Teaching the Cyborg (5 of 5)

Teaching the Cyborg (5 of 5)

2003-11-12

The Politics of Information: fifth and final installment under the Technocapitalist thread.

Section 5: Teaching the Cyborg

In this moment, the uses of the university to capitalist rule have never been more apparent, producing in the United States a professional-managerial class whose responsibilities include the administration of labor in every corner of the globe, whose values, affects, skills, knowledge and sense of historical destiny are all encompassed by Haraway’s “informatics of domination.”

So it behooves us to ask: to what other purposes may the university be put? What critical, activist, transformative commitments can be sustained by university pedagogy? Katie King, one of Haraway’s earliest students, has been examining the intersection between feminism and the politics of writing technologies since the mid-1980s, and leads off this section with a compelling account of the university’s resistances to critically-oriented scholarship around information technology, much of it coming from traditionally trained scholars in fields she expected to be sympathetic, such as Women’s Studies. In posing questions such as “What social relations are `frozen’ in particular writing technologies?” or “How might writing be different if it had been invented by slaves for the purpose of revolt, rather than by their masters for purposes of control?” she presses beyond the univocal narratives of techno-determinism and techno-optimism to examine writing technologies embedded in a social field of struggle and a social field of alternate possibilities other than those expressed in a particular historical moment. By inviting students to narrate their own experiences with technologies, she initiates a process of re-narration and re-imagination of the social space those technologies reflect, express, and sustain. Above all, her teaching practice aims to counter the widespread “poverty of imagination for social struggle.”

The effort to translate classroom resistance from the level of signs to the arena of political practice is the concern of Laura Sullivan ‘s compelling essay, “Resistance through Hypertext, ACTing UP in the Electronic Classroom.” In a class that uses multiple media sources from Paper Tiger TV and Zapatista websites to the ACT UP media campaigns, the anti-sweatshop movement, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s autobiography, and Communist poster art from the US, Vietnam and Cuba, Sullivan attempts to support students in employing hypertext as an activist form.

At the core of Sullivan’s project is an aspect of hypertext that has been startlingly underutilized by progressives and professional writing teachers alike - student authorship of hypermedia. Despite the enormous potential of easy-to-use html editors to enable students to publish their writing to the Web, the use of hypertext writing assignments in the classroom at any level is overwhelming the exception rather than the rule. Classroom use of the Web is typically limited to information consumption rather than student authorship. Addressing the relationship between the conservative deployment of information technology and the overall role of the university in sustaining capitalist political economy, Sullivan’s course asks students to wrest ownership of the means of knowledge production from the university and make complex hypertexts in relation to organized political activism.

Pursuing the question of how the Web can function both as a resource (for, e.g., the integration of previously unavailable archival material into the classroom) and as a tool “so that students can become content providers,” Susan Schreibman discusses some of the changes in cognition among students who have acquired new reading processes as a result of a deep learning of hypertext navigation in multiple media. Observing the way that student comfort with intertextual relationships, game-like activities, and collaborative behavior can revitalize teaching, she documents several possibilities for creating active learning environments with a usefulness not only for the students but for other users as well.

The relationship between scholarly desire and other forms of passion for knowledge, such as the fan’s love of their subject, occupies Harvey Molloy in his meditation on scholarly, professional, and amateur modes of online reading and writing. Pointing out that the fan site is written for an actual, embodied mass readership whereas the implied reader of the student paper is traditionally the teacher, Molloy suggests that student Web authorship can benefit significantly by providing an “immediate sense of an audience for their work.” By participating in a larger communal project, the disciplinary connection with the teacher is complicated – enabling other students, friends, and family to visit the student’s writing. New forms of writing, including both hypertext and blogs, present not merely new literacies but new audiences and communities.

Chris Carter ‘s interview with Greg Ulmer traverses many of these themes of critical, experimental, and progressive pedagogy. Exploring the relationship between writing technologies and the formation of critical/resistant subjectivities, Ulmer’s various pedagogical experiments startle but also rebuild, dislodging students and teachers from the ossified relation of discipline and assessment, but preparing them also for a new relationship in shared commitments to social transformation. In such projects as the Florida Research Ensemble, the MeMorial, and the EmerAgency, Ulmer hopes to support the emergence of project identities both collectively conscious of collaborative commitment to emergent issues of justice and empowered by the sense that pedagogy can be about the formation of resistant agencies. Tracing the appearance of new rhetorics (of multivalence, textuality imbricated with “reality,” etc), Ulmer’s exchange with Carter indicates some of the ways that academically situated activities help to present the possibility of horizons other than those established by the limits of the digital commodity.