[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 3 on -empyre-: Internet/Online Representation

Soraya Murray semurray at ucsc.edu
Wed Apr 22 07:43:42 AEST 2015

Thanks to Anna and Ben for jumping in and engaging so much!

I hope for more of this -- and of course there is much room for vigorous debate, especially in such an interdisciplinary gathering.  And, insofar as new media is concerned, learning what the key debates around the interstices of identity are—and how to even give adequate expression to them—is still in process. I'm excited that -empyre- is supporting this, and encourage other listeners to join in. 

One of the recent texts I've been chewing on, as regards the relationship between computer science and specific subjectivities is D. Fox Harrell's recent work, Phantasmal Media (2013). Though I am in a different discipline, and it is clearly directed toward a computer science audience, I'm very interested in the way it asserts that all media (including computational) are expressive, and that they construct and manifest "phantasms". He describes phantasms not as specters, but as "combinations of mental images and and ideology constructed  by embodied, distributed, and situated cognitive processes" (343) and "cognitive phenomena that include sense of self, metaphors, social categories, narrative, and poetic thinking— [that] influence almost all our everyday experiences."  (from the book description) Among his many arguments, he seems to advocate for considering the centrality of this while a computational system is being developed, to allow for expanded potentials around how we think about and include a broader range of cultural norms and capacities. This strikes me as a direct and also very unabashed statement about the cultural narrowness of existing systems, and a call to do better-- but it's all within the language of computational science. 

As someone in visual studies, this is an approach that differs from how I might come at it. In my own discipline, we've long since understood how subjectivity plays its role in and through expressions within our own objects of study (though we may debate the degree to which it should inform our understanding). But Harrell's work seems to represent an intervention into issues of representation and identity politics at play in computational media. At the very least, he puts ideology at the center of a conversation that usually places it at the activist fringe.  It's not my intention to "cheerlead" for this text, and it may be that this intervention has been made in other areas of software studies. However, my experience of software studies theorization (except, perhaps, Wendy Chun) definitely falls squarely into formal discussion.


Soraya Murray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor 
Film + Digital Media Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

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