While our cozy bi-weekly Monday Night Seminars and other in-coach house events are on hold for the moment, we're anticipating fresh new research and a host of virtual initiatives planned by our 10 working groups relating to the theme of The Global SpillAge. This year we have faculty spanning Electrical & Computer Engineering, Women and Gender Studies, Anthropology, Architecture, Landscape & Design, Indigenous Science & Technology Studies, and Community Health & Epidemiology, to name a few. In addition to their work, we are happy to share news of new publications coming out of the McLuhan Centre including a special issue of theIslamophobia Studies Journal by our 2019-20Digital Islamophobia working group (Ed. Farokhi & Jiwani, forthcoming Fall 2020). You can also check out the updatedTable of ContentsforMsUnderstanding Media: A Feminist Medium is the Message(Sharma & Singh, under contract with Duke University Press), aresearch articleinCamera Obscura(Sharma, Sept 2020) and acall for papersfrom theBlack Technoscience HERE working group. We're also excited to announce the creation of5 new graduate reading groups who will be engaging with a wide range of scholars and titles related to our annual theme.
THE GLOBAL SPILLAGE: OUR 2020-21 THEME Our theme for the next academic year and a half is TheGlobal SpillAge. Our theme takes inspiration from Marshall McLuhan's notion of the Global Village. For the next year and a half our research will focus on the unfortunate effects of connection but also the new relations and possibilities for social change; in particular the technological and political dimensions related to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Our working groups will engage the challenges of the contemporary moment while drawing from the spirit of McLuhan's attention to the medium.
Stay tuned for our next newsletter and watch us on Twitter and Facebook as we start rolling out events.
-- Sarah Sharma
2020-21 WORKING GROUPS
SPACE MEDIA Lead Convener: Marie-Pier Boucher [Assistant Professor, ICCIT, UTM]
While space exploration mediates how societies envision their future, space exploration would not be possible without media. Humanity’s relationship with the cosmos is one mediated by artifacts and technologies: Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) for communication, health and environmental monitoring/planning; Geo Positioning Satellite (GPS) for navigation; and various other tools and devices that transport bodies and goods, process information, and visualize new planetary frontiers. Outer space is a site of both potential inhabitation and politics in which medium design plays a crucial role.
This group explores the relationship between media and space, with a specific focus on the technological, political, anthropological and cultural dimensions of space and its media infrastructures. Members will engage with scientists, engineers, artists, astronauts and other members of the space community to produce a series of tele-dialogues that confront and contrast the field of “space media” to problematize and reveal its constructive power of intervention. The group will also work on the production of a literature review and glossary, both of which will be published on a public-facing website. Finally, members plan on using the research conducted under these 15 months to produce a peer-reviewed article and publication which sets the foundations for their proposed new field of ‘space media’ within media theory.
INVISIBLE PHOTOGRAPHIES Lead Convener: Thy Phu [Professor, Dept. of Arts, Culture & Media, UTSC]
While photography holds the promise of making the unknown known, the faraway nearby, and the unseen visible, the right not to be looked at—to remain invisible—matters as much as the right to look. Invisibility remains a potent, though overlooked, part of debates on power and media. In the digital era, invisibility is deployed as a strategy of resistance against and refusal of various forms of state and corporate surveillance.
In the wake of the pandemic and global uprisings against racial injustice, the issue of invisibility and its relationship with power and media has acquired renewed urgency. “Invisible Photographies” is an interdisciplinary working group that explores the varied forms and functions of invisibility in photography. What is the significance of invisibility? How has invisibility been mobilized to shape historical perspectives? To what extent might it serve the needs of the present, and how can it be used to imagine better futures? To answer these questions, the group draws from backgrounds in media studies, women, gender, and sexuality studies, curation, history and art history. The group aims to challenge predominantly Euro-American frameworks of seeing in photography, and to illustrate other ways of seeing—particularly as they have shaped race and sexuality in the Global South and across diasporic communities.
Activities include: (i) readings; (ii) webinarspeakerseries; (iii) workshopping works-in-progress; (iv) commissioning new artwork; and (v) a special issue of the open access peer-reviewed journal, Trans Asia Photography.
BEHIND AND BEYOND THE "WALL(S)": CONTEMPORARY CHINA THROUGH MEDIA STUDIES Lead Conveners: Julie Yujie Chen [Assistant Professor, ICCIT, UTM), Yi Gu (Associate Professor and Program Director, Dept. of Arts, Culture & Media, UTSC]
In today’s “Global Village”, China shares with the rest of the world the social and economic transformations precipitated by the integration of various technological infrastructures. But at the same time, what is known as “the Great Firewall”—the rules and technologies that control the flow of information in China’s digital spaces and mediascapes—leads to an easy dismissal of digital China as an Other with little applicability to the rest of the world.
This Wall, however, is porous and full of contradictions. Importantly, the daily life and cultural expressions within/through the Wall defy our common understanding of US- and Euro-centric media experiences. They are demonstrative of both the pitfalls and possibilities of our global Spillage, which calls for nuanced and intersectional approaches toward studying China through media, and media through China.
Taking the Wall as a point of departure, the group aims to advance interdisciplinary conversations on the studies of China and its mediascapes. Members will confront the questions surrounding China, capitalism, nationalism, and media technology through theme-based workshops and a symposium.
ENVISIONING EQUIVEILLANCE Lead Convener: Steve Mann [Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering, UTSG]
The word “surveillance” means “watching” (“veillance”) from “above” (“sur”). Surveillance typically involves an entity of higher authority monitoring an entity of lower authority, for example the powerful watching the vulnerable. This working group considers the contrasting dynamics of surveillance and sousveillance (from the French prefix “sous”, meaning “under”), to imagine a fair and just “equi-veillance” that can be applied to the design of smart cities, healthcare, and other sensory infrastructures that are worn, carried, or embedded in the architecture and cities around us.
With the “covidization” of surveillance, i.e. “health-surveillance” as the “new normal”, we need a language, practice, culture, and technology for sousveillance as a form of health and well-being. Accordingly, this working group will focus on the development of ideas, policy, technology, artistic works, and cultural discourse to promote veillance equity that meets the growing needs of fair universal health and well-being for humans of all abilities.
Members will explore these themes through published papers, the production of a sousveillant mesh network, workshops, and the production of an educational video entitled “Culture and Technology of equi-veillance”.
BLACK TECHNOSCIENCE "HERE": A SPECIAL ISSUE Lead Conveners: Nicole Charles [Assistant Professor, Women and Gender Studies Program, UTM], OmiSoore Dryden [Associate Professor, JRJ Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Dept. of Community Health & Epidemiology, Dalhouse University]
The Black Technoscience “HERE” Working Group expands on the research and salon series of the same name produced during the 2018-19 year to produce a special issue publication. In monthly meetings over the academic year, group members brought together scholars, artists, and activists to share their research and praxis in the interdisciplinary creation of Black Technoscience. This year the Black Technoscience working group is working on a special issue to connect the fields of Black studies, transnational feminist studies, digital humanities, critical race and disability studies and science and technology studies, to offer new approaches to both Blackness and Technoscience. The special issue will reflect on the uniqueness of Black technoscience within Canada. What is Black technoscience? What does it mean, we question, to activate Black technoscience thought “here”? Visit the McLuhan Centre website for more details and links to submit.
THE ONLY SPACE IS HERE Lead Convener: Mitchell Akiyama [Assistant Professor, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, UTSG]
As social life slammed to a standstill during the COVID-19 lockdown, staring anxiously at our screens, many of us found ourselves wondering, where is everything? Art institutions pivoted by putting exhibitions online, concerts were streamed via video conference, family gatherings and personal milestones were all relegated to monitors of various sizes—for those of us fortunate to have stable Internet access and devices capable of streaming our likenesses out onto others' screens.
The group's goal is to explore what the migration of social space online entails for the politics of information privacy, as well as for one’s sense of embodied presence in the world. The urgent question members ask is: what technologies, what forms of social organizing, what forms of aesthetics are capable of meeting this moment? How do we move from hastily accepting digital facsimiles of in-person social practices and build or amend digital spaces that might foster community in the shadows of corporate platforms?
CO-SALONING: EXPERIMENTING WITH AND AGAINST DIGITAL GATHERING Lead Convener: Kristen Bos [Assistant Professor, Indigenous Science and Technology Studies, UTM; Co-Director, Technoscience Research Unit]
This year’s working group takes the practice of saloning as its conceptual starting point to interrogate decolonial, feminist and anti-capitalist forms, methods and practices of relation, collaboration and co-creation in the time of social distancing.
Emerging out of 18th century France, salon culture was a critical catalyst for the cultural, intellectual and cultural developments that characterized the Enlightenment Era. Various communities have taken up, reconstituted and reimagined the salon in the name of other political projects: feminism, anti-racism, decolonization. Both the Technoscience Research Unit (TRU) and the Digital Research Ethics Collaboratory (DREC) have experimented with the form of the salon, protocols of invitation and hosting, and modes of stirring-up conversation. For example, the Technoscience Salon activates two “stirrers,” often graduate students to contribute to, guide and animate our salons.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rush towards digital gathering, engagement and output across all disciplines and sectors, this year's group will bring together faculty, graduate students, and community researchers to:
Research the economies of extraction and investment that we entangle ourselves within and through various digital practices of collaboration;
Gather information about alternative methods and forms of collaboration; and
Experiment with new approaches to distanced and virtual collaboration through our upcoming activities.
DIGITAL AFTERLIVES: FEMINIST EMERGENT AND EMERGENCY METHODS AND ACTION ON DATA (FEEMAD) Lead Convener: T.L. Cowan [Assistant Professor, Dept. of Arts, Culture & Media, UTSC]
This group will bring the Feminist Data Manifest-No Workshop (FDMW) to the McLuhan Centre. The Feminist Data Manifest-No (manifestno.com) is a set of refusals and commitments written collectively by feminist data scholars across disciplines in the US and Canada. This reimagining of our understanding of and relationship with data considers, in particular, the afterlives of data and the traces of networked existence.
The group will co-host a symposium at UofT on Coalitional Trans-Feminist and Queer Black and Indigenous Digital Afterlives, thinking particularly about the Digital Afterlives of COVID-19 in terms of impact on minoritized groups and pandemic-influenced increases in compulsory data collection & circulation practices. Planned initiatives include regular online writing retreat sessions, an online Long Table conversation each semester, and the possibility of a symposium (pending new COVID-19 developments).
CRITICAL STUDIES IN RACE, TECHNOLOGY AND GLOBAL MIGRATION Lead Convener: Negin Dahya [Assistant Professor, ICCIT, UTM]
Currently, the attention of the public in media, government, humanitarian aid and corporate philanthropy is largely centered on using technology to support learning and community engagement in the Global South. As researchers, educators, activists, and technologists work to understand the challenges and possibilities of using technology and digital media to support the worlds most marginalized communities over there, the role of digital tools and practices for migratory and minoritizied communities here is sometimes overlooked. In this working group, members intentionally frame the division of “us” in the West and “them” in the developing world. This framing calls attention to the subtle and harmful forces of power related to participation in technology and digital media among people in Canada who have experienced migration. The group's goals are to connect with and convene scholars, activists and educators working in Southern Ontario and across Canada in this area and to set an agenda for key research areas related to race, technology, and global migration in Canada.
Members will collaborate with community members at the centre of this topic through research and media-making workshops to produce collaborative mixed media projects hosted online.
REPRISING THE REAL WORLD OF TECHNOLOGY Lead Convener: Leslie Shade [Professor, Faculty of Information, UTSG]
It has been thirty years ago since Ursula Franklin (first woman University Professor at the University of Toronto) delivered the 1989 CBC Massey Lectures, The Real World of Technology, and twenty years since its expanded version was published. Describing technology as practice and as a system, Franklin encouraged us to examine the social class of experts, the changing nature of community and issues of power and control. She argued for attentiveness about how digital technologies affect relations of time and space, individual and collective responsibilities, and provided a bridge between the humanist traditions of early 20th century Europe and the technological explosion that began after WWII and the defeat of Fascism that continues to echo today.
This working group will examine the intellectual legacy of Franklin and her pioneering feminist/person-centred perspectives on technology and how the themes and concerns she addressed throughout her career map onto contemporary scholarly endeavours at the University of Toronto surrounding technology and society. The group will apply a ‘Franklin-esque’ reading to issues and ethics redolent in contemporary ‘innovative’ and ‘disruptive’ technologies of datafication, algorithms and AI. What is their impact on data discrimination, privacy, social justice, resilient communities, and equity, inclusion, and diversity?
Intended outputs include a short essay series with works composed by working group members and collaborators, a website, and an end of year seminar (pending COVID-19 developments).
YOU'RE DEACTIVATED Lead Conveners: Alessandro Delfanti [Assistant Professor, ICCIT, UTM], Julie Yujie Chen [Assistant Professor, ICCIT, UTM]
Extended from 2017, You’re Deactivated focuses on the message of the Platform and how workers resist the casualized and precarious work conditions of the digital economy by repurposing, hacking, or refusing platform labour. While technology intensifies work, it is constantly met with resistance from workers. Yet, while the platform may be today’s assembly line, only recently has research in media studies started to focus on workers in the digital economy as active subjects that challenge the patterns shaped by the platform as they unionize, or organize to fight for improved conditions, higher wages, predictable scheduling, and better benefits.
Instead of going online with LogOut 2, the group is working on a special issue publication based on the papers accepted from their planned March 2020 conference (cancelled due to COVID-19).
Visit our Research page for more information about working groups, a full list of each group's members and upcoming projects.
GRADUATE READING GROUPS (NEW THIS YEAR)
This year our inaugural cohort of graduate reading groups will engage with the works of contemporary media scholars to explore questions surrounding race, power, inequity, and the impacts of emerging virtual spaces in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are excited to announce 5 groups this year:
THE ENDS OF THE WORLD Lead Convener: Réka Gal [PhD Student, Faculty of Information]
RACISM GONE VIRAL Lead Convener: Alex Desplanque [MI Student (UXD), Faculty of Information]
EMERGENT-CY: CRITICAL DIGITAL HUMANITIES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
Lead Convener: Nelanthi Hewa [PhD Student, Faculty of Information]
SUB-ALTERNATIVE MEDIA TECHNOLOGIES Lead Convener: Julian Posada [PhD Student, Faculty of Information]
THE GLOBAL SOUTH FEMINIST SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND ARCHIVES Lead Convener: Carina Guzman [PhD Student, Faculty of Information]
Check out our Research page for a full list of group members and descriptions (coming soon). Here are some of their popular reads for the fall:
Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures (2020) — André Brock Jr.
Data Feminism (2020) — Catherine D’Ignazio & Lauren Klein
Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need (2020) — Sasha Costanza-Chock
A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (2019) — Kathryn Yusoff
Race After Technology (2019) — Ruha Benjamin
Information Activism: A Queer History of Lesbian Media Technologies (2020) — Cait McKinney
A Digital Bundle: Protecting and Promoting Indigenous Knowledge Online (2018) — Jennifer Wemigwans
Intersectional Tech: Black Users in Digital Gaming (2020) — Kishonna Gray
Killer Apps: War, Media, Machine (2020) — Jeremy Packer & Joshua Reeves