English 238: Critical Infrastructure Studies (Fall 2018)

Quarter: Fall 2018    Instructor: Alan Liu
Thursdays, 2:00pm – 4:30pm, South Hall 2509

Montage of my fathers engineers life (Photo: Alan Liu)

In an era when complexly hybrid material-virtual infrastructures, ranging from the micro to the macro in scale, seem to obviate older distinctions between the material base and cultural superstructure, how can the humanities, digital humanities, and new media studies join in an emergent “critical infrastructure studies”? What are the traditions of such studies? What are some especially high-value areas for intervention by humanities scholars of past and present periods, digital humanists, and new media scholars or artists? And how can such scholars learn from those in the social sciences and science-technology studies taking up similar matters?

Program input unit using punched film strip, Konrad Zuse Z1 computer (1938), Museum of Technology, Berlin
Program input unit using punched film strip, Konrad Zuse Z1 computer (1938), Museum of Technology, Berlin (Photo: Alan Liu)

This course explores the hypothesis that critical infrastructure studies is one of today’s renewed forms of cultural criticism and media theory. Looking at the world from the point of view of infrastructure — and of the people (and creatures) who at once shape and are shapedby infrastructure — allows us to ask different questions than those posed in the frame of “culture” or “media.” We’ll think broadly about the things, platforms, passageways, containers, and gates — material, mediated, and symbolic — that structure who we are in relation to the world and each other.

[Course site and syllabus will be created during summer 2018. See also the CIstudies.org site) and bibliography) maintained by Alan Liu.]