Digging Deep – Critical Making Event on December 1, 2015

Digging Deep:
Ecosystems, Institutions and Processes for Critical Making
December 1, 2015

Rooms C201 and C202 , CUNY Graduate Center (on 5th Avenue at 34th Street), New York City.

Dec 1 update: Very welcome to today’s event! The full program is available here.



“Making” has gained new currency through technologies such as 3D printing, single board processors, mobile devices and the web and through processes and platforms such as maker labs, thatcamps, hackathons and urban informatics centers. However, there is often an assumed direct and natural connection between ideas/data and different types of material objects and representations. These assumptions do not properly consider the complex pathways between idea and outcome, often resulting in activities and plans that are ‘hylomorphic’ in planning and action. Whether it is the belief that ideas/solutions can simply be printed, that urban or historical data is a direct representation of some ‘real’ past or future city, or that ‘thatcamps’ enact a hierarchy-free dialogue, such a focus does not properly construe and consider the material, social, and organizational work that structures processes of making.

Increasingly – particularly given the powerful rhetorics that surround the above work – there is a need to dig deep – to think carefully about the way conceptual work and making are entangled, to examine how different environments and ecosystems can support intellectual-material work, and to analyze the social-cultural-scholarly impacts of such actions.

Over the last few years, the long-standing ‘firewall’ between critical thinking and physical making has been toppling, in no small part due to scholars and practitioners in design, the digital humanities, and other areas who have developed specific modes of material/conceptual engagement. While most critical work within the academy remains focused on linguistic processes and outputs, critical making (broadly construed) is more and more finding a place within pedagogical and research-oriented contexts. Now is the time to come together to explore the specifics of such processes, to place in relation the various modes, contexts, histories, objectives, and outcomes in ways that collectively help us all move forward.

This workshop investigates how conceptual and material work gets enacted in specific environments and ecosystems drawing on the experience and expertise of participants from a variety of disciplinary and practice-based backgrounds including media studies, design, art, literature, cultural heritage, digital humanities and science and technology studies. The participants also bring considerable experience from having key administrative and institutional roles in different environments invested in intellectual-material work.

The program includes two sessions. The first session foregrounds an institutional perspective. How do we make sites for exploring critical-material engagement (of different sorts)? The second session deals with the actual situated practices and processes of such sites (and critical making more broadly). We are hoping for a dialogic, informal, sharp and generous engagement. Case studies (there will be many) include Slope:InterceptNew York Scapes, Spotify Teardown Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music and Experimental Humanities.

Both sessions are open to anyone interested (inside and outside CUNY) and hopefully, the workshop will bring together participants from a range of environments and backgrounds within and outside New York City. Registration is required (see below).

Program (December 1, 2015)

12:30 pm-2:30 Designing Institutions of Critical Thinking and Material Making
Introductions by Anne Balsamo, Matt Ratto, Patrik Svensson and Allison Burtch

2:30 pm-3 Coffee break (Swedish-inspired ”fika”). Donald Robotham, Director of the GC’s Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC), will present ARC briefly.

3 pm-5:30 Getting Beyond the Material-Conceptual to Include the Critical


Separate registration for the two events. There is limited space. Please sign up using the above links by October 16. The organizing committee may do some prioritization of certain groups (e.g. graduate students). Notification of participation will be given by October 20, 2015. No registration fee, but signed up people are expected to turn up or cancel by November 20. There will be a waiting list.


Patrik Svensson, Professor of Digital Humanities, HUMlab, Umeå University and Distinguished Visiting Fellow (Fall Semester 2015) at the Graduate Center, City University New York. The original idea for the workshop (part of a longer conversation) came from Matt Ratto.

Invited participants (all confirmed)

Allison Burtch, researcher, artist, activist

Anne Balsamo, Dean of School of Media Studies and Professor of Media Studies, New School

Anne Burdick, Chair, Media Design Practices MFA at Art Center College of Design

Cathy Davidson, Distinguished Professor and Director of The Futures Initiative, City University New York

Dennis Tenen, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia

Jentery Sayers, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria

Maria Sachiko Cecire, Assistant Professor of Literature, Bard College, Director of Experimental Humanities

Matt Gold, Professor of English and Digital Humanities at the Graduate Center, City University New York

Matt Ratto, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, Director of the Critical Making Lab

Natalie Jeremijenko, Associate Professor of Art and Art Education, New York University, artist

Pelle Snickars, Professor of Media Studies and Digital Humanities, Umeå University

Roopika Risam, Assistant Professor of English and Secondary English Education, Salem State University

Sara Hendren, Assistant Professor of Design, Olin College, artist

Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor, New School

Thomas Augst, Associate Professor of English, New York University

Organizing committee

Shannon Mattern, Professor of Media Studies, New School

Matt Ratto, University of Toronto

Patrik Svensson, Umeå University and CUNY GC (fall 2015)


Umeå University (through Patrik Svensson’s Chair)

The Advanced Research Collaboratory, the Graduate Center, City University New York

The GC Digital Initiatives, CUNY

Some suggested reading/media (this list will be expanded)

Agre, Philip E. “Toward a Critical Technical Practice: Lessons Learned in Trying to Reform AI”,

Alvarez, Ana. “Inside the Prosthetic Imaginary: An Interview with Sara Hendren” (Rhizome 2012).

Balsamo, Anne. “The Digital Humanities and Technocultural Innovation” (in Bill Aspray and Megan Winget, eds. Digital Media, Scarecrow Press).

Chachra, Debbie. “Why I Am Not a Maker” (The Atlantic, January 23, 2015).

Drucker, Johanna. “From Digital Humanities to Speculative Computing” (SpecLab, Chapter 8).

Jeremijenko, Natalie. “The Art of the Eco-Mindshift”. TED Talk. 2009.

Mattern, Shannon. “Methodolatry and the Art of Measure The new wave of urban data science” (Places, 2013)

Morozov, Evgeny , “Making It: Pick up a Spot Welder and Join the Revolution” (The New Yorker,  January 13, 2013)

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life” (The Information Society, 27: 252–260, 2011).

Risam, Roopika. “Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities”, (Digital Humanities Quarterly, 9:2, 2015).

Sayers, Jentery. “Why Fabricate?”. (Scholarly and Research Communication, 6:3, 2015).

(Photo credit: Patrik Svensson, from an environmental humanities workhop in HUMlab)

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