The inspiration for my last blog post on my favourite sci-fi comes in part from one of my modules this year, Global Impacts. In this module we had to consider dystopian and utopian visions of the future in respect to 4 major themes: Transport; Creative and Cultural; Healthcare; and, Future Cities.
So, I have been thinking about Science Fiction a fair bit in recent weeks. So there
A few years ago, as part of a teaching and learning in digital humanities course as part of the MA in Digital Arts and Humanities (UCC).
I created a lesson plan for a 12 week ‘technology and society’ module that focused heavily on science fiction texts and lived experience. As this year has progressed I’ve started to see the problems in my plan and issue with positioning it as a ‘technology and society’ module.
As this was to be a Digital Humanities module the description of delivery focused on encouraging creativity (Churches’ Blooms Digital Taxonomy) and discussion through a community of practice developed from a blended learning experience.
So I have decided to dissect my lesson plan here and invite comments or perhaps a bit of participation if anyone feels inclined.
To start I wanted to echo a visual culture year 1 module I did as part of my undergraduate. So I opted for suggesting I show part of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) videos online during class. This choice was to make students aware of the dynamics of viewing a cultural text. I also choose to show part of the video in class as a soft entry to the course. Students wouldn’t have to go away and watch the series or read the book.
In retrospect: I think would suggest a much more in-depth discussion on the act of viewing. The medium of expression (McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message) the technology –and society- being represented and the society of reception.
I would add Derrida (/Saussure) and semiotics as well John Fiske and Codes of Television to the discussion. I’d also bring in Walter Benjamin earlier than lesson 5 and consider adding Adorno and Horkheimer’s ‘The Culture Industry’ to the lesson plan.
Lesson 1: Changing the way we look at how humanity and technology is merging.
Lesson 1 was to follow on from Ways of Seeing by looking at the English translation of Roland Barthes ‘Myth Today’ in Mythologies (1957) discussing socially constructed narratives and how meaning layered.
The second part of this lesson would look at Donna Haraway – ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ in, Simians, Cyborgs and Women (1984). Emphasising the merging of what is technology and what is human and the argument for diffuse understanding.
In retrospect: I would push Barthes into the previous discussion on semiotics and move Donna Haraway into lesson 3 with Baudrillard’s System of Objects in order to have a discussion on how and where technology is seen as an extension of humanity and where it is seen as merged with humanity.
Lesson 2: Power: Constructing and maintaining power in society.
Lesson 2 is all about bio-power, or the political constructions of power for population control. For this lesson I would discuss Michel Foucault’s ‘Method’ from The History of Sexuality Vol 1, and show clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).
Here I wanted to start a secondary discussion online as part of the blended learning element to the class. Asking participants to find 3 examples of early representations of robots/ Androids/ Cyborgs, like Maria in Metropolis, and share and discuss where they fit in the social dynamics.
In retrospect: I think this is still a good option for starter discussion on society and technology.
Lesson 3: Power: Who has the power to do what and why?
This lesson was to look at commodity as commodity the place of technology in society discussing extracts from Jean Baudrillard The System of Objects (1968). And recommending viewing Isaac Asimov – I, Robot.
As part of the online discussion participants would be asked to find representations of a-typical power dynamics between Humanity and technology.
In retrospect: Baudrillard would be moved to be with the discussion on Haraway and the merging of society and technology. Instead I would use I, Robot as a starting point to bridge lesson 2 and 4. I would add another Foucault reading, this time extracts from Discipline and Punish, and look at the police state and representations of policing through technology. As part of the online discussion I would ask participants to either discuss Robocop and 1984 or to find other representations of technology used to police society.
Lesson 4: Power: The state of exception.
The state of exception carries on from Foucault’s discussion of Biopower and the police state. The reading would be Georgio Agamben – State of Exception (2005) and the discussion would be on narrative where the rights of a citizen are suspended temporarily or permanently. I suggested Terminator Salvation (2009) as the example.
The online discussion would as for 3 examples of the merging of human and technology existing in a state of exception.
In retrospect: I would divide the discussion into representations of where part or all of society are existing in a state of exception. I would now use Elysium (2013) or The Island (2005) as examples of where those modified through technology are denied the same rights as everyone else. As part of the discussion I would try and find examples of this in short fiction, like in William Gibson’s Burning Chrome.
Lesson 5: Identity: Originality
Moving away from the political lesson 5 would look at identity and authenticity. The reading for this would be Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. And I would ask participants to watch the ‘Arrhythmia’ episode of Almost Human (2013) and show clips from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2002).
As part of the online discussion I would ask for 3 examples of similar narratives of authenticity in popular culture.
In retrospect I would change the online discussion from examples of Pinocchio tropes to one on clones and androids. Using Orphan Black and The 6th Day (2000) Blade Runner etc to look at authenticity and individual identity.
Lesson 6: Identity: Hyperreality
Lesson 6 moves the discussion from the physical representation of technology to the virtual. The reading would be extracts from Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations and the discussion will be on avatars and the development of virtual spaces. The cultural references would be The Matrix (1999), William Gibson’s ‘Burning Chrome’ and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.
The online discussion would ask participants to discuss their understanding of Hyperreality.
In retrospect: I’d probably take a reading from more recent web studies (Gauntlett, Poster, or, Featherstone) and ask for participants to consider more playful narratives like The Guild web series. I would also bring in games and games studies and look at The Sims and Second life.
Lesson 7: Identity: The Uncanny
Lesson 7 continues on the discussion of representation and authenticity from lesson 5, the discussion will be on Sigmund Freud’s Das Unheimlich. And the references would be Surrogates (2009) and Blade Runner (1982) /Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The online discussion would ask participants to consider the Uncanny Valley, and find examples from it from pop culture.
In retrospect: I would tie the uncanny closer to lesson 5 and originality. I would perhaps swap lesson 6 and 7 and have the discussions of clones and replicas lead from one week to the next. I would also ask participants to consider the differences in narratives where the clones /replicas are striving to be human and where they are set to purposefully make the viewer uncomfortable.
Lesson 8: Gender: Representation
Lesson 8 returns to the start of the lesson plan and looks at ways of seeing and reading the text. I would discuss the male gaze and Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. And show William O’Barr’s ‘Representations of Masculinity and Femininity in Advertisements’ as an illustration of how men and women are positioned in society.
For the online discussion I would ask participants to find a visual example of male and female robots. And discuss. I would ask participants to be playful, maybe consider examples from Futurama or classic cartoons.
In retrospect: I’d add a discussion on advertising and propaganda, looking at Edward Bernays and the art of crowd psychology.
Lesson 9: Gender: gendered use of technology
Lesson 9 takes lesson 8’s representation of gendered roles and discusses gender as a performance. The readings would be Judith Butler’s ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory’, and looking at Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ from it’s feminist position.
In retrospect: I’d probably add a discussion of women using technology and the roles of gendered technology. Looking at how the male androids in Almost Human are used by the police and the female androids are service bots etc.. As part of the online discussion I would ask participants go back and look at the previous discussions and consider the position of gender in what was discussed.
Lesson 10 Gender: Abject sexuality and body horror
The final lesson combines the uncanny with body horror, taking extracts Julie Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and using Masamune Shirow’s Kōkaku Kidōtai (Ghost in the Shell) as an example I would look at the possible sexualised nature of the merging of technology and humanity and question whether there are any examples (other than Rocky Horror) where the male body becomes more sexualised through technological manipulation.
The online discussion would ask participants to find an example in pop culture of an abject gendered merging of human and technology.
In retrospect: I would tie the abject closer to the discussions in lesson 5 and lesson 7 and look at the state of exception and the uncanny and ask participants to consider the potential reasons for dehumanisation through abjection.
To conclude I would probably reconsider the gender aspect of this lesson plan and remove the last 3 lessons in favour of expanding the introduction and lesson 1. And including a lesson on power and hyperreality looking at the power of the individual over the state in cyberpunk fiction and the power of information e.g. Serenity (2005).
And there was my lesson plan.
I realise now that it is firmly in the realm of media and cultural studies, and that it could significantly benefit from me bringing in elements of HCI studies.
(Links to references to be added later)