Digital Media and Feminist Activisms: Rhetorics, Theories, and Praxes
(Offered in Winter 2023) This course explores the ways that digital media are being used for feminist resistance to consider how networked activism, community-building, and digital tool-sharing contribute to current and future feminist world-making. Reflecting on the motivation, conceptualization, and operationalization of various media activisms, including hashtag movements, social media campaigns, TikTok activisms, and other digital events, we will work together to identify, negotiate, and challenge existing norms around technologies, digital culture, and mediated communication. In carefully considering how race, gender, sexuality, class/caste, and ability, as well as agency, culture, and power, mutually construct other within what Patricia Hill Collins (1990) calls the “matrix of domination,” we will work together to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of networked feminist activism in order to cultivate digital toolkits, visions, and rhetorics for more equitable and sustainable futures that are rooted in community building and hope. As a result, you will gain a familiarity with theories and vocabularies associated with intersectionality, feminist theory, and media studies; reflect on and examine your own and others’ communication and digital technology practices; and critically and creatively engage with and analyze the (digital) representation of and discourses around bodies, community practices, and justice.
Critical Design Methods
(most recently offered in Fall 2022) This course introduces students to both the theory and practice of “Critical Design,” broadly construed. Critical Design is not a field of its own, but a mode of design thinking that is informed by critical theories and research methods from the arts and humanities. Critical Design can intersect with and draw on established fields of design from graphic and UX design to industrial and urban design. The course begins with an overview of the history of design as critique, before examining the recent emergence of research-creation practices such as speculative design, critical making, discursive design, and applied media theory. The positionality of designers and audiences will be considered in readings and assignments that focus on gender, disability, race, and class. Special attention will be paid to the design of media technologies and the infrastructures that support them, which involves methods in UX design, sustainable hardware design, and digital urban design. Students will demonstrate their knowledge of course materials through writing, design, and light fabrication. See student projects here.
Critical Media Infrastructures
(most recently offered in Winter 2020) Focusing on media, this course explores critical infrastructure studies—an advanced understanding of the systems that shape our information society and that allow for the movement of content from medium to medium, and from platform or device to user. “Critical Media Infrastructures” is organized in three parts that emphasize the larger operations that govern user/consumer relationships with media objects and subjects, particularly by foregrounding the materiality of physical media. Where do media devices come from? Who designs them? Who builds them? Why do they break so quickly? And what happens to them after we are done with them? These questions can be answered by exploring the infrastructural contexts and conditions of technoculture and technocapitalism in three parts: interface studies and the illusion of media (im)materiality; rhetoric of media objects and ecologies; and rhetoric that masks or reveals invisible subjects and bodies of labour. See student projects here.
City to “Smart” City: On Storytelling Space
This course challenges students to think about the mediation of urban spaces since the turn of the Industrial Revolution, when condensed populations and the dawn of a new city-based lifestyle began to be recorded in new technologies such as photography and film, spanning through to the recent conception of the “smart” city. What are the features of the so-called smart city and why is it important for critical thinking about topics such as media history, sustainability, gentrification, urban planning, and infrastructure? How does telling stories about the smart city train one in research on locative media, game design, and the digital humanities? By discussing how the imagined and imaginary “city” thus came to be shaped discursively through media, this course considers various media forms and related cultural texts that have narrativized public spaces and their experience. Combining theory and practice, we will explore short stories, novels, artwork, digital tools, and interactive digital media (including popular platforms and apps). The final section of the course pays particular attention to mediated spatial interactions, taking into account how emerging digital media formats and tools such as mobile apps and augmented reality incorporate new forms of narrative experience and construction to allow users to physically engage with the space of a big city or a smaller town.
Feminist Maker Cultures: Reimagining Gendered Labour through Technological Design
(most recently offered in Fall 2021) “Necessity is the mother of invention.” This course explores traditionally “feminine” forms of labour and crafts—such as cooking, clothes-making, and the crafty use and reuse of everyday resources—through technological design and production. If we reimagine gendered forms of labour in terms of critical design and research-creation, these usually invisible forms of making can be described with language that is more commonly applied to innovative tech initiatives and industries: performing critical and creative thinking in design and production, and applying material skills to beget objects. What is unique about feminist maker cultures, however, is an emphasis on community-based contribution (for whom do we make? With whom do we make? Can we teach others to make to empower them?) as well as an emphasis on remaking (instead of using more resources to make new objects, can we creatively remake, reuse, and upcycle existing and unwanted materials? Can we remake with garbage? Why should we remake?). In addition to putting feminist maker cultures into practice through class assignments, students will explore critical readings that emphasize an interspecies, ecological understanding of how subjects, objects, resources, and creative industries impact one another—or, what Donna Haraway calls “significant otherness.” Such readings draw upon the fields of new materialism, environmental and technological sustainability, and globalized infrastructure studies. No prior knowledge of sewing, cooking, arts/crafts, or technological design is needed. In community form, we will learn together!


Digital Abstinence
(SPRING 2020, WINTER 2015, UW English Grad Course). Why would an individual–or a whole community for that matter– abstain from the use of advanced technologies? This question, which is central to this course, is posed not just in the context of Old Order Mennonites, but applies equally to contemporary trends in “unplugging,” from Digital Detox retreats in California to the recent movement by French unions to ban e-mail communication for tech workers after 6:00 p.m.  We will begin by evaluating the attempts of various individuals and communities to observe digital abstinence, tallying their successes and failures. We will conduct our own experiments in digital abstinence, and ultimately create projects that (perhaps ironically) engage with digital abstinence for the sake of promoting the concepts of ritual, mindfulness, privacy, contemplation, community, and presence, among others.
Maker Culture – Rhetoric of Digital Design
(FALL 2014, UW English Undergrad Course). This course focuses specifically on what has been called “Maker Culture.” This so-called “culture” is a contemporary phenomenon inspired by a spirit of DIY and a hacker aesthetic that can be traced in the history of computer hardware and software design. To begin, students explore the history of this “culture” by studying the Victorian Arts & Crafts movement and the 18th-century Luddites. Students then move through modern DIY movements before ending up in digital maker/hacker spaces, quite literally. This course pays specific attention to the role of “design” in maker culture, and students complete a design project that involves making a digital object-to-think-with.
Introduction to Digital Media Studies
(WINTER 2013, WINTER 2011, UW English Undergrad Course). In this course, students get an introduction to the burgeoning field of digital media studies, focusing primarily on the impacts of digital technology on society and the human condition. In this particular iteration of the course, students created a LEGO robot that embodied philosophical concepts covered in class.
(FALL 2012, UW English Grad Course)
(WINTER 2012, FALL 2009, WINTER 2007, UW English Grad Course). This course explored “the collusion of death and technology.” More specifically, it involved looking at how the finitude of the human condition rubs up against the infinity of technological processes and the rhetorics of immortality deployed in media theory, popular science, and biotechnological discourses. Students in the course contributed entries to a Necromedia Archive. This course will be offered again in Fall 2009.
(WINTER 2011, WINTER 2008, UW English Grad Course). Readings for the course focused on the impact of technology on the body, specifically phenomenological approaches to the body/machine interface. Students in the course created a “critical toy” as part of a collaborative relationship with the KW Children’s Museum. This required them to learn how to solder circuits, and program an Arduino board.
(Winter 2009, UW English Grad Course). This course involves readings from Plato (via Derrida) to Rem Koolhaas (via Salvador Dali). Some seminars and studios for the class are held in the Andy Warhol Underground Studio at the KW Children’s Museum. Assignments include the creation of a project that combines geocaching and détournement.
(Winter 2009, UW English Undergrad Course). This course introduces students to the interaction of texts and images in such professional writing fields as advertising, book illustration, technical documentation, journalism, and public relations. Issues may include visual and textual literacy, the semiotics and rhetoric of design, and the ideological basis of social communication. This course asks students to imagine a mode of academic communication that relies as heavily on the “imagetext†and the “hypericon”as it does on the paragraph and the dissertation. Students will develop new modes of academic discourse that involve the use of digital media.
(Fall 2008, UW English Undergrad Course). This course investigated the use of rhetorical figures and elements of graphic design as applied primarily in print-based advertising. Course readings also involved work by Jean Baudrillard, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and Guy Debord. Students created viral marketing campaigns for the Grand River Film Festival and subvertised a product of their choice.