Radical Ecologies [call for proposals]

Radical Ecologies: (Re)Grounding Digital Pedagogy

A Special Session proposal for the 2014 MLA Convention

This special session seeks dynamic workshop-style presentations to engage participants in new ecologies of learning and leading edge ideas that connect ecological and educational systems. The session aims to explore the idea that technology and ecology need not be mutually exclusive and that they can play an essential role in the humanities classroom.

Drawing on points of intersection between experiential liberal arts education, digital humanities, biomimicry, sustainability, and ecopsychology, ‘Radical Ecologies’ will engage instructors and administrators in course development strategies and in helping students plan their own learning by using a systems approach to curriculum design.

This session is proposed to be an interactive and engaging series of workshops that enable participants to (1) take away tangible first steps to implementing ecologically-based digital course and curriculum design and (2) recognize the opportunities for learners at all levels in thinking experientially and ecologically about curriculum design.

Questions might include:

  • How can ecological thinking provide a model for a more intentional and dynamic liberal arts pedagogy?
  • Can digital technologies help us develop more ecologically focused learning environments and curricula?
  • How can teachers integrate ecological thinking into new and existing courses, units, and overall curriculum design?
  • Is there a role for ecological thinking in developing humanities curricula?
  • How can ecological concepts (re)shape digitally-inflected pedagogy?

Please email questions and/or a 250-400 word abstract by 1 March 2013 to Pavel Cenkl at pcenkl@sterlingcollege.edu.

For more on the MLA and convention: http://www.mla.org/



I admit it. I have a weakness for jargon.

I came across the (new-to-me) term postdigital in a tweet earlier this week, and try as I might, I’ve traced but few uses of the term outside of a handful of references — in particular in explorations of technological/human interrelationships in music and art.

In their now more than decade-old-book, The Postdigital Membrane, Robert Pepperell and Michael Punt sketch out postdigital as intending

to acknowledge the current state of technology whilst rejecting the implied conceptual shift of the ‘digital revolution’ – a shift apparently as abrupt as the ‘on/off’, ‘zero/one’ logic of the machines now pervading our daily lives. New conceptual models are required to describe the continuity between art, computing, philosophy and science that avoid binarism, determinism or reductionism.

Some of the stark binaries that Pepperell and Punt see as a challenge to a dynamic human system of interactions and experiences are certainly mitigated by the development of integrative model and thinking in systems and network paradigms that pervade our current moment of technological engagement.

Yet, now that the machine ecology is so pervasive, there is much to be said for thinking beyond the tools and the opportunities they afford to how we actually communicate, collaborate, think, and learn.

Pepperell and Punt go on:

The very unpredictability and ambiguity of human experience – its most valuable features – are being reconciled in the binary codes of digital processing . . . . These amputated descriptions expose the need for more flexible metaphors with which to describe the stable yet dynamic reality of the postdigital age.

In my admittedly superficial, wiki-borne knowledge  about the term, it’s apparent that postdigital has still not migrated far from its origins in acoustics, applied, and visual art. And in spite of its being fairly dated, postdigital makes contemporary sense as part of our technological present as a way to think about our engagement with ubiquitous technology–specifically, how does our use of digital tools and media define new and hybrid forms of discourse, interwoven cultural identities, and a perpetually networked social paradigm?

How, in other words, can we find a way of talking about “the digital” as more than just a quiver of  tools (albeit really cool ones), but rather a way to demonstrate our evoloving progressive, dynamic, and experiential engagement with communities and ideas?


In a timely a short piece at The Wall Street Journal’s Deloitte Insight yesterday, Suketu Gandhi defines “the postdigital enterprise” as one  in which business leaders have a choice to either “take your existing processes and apply these new technologies to them” on one hand, or rethink the process that technologies allow you to engage in.

Gandhi outlines”the big five disruptive technologies” which can help guide the direction of enterprise, most of which resonate quite clearly with aspects of the digital ecosystem I’ve been exploring on this blog:

  • social
  • mobility
  • analytics
  • cloud
  • cyber security

Nice as it is to see postdigital get traction in more mainstream media, it also underscores that much of the ubiquity of computing today is of course driven by opportunities to monetize social interactions and shifts in cultural perception. Not my intent here, but certainly illustrative of how insinuated culture and commerce often are.



machine ecology

A few ideas percolating this morning.

One from an AoIR email thread weighing the intentionality, activism, and idealism of the #pdftribute response to the tragic passing of Aaron Swartz, has me thinking about open access of information not only to human users, but to the machines that in actuality do the vast bulk of information parsing, organization, aggregation, and dissemination. Why not then engage a “machine public” (in the words of danah boyd) as a constituency, to which information should be openly accessible? Such thinking among academics necessitates a different order of thinking than interpersonal file sharing and social network-based link exchange.

Another, in reading around for a nascent book project, I’ve been struck by the clarity of Tim Morton’s premise, which begins his book Ecological Thought“At what point do we stop, if at all, drawing the line between environment and non-environment. . . ?”

Morton succinctly points to the danger of becoming so enamored of place that we may become separate from the ecosystem in which every place is situated. How can we understand our own place well if we cannot see it in a broader context or networks in which we actually live?

Morton goes on: “Ecological art . . . isn’t just about something . . . . Ecological art is something . . . insofar as it is made from materials and exists in the world.” Applying these ideas about ecological art to ecologies of information–to our digitally-inflected networked knowledge economy–only underscores that the network which enables and physically powers our digital interconnectivity is anything but virtual—what with real wires drawn across or buried beneath actual places and really integrated with the physical world in which the virtual is embedded. Kazys Varnelis and the late Anne Friedberg point out similarly, “place itself does not disappear in favor of the ‘city of bits.’ On the contrary, place is as important as ever, playing a key role in the network itself” (Place: The Networking of Public Spaces).

The place is the network infrastructure, and without understanding the nuances and complexities of that network, we are at risk of platial myopia. Indeed, I think that the term virtual world is itself a misnomer, in that ubiquity of digital places and their ability to augment our physical experience changes our corporeal experience of place in very real ways.

In a sense, it is the machines that constitute a tangible network ecology; it is our presence on the network that is virtual.