group represents a wide array of disciplinary backgrounds and experiences, I also figured we should take advantage of that diversity by giving each of you an opportunity to shape our pedagogical environment.

We’ll organize you into loose thematic clusters (e.g., “self-tracking,” “optimized extraction,” “actuarial landscapes,” whatever) based on your final project plans. This is kind-of how conference panels and edited collections work: you take several folks’ individual, and often idiosyncratic, interests; and you try to build a coherent framework around — and draw connections between — their individual contributions, putting them into dialogue with one another, hoping that the ensemble becomes something more than the sum of its parts. Building such connections is a form of intellectual generosity and creativity. 

Your group will lead the class, with my assistance, on one day in April. Each of you will be responsible for the following:

  • Choosing a reading / listening / screening assignment — anything that takes a half-hour or less — for your colleagues to complete before class; this could entail a ~15-page article, a ~30-minute podcast, excerpts of an online video, media in other formats, or some combination of the above. 
  • Offering an individual, ten-minute presentation in which you share your own research interests with the class, while connecting it to the week’s theme;
  • Working with your group to (1) “design” some form of intellectual and creative “scaffolding” that ties your individual presentations together and (2) determine how you’d like to use the remaining class time — e.g., open discussion, small-group activities, a design exercise, etc. 

I created a little slide show that offers more context and direction.

I am happy to contribute both to the lesson and its preparation. In fact, I ask that you meet with me (ideally as a group!) at least a week prior to your assigned presentation date. You must have finalized your reading assignments one week prior to your date so we can distribute them to your colleagues; please send me a comprehensive list with links to / copies of all materials, so I can add it to our syllabus and website. 

Your presentation is worth 15% of your final grade. 

PROJECT PROPOSAL + PRESENTATION

By mid-semester you should choose a topic that you’d like to explore through your final project. You might choose to write a paper using secondary research, conduct a mini-ethnography, or create a research-based design project. I’ll ask you to share a proposal in editable form, via Google Drive (in editable form), by 5pm on Friday, March 6, so I have sufficient time to read and respond — and you’ll have a little time to process my feedback — before our in-class workshop on the 10th.

Your 900- to 1200-word proposal should include the following: 

  • A description of your proposed research topic and the critical issues or larger debates that are at stake;
  • A brief discussion of your topic’s significance (to your discipline, to a broader public, to you), timeliness, relevance, etc.;
  • If applicable, a description of your ethnographic site, why it’s appropriate for your investigation, how you plan to gain access, and what ethical or safety issues you might encounter; 
  • A description of your desired mode of publication or dissemination: do you plan to write a research paper, create an infrastructural field guide or atlas, propose a (hypothetical) online exhibition, curate a selection of designed fieldnotes, make a documentary film, create a work in hybrid form, etc.?
  • A discussion of your target audience(s): who would you like to reach with this work, and how are your proposed modes of publication appropriate for these groups? 
  • A tentative bibliography of at least 10 sources, including at least five scholarly publications

Some past students have noted that this proposal is a bit longer than they’re accustomed to writing. Exactly! I’m hoping you’ll use this opportunity to begin gathering your thoughts, finding connections within the existing literature and among precedent projects, and drafting some text that might actually find its way into your final submission!

Then, in class on Tuesday, March 10, you’ll each take no more than three minutes to (informally) share your plans (no need for slides!). Your proposal and presentation are together worth 15% of your final grade. 

FINAL PROJECT + SHARE-OUT

Your final project could take the form of: 

  • a (4000- to 6000-word) written research paper, 
  • an illustrated ethnographic report of similar length, or 
  • a research-based creative project with a 600- to 900-word support paper in which you address the critical, methodological, and design/aesthetic issues you aimed to explore through your work, explain how your chosen format aided in that exploration, and provide a bibliography listing the critical resources that informed the project. 

Sharing your work in our final session is worth 5% of your final grade.

Projects are due (via Google Drive or, if that doesn’t work, via email*) by end-of-day on Thursday, May 7, and are worth 25% of your final grade. (*To facilitate my review, I ask that you please try to consolidate all parts into a single file, folder, link, email, etc.!)