Blog Post

Critical Making in Digital Humanities webinar series.

Many scholars in the digital humanities make things as part of their critical and theoretical activity and — in so doing — refuse the knowing/doing dichotomy present in some academic circles. "Critical making" as defined by practitioners like Matt Ratto and Stephen Hockema, "is an elision of two typically disconnected modes of engagment in the world — "critical thinking," often considered as abstract, explicit, linguistically based, internal and cognitively individualistic; and "making," typically understood as tacit, embodied, external, and community-oriented." In "Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life," Ratto emphasizes "critique and expresison rather than technological sophistication and function" and argues that the "shared acts of making" and "practice-based engagement" rather than the evocative object" are the focus. Garnet Hertz sees critical making as "hands-on productive work" that can "supplement and extend critical reflection on technology and society." Hertz, Ratto, and Hockema articulate their theories of critical making out of the DIY ("do-it-yourself") maker movement, which encourages a return to a hands-on approach to technology that is often connected to Arduino microprocessors, XBox Kinect sensors, and 3D-printing. 


"Critical Making in Digital Humanities" started as an archival project headed by Roger Whitson and Dene Grigar, focused on documenting the methodologies and funding of such critical making projects. Our first round of projects included work by Ratto (U of Toronto), Hugh Crawford (Georgia Tech), Joshua Tanenbaum and Karen Tanebaum (UC Irvine), Leonardo Flores (UPR, Mayaguez), Andrew Quitmeyer (Georgia Tech), Brett Oppengard (U Hawaii, Manoa), and the students of Grigar's Creative Media and Digital Culture program. 

The second phase of the project is sponsored by a grant from Washington State University's College of Arts and Sciences and features practitioners from around North America focusing on different aspects of the intersection between critical theory, speculative design, digital humanities, and media archaeology. 

WHERE: Online, via WSU Blackboard Connection. Instructions will be emailed to participants. 
WHEN: 10:00-11:30am PST/1:00-2:30pm EST. See individual presentations for dates. 
LANGUAGE: English
COST: Free, but you need to sign up. 

12 March 2015
"DUST: Critical Making and Alternate Reality Games (ARG)." 
Kari Kraus, U of Maryland

The alternate reality game DUST, produced by Kraus and funded by the NSF, teaches students (13-15 years old) about STEM as well as long-term preservation and thinking. DUST focuses on the telling of biographical stories about inanimate objects, and how those objects change over time. How can the humanities inspire students to think about the future, and what is the role of critical thinking in the act of speculation?

17 March 2015
"Media Archaeology as Practice-Based Research"
Lori Emerson, U of Colorado, Boulder

The Media Archaeology Lab is an extension of Emerson's personal research and teaching. In this presentation, she will illustrate the connection between media poetics and media archaeology, incorporating a hands-on workshop using typewriters and other so-called 'dead media.' As Bruce Sterling argues, dead media are "media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, that didn't make it." How can dead media lead to poetic expression and change current media design? 

23 March 2015
"Critical Making: Where are the Politics?" 
Jentery Sayers, U of Victoria

Popular maker cultures have faced significant criticism for being rather apolitical, or for demonstrating a privileged hobbyism that rarely, if ever, addresses questions of who, for whom, and under what conditions technologies are usually made. Echoing this criticism, this talk surveys several projects that blend making things with social justice issues. It then outlines how cultural criticism and maker cultures can be meaningfully combined. 

26 March 2015
"Critical Making: Rethinking the Maker Movement
Garnet Hertz, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

In the same way we have stopped taking for granted that "openness" is an intrinsically positive quality, an increasing number of voices are requesting a more critical evaluation of the maker movement — which can be described as an interest in 3D printing, open source hardware, microcontrollers like the Arduino, and hackerspaces. This talk explores how concepts like critical technical practice, electronic art, tactical media and values in design can be used to address the larger issue of why it is important to design and make technical objects in the first place.

7 April 2015
"Critical Making Between Page and Screen" 
Amaranth Borsuk, U of Washington-Bothell

What is the material relationship between page and screen, the two reading surfaces we move back and forth between on a daily, even hourly basis? The recursive cycle of critical making provides opportunities for thinking through that shifting relationship, without forcing us to privilege one over the other or set them up teleologically. The process of collaborating with Brad Bouse on Between Page and Screen, a book of augmented-reality poems, has helped me think through the relationship of these two spaces by examining points of intersection between them. To facilitate conversations around materiality, the book, digital media, reading and writing in the 21st century, I will present Between Page and Screen and offer an accessible web-based classroom tool for experimenting with AR text. 

9 April 2015
"The Commitments of Critical Making: Rocks, Papers, Screens." 
Matt Ratto, U of Toronto

I explore some of the commitments associated with my own performance of critical making, using Tim Ingold's rock experience from his article "Materials Against Materiality" as a phenomenological counterpart. Participants in the webinar will be expected to carry out some material engagements and to gather a medium-size rock (about the size of an egg), a disposable Tupperware container, and some water. Topics to be addressed include my personal origins of critical making, related practices (critical technical practice, adversarial design, speculative computing), speaking back to theory, ontologies of making, and testing ideas from theorists like Bruno Latour's assembly and Karen Barad's cut. 

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