Archaeology of Media Infrastructures
Spring 2021 DOM-E5150
Mondays 13.15 – 15.00
Dr. Samir Bhowmik
Media Lab / Department of Media
Aalto University School of Arts Design and Architecture
Course Summary: The course provides a framework of archaeological exploration of media infrastructures. It allows students to think beyond a single media device and design for broader media ecologies. Tracing the emergence of contemporary media infrastructures from early instances in human and media history, it examines both hard infrastructure (architecture, mechanical and computing systems) and soft infrastructure (software, APIs and operating systems). What are the breaks, the discontinuities and ruptures in media-infrastructural history? What has been remediated, in what form, in what characteristics? The course prepares students for the follow-up course: ‘Media and the Environment’ in Fall 2021.
Study Material: Recommended reading list. Readings as PDFs will be posted in the study materials folder in myCourses.aalto.fi and on the course blog: https://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/
Assessment Methods and Criteria: Classes are spread between January and March, Spring 2021. 80% attendance and completed assignments are required to pass the course. Co-authored short paper based on selected themes as final assignment, and/or prototypes that demonstrate aspects of the subject.
Grading Weightage: In-class Discussion: 30% / Documentation (blog): 40% / Final Project / Article: 30% *Students who stay above 50% will Pass.
Documentation: Course blog: https://blogs.aalto.fi/mediainfrastructures/ Login will be provided.
– Every student will contribute to the blog. You are expected to post every week before start of class a 1 page text (300 words). This will form the basis of your own discussion in class.
– Read the assigned literature for each class. These can be found from the class blog, and as well from myCourses.aalto.fi. Annotate and write a 1 page text. This document may have images / video / links etc. The text can be your reflections, examples, projects, ideas etc. as related to the topic and literature of the week. This may also contain the building blocks of your own final article whether it may be a piece of writing, visualization or project. Besides the required documentation, you are free to post anything else related to the subject, that could be useful to you or others on the class blog.
IMPORTANT: Writing & Posting to the Class blog and submission of Final Paper is compulsory!
Schedule of Classes
Week 1 – January 11: Course Overview + What are Media Infrastructures?
We will discuss the various aspects of the course including themes, topics, class debates and analyses and methods of documentation.
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, “Introduction,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 1-27.
CLASS DEBATE : Medium (single device) vs Infrastructural Approaches
- Susan Leigh Star, The Ethnography of Infrastructure, American Behavioral Scientist 43 (3), 1999: 377-391.
- Brian Larkin, “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure,” Annual Review of Anthropology 42 (2013): 327-343.
Week 2 – January 18: Deep Time of Media / Infrastructure
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Shannon Mattern, “Deep Time of Media Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015): 95-102.
CLASS DEBATE: Methods for Digging into Infrastructure
- Friedrich Kittler, The History of Communication Media, in C-Theory, 1996: https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ctheory/article/view/14325/5101
- Siegfried Zielinski, “Introduction: The Idea of a Deep Time of Media,” in Deep Time Of The Media: Toward An Archaeology Of Hearing And Seeing By Technical Means (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006): 1-11.
- Shannon Mattern, Introduction: Ether/Ore, Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).
- Jean-François Blanchette, “A Material History of Bits,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, no. 6 (June 2011): 1042–1057.
Week 3 – January 25: Digital Media and Cloud Infrastructure
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau, “Where the Internet Lives”: Data Centers as Cloud Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 71-93.
CLASS DEBATE: Why the Infrastructure of the Internet remains invisible and how can this be remedied?
- Sean Cubitt, Robert Hassan and Ingrid Volkmer, “Does Cloud Computing Have a Silver Lining?” Media Culture Society 33 (2011): 149-158
- Paul Dourish, Protocols, Packets, and Proximity: The Materiality of Internet Routing, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 183-204.
- Steven Levy, Where Servers Meet Saunas, WIRED, 2012: https://www.wired.com/2012/10/google-finland-data-center-2/
Week 4 – February 1: Undersea Cables as Media Infrastructure
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Nicole Starosielski, “Fixed Flow: Undersea Cables as Media Infrastructure,” in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 53-70.
CLASS DEBATE: Undersea Cables as Media Infrastructure
- Jason Farman, “Invisible and Instantaneous: Geographies of Media Infrastructure from Pneumatic Tubes to Fiber Optics,” Media Theory, May 18, 2018.
- Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network, Duke University Press, 2015.
Week 5 – February 8: Labor, Repair, Maintenance of Media Infrastructures
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Jussi Parikka, Dust and Exhaustion: The Labor of Media Materialism: https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/ctheory/article/view/14790/5665
CLASS DEBATE: People / Labor as Media Infrastructure
- Shannon Mattern, Maintenance and Care, Places Journal, November 2018. https://placesjournal.org/article/maintenance-and-care/
- Dennis Tennen, Right to Repair is Right to Interpret, http://denten.plaintext.in/think.stack/repair
- Stephen Graham and Nigel Thrift, “Out of Order: Understanding Maintenance and Repair,” Theory, Culture & Society 24 (May 2007): 1-25.
Week 6 – February 15: Infrastructural Inequality, Differences and Disruption
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Lisa Parks, Water, Energy, Access: Materializing the Internet in Rural Zambia, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, ed. Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski (Urbana, Chicago And Springfield: University Of Illinois Press, 2015), 115-136.
CLASS DEBATE: Approaches to global media inequality.
- Mark Warschauer, Economy, Society, and Technology: Analyzing the Shifting Terrains, in Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide (MIT Press, 2003), 11-30.
- Pippa Norris, Digital Divide: Civic engagement, information poverty, and the Internet worldwide (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Week 7 – March 1: Critical Infrastructures
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Jamie Allen, Critical Infrastructure, APRJA 2014: http://www.aprja.net/critical-infrastructure/
CLASS DEBATE: What approaches to study Media Infrastructure?
- Matthew Kirschenbaum, Introduction: Awareness of the Mechanism, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008): Jussi Parikka, Geology of Media (University of Minnesota Press, 2015): 1-24.
- Wolfgang Ernst, Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media, in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications (University of California Press, 2011): 239-255.
- Shannon Mattern, Deep Mapping the Media City (University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
- Jussi Parikka, “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics,” Theory, Culture & Society 28 (2011): 52–74
Week 8 – March 8: Artificial Intelligence and Media Infrastructures
LECTURE followed by DISCUSSION IN-CLASS: Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler, Anatomy of an AI System (2018), https://anatomyof.ai
CLASS DEBATE: What is the Future of AI Infrastructure / AI assistants
- Jussi Parikka, Introduction: The Materiality of Media and Waste, Medianatures: The Materiality of Information Technology and Electronic Waste (Open Humanities Press, 2011): http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org/books/Electronic_waste/Introduction
- Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, Greening the Media (Oxford And New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 22-41
- James Glanz, “Online Cloud Services Rely On Coal Or Nuclear Power.” New York Times, April 17, 2012: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/business/energy-environment/cloud-services-rely-on-coal-or-nuclear-power-greenpeace-says.html
—————Break————-NO CLASS on March 15. ———-Break————
Week 9 – March 22: Final Student Article Presentations (Text + Images) of individual topics and themes.
Week 10 – March 29: Final Submissions
Sent to PRINTING to AALTO PRINT LAB. Final Publication will be presented and exhibited on DEMO DAY SPRING 2021.