Technicities is a new book series, edited at the Winchester School of Art by my wonderful colleagues John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and Joanne Phillips. The series is published by Edinburgh University Press, and is promising to “publish the latest philosophical thinking about our increasingly immaterial technocultural conditions, with a unique focus on the context of art, design and media.” Armitage and Bishop are two of the co-editors of Cultural Politics-journal, which should give some idea what sort of books they are looking for.
The final report (to be turned into a book) by the Finnish consultant Pekka Himanen is out. His intermediary report made the headlines already, accused of substandard quality. The project was born in the midst of what were identified as rather dodgy funding practices, commissioned without proper academic evaluation by the Finnish government/the prime minister Katainen.
Now the first news items and reactions (and here) to the final report of the project are out. Suffice to say, the reactions are rather appalled and questioning the quality control mechanisms of the research. As one professor implied, the project report does not really qualify to use the term “research”, which should be about production of new knowledge. Both terms, “new” and “knowledge” were doubted in the case of Himanen’s booklet.
As before, Himanen is a fierce proponent of a discursive turn towards “dignity“. I want to characterize Himanen as a promoter of post-welfare state mode of governmentality. Instead of support for direct and concrete measures towards education and other mechanisms of the welfare state for ensuring safety and sustainability of life, Himanen is geared towards a new society based on discourses (values?) of “dignity” and for instance “trust”. He also talks of “succeeding together” as an anchor point. The post-welfare state of “dignity” is a governance through the abstract power of terms, where the quasi-philosophical consultancy discourse is embedded in a more radical set of political economic reforms undermining any basis for what defined for instance the Finnish model of education, healthcare, and innovation emerging from baseline safety.
Some of the reactions by prestigious Finnish professors talk of the report in no appreciating terms. After reading it, they evaluate that none of the texts would pass a normal peer-review process of a journal. Any new research is not really present but based on the earlier work of the participants. One professor is rather direct in his judgement: the report leaves the reader with a feeling of pity and commisserating shame for Himanen and the project. Oxford University Press is going to publish the English version in 2014.
(Disclosure: I have not yet read the final report myself. I am only commenting on the discussion around it today, and the earlier research/statements by Himanen).
Keep an eye on this one: open, online and with the branded mark of a great journal, the Fibreculture book series with Open Humanities Press.
“After over a decade of transition, digital and networked media’s disruption of so-called ‘heritage’ media is now the status quo. Even if change is ongoing, and even if media institutions and disciplines are still playing catch up, digital and networked media are now very much the established media. They have massively expanded the range of niches they can inhabit. They have colonised many practices in everyday and professional life. They have transformed politics and activism, science and research, art and design. They have questioned forms of rationality and standard modulations of affect. Yet if we now live in an atmosphere infused by media technologies and communicational events, this atmosphere is both intimate and alien. Like the weather under climate change, the common world is one in which nothing seems quite as it was. Clear communications and fluid networks—like clear skies and warm temperatures—feel as preternatural as they are comforting. They still hold the promise of a new world, but sometimes this new world looks as much like a complex form of neofeudalism as a celebration of a new communality. In such a situation the question of what ‘media’ or ‘communications’ are has become strange to us. It demands new ways of thinking about fundamental conceptions and ecologies of practice. This calls for something that traditional media disciplines, even ‘new media’ disciplines, cannot always provide. The Fibreculture book series explores this contemporary state of things and asks what comes next.”
Times Higher Education has published a very good piece on the corporate university, UK. This does not refer to any particular university (despite this being a personal narrative of one person, opting to quit because “universities are killing off integrity, honesty and mutual support”) but the corporatization of the UK system.
What the piece does so well is showing the transversal links between macroeconomic policies and the microsociological everyday life at universities. The economic free market principles (which actually are not just about free markets, but to me about more meticulous wealth accumulation and political credit accumulation) are also felt in the various affective responses and moods that characterise university life.
Corporate capitalism works through a modulation of affects, and it does not feel particularly good. Read the piece to get one excellent insight to UK academia.
I am reading a lovely book which in proper summer reading style is not directly linked to anything I am working on at the moment. It is more about the luxury of reading something interesting.
Jonathan Bloom’s Paper Before Print (ironically “out of print”) focuses on paper especially in the early Islamic world, and hence besides expanding the narratives of writing, textuality and mediality outside the usual story of the West, it also goes deeper into questions of materiality.
For us, the question of matter of media is one of chemicals and scientific processes. This also includes the story of paper, whcih besides the platform of modern bureaucracy is also one of environmental pollution and waste.
Bloom’s book is a great read and reminds of something rather pertinent, considering the book in relation to materiality of the medium of writing but also to the question of bureaucracy. Indeed, it was in the context of bureaucratic necessity that the Muslim world turned to paper – the increasing need to write things down. As such it relates to a longer history of cultural techniques of notating systems where the symbolic act of writing expands to the wider milieu in which writing can become possible – but it also expands to the cultural techniques of administration and bureaucracy.
So unlike our modern sphere of admin, Bloom reminds on one important thing. For instance in the growing bureaucratic mechanism of the Abbasid Empire since the ninth century, with its centre in Baghdad, administration was a style. It had to have style. In Bloom’s words, reminding of what we have lost in our repetitious, grey, in a different way standardised world of everyday writing: “In this bureaucratic world, official documents were increasingly judged not only by their contents but also by the elegance of the wording and the cleverness of hidden allusions in the text.” (106)
Imagine an admin email from the Faculty Human Resources written in astonishing beauty, and with that witty little allusion between the lines; imagine if there would be rhetorical style and the thrill of reading while indulging in Module Report Forms; what if your manager would next time surprise with such cunning puns that you could not but eagerly wait for the next top-down announcement?
Oh corporate bureaucracy. You are so horrible but why are you also dull and uninspiring?
Nathaniel Stern’s book Interactive Art and Embodiment is out! If you want a one-liner what the book is about, this does the job effectively: “How do interactive artworks ask us to perform rigorous philosophies of the body?“
It already reveals the maint thrust of the book, having to do with practices of contemporary digital art and theoretical insights into embodiment – for instance the concept of the implicit body.
Nathaniel Stern’s book is a marvellous introduction to the thinking and practice of this innovative new media artist, and to the work of others in the same field. Philosophically informed and beautifully written, it is sensitive to the many complex issues involved in making such work. –Charlie Gere is Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University, and author of Digital Culture, Art, Time and Technology, and Community without Community in Digital Culture.
In Nathaniel Stern’s Interactive Art and Embodiment, Stern develops a provocative and engaging study of how we might take interactive art beyond the question of ‘what technology can do’ to ask how the implicit body of performance is felt-thought through artistic process. What results is an important investigation of art as event (as opposed to art as object) that incites us to make transversal linkages between art and philosophy, inquiring into how practice itself is capable of generating fields of action, affect and occurrence that produce new bodies in motion. –Professor Erin Manning, Concordia Research Chair, Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University, author of Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, Director of the SenseLab and series co-editor of Technologies of Lived Abstraction.
In his very intelligent book, Nathaniel Stern shows how dynamics work: he mobilizes a range of theory and practice approaches so as to entangle them into an investigation of interactive art. Stern maps the incipient activity and force of contemporary art practices in a way that importantly reminds us that digital culture is far from immaterial. Interactive Art and Embodiment creates situations for thought as action. –Dr Jussi Parikka, media theorist, Winchester School of Art, author of Insect Media.
Why don’t we in academia use more other forms of expression than the written word?
Here is a video review (alongside with the transcript in the following link) of Insect Media, published in the journal Itineration: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Rhetoric, Media and Culture.
Pekka Himanen, the Finnish consultant, has been in the headlines over the past weeks and months. It all started when an interim report of his project got torn apart in media reviews, for instance in Suomen Kuvalehti and in various other subsequent articles. Basically, the language did not make sense: full of repetition and grammar that sounded like it had gone through google translator, the suggestions of Sininen Kirja, (PDF) “the Blue Book” were besides banal, badly written. The project about possible futures for Finland did not promise much.
Besides the substandard research, what was raised as a question mark was the funding: 700 k for this project for Himanen and Manuel Castells. And what was revealed then was how the funding was obtained: outside the normal funding calls, after a special deal arranged by the Finnish government and Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. Of course, the PM has rushed to explain: nothing dodgy here, the research agencies were involved and interested. However, for instance Finnish academy begged to differ. Perhaps not direct pressure, but something not very fair play either, it was reported in interviews (see here and here for instance).
There is a range of really good blog posts (in Finnish) out there (for instance here and here), and I have not much to add, just to summarise and point to a wider theme this raises: dodgy funding arrangements in the midst of widespread university funding crises and claims that there just is not enough funding to sustain public universities. This is clearly not the case, but more about allocation: whether the money goes to supporting peer reviewed excellent basic work with students in free and public universities, and research that is respectable, or to consultancy projects, like Himanen’s.
Indeed, as raised for instance in a Filosofia.fi blog post, there are various issues at play. To paraphrase, and summarise:
- the project plan’s budget has unclear expenses that refer to the past, prior to the project
-the plan itself is something I would not accept even from a student: no words on methods, sources or research material; it presents a “comparative perspective” without telling what countries are being compared
- there are basic problems with the personnel of the project, regarding their duties in the project
- the project was not peer reviewed, or gone through any of the normal academic procedures for funding
What it does is an overuse of words “analysis” and “synthesis”.
Welcome to the world of neoliberal academia: a cynical disjuncture between the political economy of research & basic funding and the rhetorics of innovation, futurity, and ethical values ( such as the pet term “dignity” that Himanen spreads frequently). This neoliberal world of academia functions through privatisation of assets, architectures and mechanisms of public funding, channeling them to consultancy projects that are commissioned and tightly linked with political goals.
Interestingly Manuel Castells rushed to the defense of his colleague, professor Himanen (whose CV, it was claimed in an earlier piece of investigative journalism, does not include peer reviewed articles at all): the critics are motivated by envy. Himanen is a genius. But Castells fails to engage with any of the actual critique or even more so, with the actual puzzling core of the whole issue. Instead of political economy of funding, this is a matter of psychological problems of those without funding.
Indeed, in this case this is less about Himanen than about the wider Funding Ethic and the Spirit of Neoliberal Academia. Perhaps that is the book that should have been written instead of his Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. Of course, this issue is not solely about Finland, but we can recognize the same patterns across a range of other countries, including Britain: privatize public funding and commons, engineer the procedures so as to fit that financial channeling and top it up with beautiful rhetorics of ethics, respect, creativity, innovation, sharing and big societies where values are respected. Neoliberalism loves value: both in bank accounts and rhetorics. Terms such as dignity are beautifully empty signifiers that can be customised to fit the purpose.