Close Reading PowerPoint

Erica Robles-Anderson (NYU) and I have spent some dedicated time over the last year thinking about presentation technology and presentation culture. The first result of this collaborative work is an article on the history and critical context of PowerPoint and presentation software/culture (under review). We also thought that it would be useful to look more closely at the material side of the software and this preliminary work has resulted in a draft online article (available here as part of a collection on Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production).

Umeå Universitet, UMU. HUM-lab.

Erica Robles-Anderson presenting the journal article project (with the DuPont chart room in the background)

An important reason for doing this kind of work is that the material aspects of presentation culture are critical to the understanding of how occasions of speech are conditioned and made possible. The conceptual foundation and history of the software are intertwined with the material manifestations (which also extend beyond the software proper, think of the physical structure of typical presentation space). There is structuring that can become evident through look at the level of the interface and that can be connected to the underlying conceptual foundation (making arguments using a series of single slides, one at a time).

Screenshot 2015-08-12 16.02.22

In the online paper, we look at two central aspects of PowerPoint – the integrity of the slide and the separation of production and presentation modes in the software – which contribute importantly to the standardisation of a single-slide-at-a-time model and narrative structure. We relate to the work done in the submitted journal article and employ an experimental-exploratory approach to tease out some the conditioning and structuring enacted by PowerPoint.

I am also now planning a new text (possibly as a collaborative venture) on beyond the single screen that addresses some of these issues. I have some really exciting photographic material that I am holding off on publishing (sadly), but which will be part of the new piece.


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