Call for Papers – Rhetoric and Computation

If you’re interested in algorithmic culture, etc., then you might want to consider submitting to this special issue of Computational Culture—an excellent, peer-reviewed open access journal.


Call for Papers: Special Issue of Computational Culture on Rhetoric and Computation

Rhetoric has historically been a discipline concerned with the ways that spoken and written language shape human activity. Similarly, emerging work in digital media studies (in areas such as software studies, critical code studies, and platform studies) seeks to describe the ways that computation shapes contemporary life. This special issue of Computational Culture on “Rhetoric and Computation” merges these two modes of inquiry to explore how together they can help us to understand ways that our communication and computational activities are now constituted by both human and computer languages.

Coupling the analysis of rhetoric with computation provokes a number of questions: How is the rhetorical force of computational objects different from or similar to that of language, sound, or image? What new modes of communication open up when we view computation as an expressive medium? How does computation shape or constrain rhetorical action? What new tropes, figures, and strategies emerge in computational environments? How do programmers deploy rhetoric at the level of code and interface? These questions are not exhaustive, and we welcome papers or computational projects that pursue these questions and others like them.
Topics or projects might include:

  • Computational artifacts (such as video games or art installations) designed to make procedural arguments and model systems or phenomena
  • Analysis of multiple choice tests processed by computers as rhetorical artifacts, aimed at both human (citizens, students) and nonhuman (machine) audiences.
  • How computational strategies such as surveillance supercede more traditional spheres of rhetorical deliberation such as written law
  • The ways in which computational data interpellate individuals and define citizenship
  • Strategies of the “quantified self” as a way of shaping human behaviour
  • Rhetorical analysis of computational systems used by governmental, educational, and political entities
  • How computational systems are described for different audiences from groups of expert programmers to the general public
  • The use of software algorithms to simulate and evaluate various activities, such as writing and conversation
  • Rhetorical strategies deployed by communities of programmers and designers in marginal comments, online forums or physical workplaces
  • Analysis of computational machines as rhetors (i.e., understanding the actions of such machines in terms of the tropes, figures, and strategies they deploy)

300 word abstracts are due November 25, 2013. Abstracts will be reviewed by the Computational Culture Editorial Board and the special issue editors. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by January 31, 2014 and invited to submit full manuscripts by April 1, 2014. These manuscripts are subject to outside peer review according to Computational Culture’s policies. The issue will be published Fall 2014.

Please send abstracts and inquiries to Jim Brown and Annette Vee.
James J. Brown, Jr., Assistant Professor
Department of English and Program in Digital Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annette Vee, Assistant Professor
Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

Computational Culture is an online open-access peer-reviewed journal of inter-disciplinary enquiry into the nature of cultural computational objects, practices, processes and structures. http://www.computationalculture.net/

Share

Out from Under the Embargo

I’m delighted to report that my essay, “Performing Scholarly Communication,” is once again freely available on the open web.  The piece appeared in the January 2012 issue of the journal Text and Performance Quarterly but hasn’t much seen the light of day since then, subject to the publisher’s 18-month post-publication embargo.  You can now read and respond to the complete piece on my other website, The Differences & Repetitions Wiki, where I host a variety of open source writing projects.

By the way, if you’re interested in scholarly communication, the history of cultural studies, or both, then you might want to check out another piece appearing on D&RW: “Working Papers in Cultural Studies, or, the Virtues of Gray Literature,” which I coauthored with Mark Hayward.  It’s set to appear in the next issue of the journal New Formations.  A version of the piece has existed on D&RW since March 2012, and in fact you can trace its development all the way through to today, when I posted the nicely-formatted, final version that Mark and I submitted for typesetting.  Always, comments are welcome and appreciated.  If you’d rather cut right to the chase, then you can download the uncorrected page proofs for the “WPCS” piece by clicking here.

Take some time to poke around D&RW, by the way.   There are a bunch of other papers and projects  there, some, but not all, having to do with the history and politics of scholarly communication.

Lastly, a note of thanks to all of you who tweeted, Facebooked, or otherwise spread the word about the final days of the free Late Age of Print download.  I truly appreciate all of your support.

Share

If You Liked the Cover of The Late Age of Print…

…then you’re bound to like Art Made From Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, compiled by Laura Heyenga and just out from Chronicle Books. The cover features one of Cara Barer’s striking book photographs—and if it looks somewhat familiar, it should. Another of her amazing images appears on the cover of Late Age.

9781452117102_p0_v1_s260x420

And, in other important news, don’t forget—ONLY TWO MORE DAYS REMAIN to download an e-edition of The Late Age of Print for a tweet or Facebook post. Don’t miss it! The freebie will be gone as of August 1, 2013.

Share

Did You Know…

…that The Late Age of Print makes an excellent course text?  With chapters on Harry Potter, Amazon.com, e-books, Oprah’s Book Club, and more, it’s chock full of relatable material for college undergraduates.  Graduate students will appreciate the subject matter, too, along with the rich theoretical and historical context the book provides.  If you teach courses on any of the following topics, then you might want to consider adopting Late Age:

  • Media History
  • Literary History
  • History of Technology
  • Communication History
  • Book History
  • History of Reading
  • History of Literacy
  • History of Print
  • New Media
  • Cultural Studies
  • Popular Culture
  • Everyday Life
  • Digital Humanities

If you teach a class using The Late Age of Print that’s not listed here, I’d love to hear from you!  I’ll be sure to add it to the roster.

And, in other important news, don’t forget that ONLY SIX DAYS REMAIN to <a title="Download The Late Age of Print" href="http://www additional resources.thelateageofprint.org/download”>download the e-edition of Late Age for the small “price” of a tweet or Facebook Post.  Yeah, for real.  Do it before time runs out!

Share

Countdown to the End

Fair warning: there’s just ONE WEEK LEFT to download the e-edition of The Late Age of Print.  It will only cost you a tweet or a Facebook post.  Beginning August 1st, 2013, if you want the book, then you’ll have to buy it—in other words, for money!

This link will take you to the download page.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy.  And while you’re at it, why not put a little goodwill back into the world.  Help support The Late Age of Print and my wonderful publisher Columbia University Press by liking the book’s Facebook Page, posting a review, assigning it in your classes, or, heck, even choosing to buy a physical copy.  My kid needs to eat, you know.

Share

NYT on Amazon’s Prices

Just a quick post to direct your attention to an article by David Streitfeld, published on Friday, July 5th in the physical edition of the New York Times (and published online a day earlier).  It concerns Amazon.com’s prices, specifically with respect to independent and university press books.

I’m calling attention to the piece for several reasons.  First, it raises important questions about Amazon’s role as a cultural intermediary in the wake of Borders’ demise,  Barnes & Noble’s slide, and the ongoing shakeout of independent bookstores.  Second, I happen to be quoted in the story.  Here’s what I had to say, echoing some of my points in Chapters 2 and 3 of Late Age, in addition to the Preface to the paperback edition:

“Amazon is doing something vitally important for book culture by making books readily available in places they might not otherwise exist,” said Ted Striphas, an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “But culture is best when it is robust and decentralized, not when there is a single authority that controls the bulk of every transaction.”

When Mr. Striphas’s book, “The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control,” first appeared in paperback in 2011, Amazon sold it for $17.50, the author said. Now it is $19.

“There’s not much competition to sell my book,” Mr. Striphas said. “The conspiracy theorist would say Amazon understands this.”

Needless to say, the rest of the piece is worth the read, too .  My thanks to David for giving me the opportunity to speak to this important issue.

Share

Free Download and Other News

Sorry, dear readers, for the precipitous falloff in posting.  I was on a roll during the first two or three years of The Late Age of Print blog, but since then I’ve been overwhelmed by administrative duties, my ongoing research on the topic of algorithmic culture (as well as some other side projects), and helping to raise a preschooler.  Blogging has become something of a luxury of late.  Not to worry, though: I’m not hanging up my gloves, though obviously I’m backing off a bit.

I’m writing, first of all, to alert you to my latest interview, appearing on Figure/Ground.  If you’re not familiar with F/G, it’s a fantastic “open source, student-led, para-academic collaboration.”  There you’ll find an outstanding series of interviews with leading figures in media/technology studies—people like Ian Bogost, Jodi Dean, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Gary Genosko, Katherine Hayles, Henry Jenkins, Douglas Kellner, Robert McChesney, Eric McLuhan, John Durham Peters, Douglas Rushkoff, Peter Zhang, and a host of others.  Needless to say, I’m honored to join such distinguished company.  I thank Justin Dowdall for taking the time to prepare such challenging questions.

I’m also writing to give you some fair warning.  Columbia University Press, my publisher, and I have been in talks for a few months about the freely downloadable, Creative Commons-licensed PDF of The Late Age of Print.  As you may know, it’s been accessible via this blog for more than four years now.  I don’t have an accurate count of the number of times it’s been downloaded, though I can assure you the number would be reasonably impressive.  But it’s been four years, and print sales have slowed somewhat.  Back in December I implemented a “pay with a Tweet” program, requiring anyone who wanted to download the book without paying also to spread the word about the book on Twitter or Facebook.   That’s helped to jumpstart sales a bit, but in any case my editor at Columbia and I agreed that it’s finally time to pull the plug on the free download.  I hope you’ll understand.

I plan on taking the free PDF down at the end of July.  If you still want the book for the cost of a tweet or a Facebook post, this is your last chance (of course, I’d welcome reviews on Amazon.com or additional likes on the book’s Facebook page, too).  After that…well, you know the drill.

 

Share

Friends of Art Bookshop at Indiana University

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On Tuesday, April 16, 2013, I received an email from Laurel Cornell, President of the Indiana University Friends of Art, stating that the IU Friends of Art Bookshop “must close because its existence violates the contract which Indiana University has with Barnes & Noble for the sale of books.”  Cornell indicated that Friends of Art generates “a significant portion of its income” from the Bookshop.  That income, in turn, goes to support “the programs of the Indiana University School of Fine Arts and the IU Art Museum by providing over $30,000 every year in scholarships and grants,” according to the FOA webpage.

Today my local newspaper, the Bloomington Herald-Times, is reporting that the closure of the FOA Bookstore will not happen after all, and that the whole controversy was the result of a misunderstanding: “Leaders of the Friends of Art organization came away from a recent meeting believing the store violates an existing contract between IU and Barnes & Noble. That contract has Barnes & Noble College Booksellers LLC paying IU for the right to be the university’s only textbook supplier.  But an IU spokesman said Tuesday that the contract does not prohibit the art bookstore’s existence. And a Barnes & Noble representative said the company has no knowledge of the Friends of Art issue.”

The Indiana Daily Student offers a somewhat different account: “Mark Land, associate vice president of University Communications, said the situation is still being worked out.  ‘We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen to the bookstore,’ Land said. ‘As of right now, no decision has been made on the fate of the store. Regardless of what ultimately happens, it won’t be a result of our contract agreement with Barnes & Noble.'”

The broader issue I addressed in my original post—the privatization of public universities—remains.  But for now, I am more hopeful today that the IU Friends of Art Bookstore will remain in operation on the Indiana University Campus.

I thank all of my readers for your support and interest in the issue.  I have taken down my original post and will provide additional updates should more details become available.  If you’d like to follow up-to-the-minute developments on your own, there’s also a “Save the Friends of Art Bookshop” Facebook group.

Share

East Coast Code

There’s lots to like about Lawrence Lessig’s book, Code 2.0—particularly, I find, the distinction he draws between “East Coast Code” (i.e., the law) and “West Coast Code” (i.e., computer hardware and software). He sees both as modes of bringing order to complex systems, albeit through different means. Lessig is also interested in the ways in which West Coast Code has come to be used in ways that strongly resemble, and sometimes even supersede, its East Coast counterpart, as in the case of digital rights management technology. “Code is law,” as he so aptly puts it.

I’ve been playing with something like Lessig’s East Coast-West Coast Code distinction in my ongoing research on algorithmic culture. As I’ve said many times now, “algorithmic culture” refers to the use of computational processes to sort, classify, and hierarchize people, places, objects, and ideas, as well as to the habits of thought, conduct, and expression that flow from those processes. Essentially we’re talking about the management of a complex system—culture—by way of server farms and procedural decision-making software. Think Google or Facebook; this is West Coast Code at its finest.

Perhaps better than anyone, Fred Turner has chronicled the conditions out of which West Coast Code emerged. In From Counterculture to Cyberculture, he shows how, in the 1960s, Stewart Brand and his circle of countercultural compadres humanized computers, which were then widely perceived to be instruments of the military-industrial complex. Through the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog, Brand and company suggested that computers were, like shovels, axes, and hoes, tools with which to craft civilization—or rather to craft new-styled, autonomous civilizations that would no longer depend on the state (i.e., East Coast Code) to manage human affairs.

The deeper I delve into my own research, the more I discover just how complicated—and indeed, how East Coast—is the story of algorithmic culture. I don’t mean to diminish the significance of the work that’s been done about the West Coast, by any means. But just as people had to perform creative work to make computers seem personal, even human, so, too, did people need to perform similar work on the word culture to make it make sense within the realm of computation. And this happened mostly back East, in Cambridge, MA.

“Of course,” you’re probably thinking, “at MIT.” It turns out that MIT wasn’t the primary hub of this semantic and conceptual work, although it would be foolish to deny the influence of famed cybernetician Norbert Wiener here. Where the work took place was at that other rinky-dink school in Cambridge, MA: Harvard. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

A good portion of my research now is focused on Harvard’s Department of Social Relations, an experimental unit combining Sociology, Psychology, and Cultural Anthropology. It had a relatively short existence, lasting only from 1946-1970, but in that time it graduated people who went on to become the titans of postwar social theory. Clifford Geertz, Stanley Milgram, and Harold Garfinkel are among the most notable PhDs, although myriad other important figures passed through the program as well. One of the more intriguing people I turned up was Dick Price, who went on to found the Esalen Institute (back to the West Coast) after becoming disillusioned by the Clinical Psychology track in SocRel and later suffering a psychotic episode. Dr. Timothy Leary also taught there, from 1961-1963, though he was eventually fired because of his controversial research on the psychological effects of LSD.

I’ve just completed some work focusing on Clifford Geertz and the relationship he shared with Talcott Parsons, his dissertation director and chair of SocRel from 1946-1956. It’s here more than anywhere that I’m discovering how the word culture got inflected by the semantics of computation. Though Geertz would later move away from the strongly cybernetic conceptualization of culture he’d inherited from Parsons, it nonetheless underpins arguably his most important work, especially the material he published in the 1960s and early 70s. This includes his famous “Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” which is included in the volume The Interpretation of Cultures.

My next stop is Stanley Milgram, where I’ll be looking first at his work on crowd behavior and later at his material on the “small world” phenomenon. The former complicates the conclusions of his famous “obedience to authority” experiments in fascinating ways, and, I’d argue, sets the stage for the notion of “crowd wisdom” so prevalent today. Apropos of the latter, I’m intrigued by how Milgram helped to shrink the social on down to size, as it were, just as worries about the scope and anonymizing power of mass society reached a fever pitch. He did for society essentially what Geertz and Parsons did for culture, I believe, particularly in helping to establish conceptual conditions necessary for the algorithmic management of social relations. Oh—and did I mention that Milgram’s Obedience book, published in 1974, is also laden with cybernetic theory?

To be clear, the point of all this East Coast-West Coast business isn’t to create some silly rivalry—among scholars of computation, or among their favorite historical subjects. (Heaven knows, it would never be Biggie and Tupac!) The point, rather, is to draw attention to the semantic and social-theoretical conditions underpinning a host of computational activities that are prevalent today—conditions whose genesis occurred significantly back East. The story of algorithmic culture isn’t only about hippies, hackers, and Silicon Valley. It’s equally a story about squares who taught and studied at maybe the most elite institution of higher education on America’s East Coast.

Share

Late Age of Print – the Podcast

Welcome back and happy new year!  Okay—so 2013 is more than three weeks old at this point.  What can I say?  The semester started and I needed to hit the ground running.  In any case I’m pleased to be back and glad that you are, too.

My first post of the year is actually something of an old one, or at least it’s about new material that was produced about eighteen months ago.  Back in the summer of 2011 I keynoted the Association for Cultural Studies Summer Institute in Ghent, Belgium.  It was a blast—and not only because I got to talk about algorithmic culture and interact with a host of bright faculty and students.  I also recorded a podcast there with Janneke Adema, a Ph.D. student at Coventry University, UK whose work on the future of scholarly publishing is excellent and whose blog, Open Reflections, I recommend highly.

Janneke and I sat down in Ghent for the better part of an hour for a fairly wide-ranging conversation, much of it having to do with The Late Age of Print and my experiments in digital publishing.  It was real treat to revisit Late Age after a couple of years and to discuss some of the choices I made while I was writing it.  I’ve long thought the book was a tad quirky in its approach, and so the podcast gave me a wonderful opportunity to provide some missing explanation and backstory.  It was also great to have a chance to foreground some of the experimental digital publishing tools I’ve created, as I almost never put this aspect of my work on the same level as my written scholarship (though this is changing).

The resulting podcast, “The Late Age of Print and the Future of Cultural Studies,” is part of the journal Culture Machine’s podcast series.  Janneke and I discussed the following:

  • How have digital technologies affected my research and writing practices?
  • What advice would I, as a creator of digital scholarly tools, give to early career scholars seeking to undertake similar work?
  • Why do I experiment with modes of scholarly communication, or seek “to perform scholarly communication differently?”
  • How do I approach the history of books and reading, and how does my approach differ from more ethnographically oriented work?
  • How did I find the story amid the numerous topics I wrestle with in The Late Age of Print?

I hope you like the podcast.  Do feel welcome to share it on Twitter, Facebook, or wherever.  And speaking of social media, don’t forget—if you haven’t already, you can still download a Creative Commons-licensed PDF of The Late Age of Print.  It will only cost a tweet or a post on Facebook.  Yes, really.

Share